A week before the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari from his 103 days medical vacation, the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had sent a draft bill to National Assembly which, when passed into law, will criminalise or outlaw hate speeches in the media-print, broadcast or social media.
This was in reaction to an alarming attack on people on the basis of their tribes, religion and gender. He had remembered that Rwanda’s genocide started from vulgar vituperation against one another on the basis of the aforementioned natural attributes. He even equated hate speech with terrorism. But how did we get here?
We arrived at this port because of politics of hatred, antagonism and bitterness that have become the stock–in–trade of Nigeria’s politics.
These had reached a crescendo towards 2015 general elections. Issues and parties’ manifestoes were relegated to the background while tribal and religious matters were kicked to the front burner.
Certain sections of the country would not bear sight of power being retained in a certain part of the country, while certain parts of the country would not accept power being taken from where it then resided.
And so the foot soldiers of both camps went into the trenches and there they have been, ever since.
There is a Yoruba adage that a King is not abused in his presence. But today, our Kings are being abused right in their presence, calling to question our age-long cultural values and orientation.
I remember the then spokesman of APC who incidentally is the spokesman of this government, threatening to form a parallel government if APC failed to win 2015 election. There were threat and counter threats from both sides of the divides.
But as the then President Goodluck Jonathan promptly conceded defeat even before the last count of the 2015 Presidential election results and congratulated General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) as he then was. It was like cold water had been poured on a raging fire or so we thought.
Shortly after President Buhari mounted the saddle, he embarked on foreign tours in his effort to market Nigeria of his dream.
It was in one of such trips that he was quoted to have said that those who gave him 5% votes should not expect to be favoured in equal measure with those who gave him 97%, whatever that would sum up.
That assertion must be admitted to have given rise to this round of tirade exchanges in conventional and social media.
To mark the beginning of the end of hate speeches, there is no need of law or enactment from the National Assembly. There is no need to unleash the police or military on the citizens.
What is required and urgently too, is the soothing words of our President to the ‘5%’ voters who have felt alienated and ostracised by no less a person than the President.
No President / Prime Minister in this country or any other country for that matter, ever won election squarely and evenly, Balewa did not, ditto Shagari, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. But once an election is won, the winner becomes a President of all and the father of the whole country.
He becomes the President of those who voted and those that did not vote for him. That is the way to unite Nigerians.
The Acting President who has reverted to his post as Vice President must prevail on his boss to be more conciliatory and sensitive in his approach to issues of National importance.
He must be manifestly seen to live to his inaugural statement of “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody”.
He must not take governmental criticisms to mean “hate speech”, for most of the positive adjustments this government has done so far could be attributed to those criticisms than praises.
Nnamdi Kanu, militants in the Niger Delta, Arewa Youth etc could be reined in through kind words and egalitarian assurances by the President.
All policies in education and employments which seek to favour a particular section or sections of the country must be discontinued.
If these are done, it will surely mark the beginnings of the end of “hate speech” in our country. Welcome back once again Mr. President.