As 2019 elections approach, the question of hate and inciting speech, fake reportage and brazen manipulation of the populace are bound to multiply. In the recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti State, the National Broadcasting Commission had to close down Ekiti Broadcasting Service over their irresponsible acts of inciting people and declaring fake election results rather than wait for the official declaration by INEC. Civil society observers reported that the broadcast media were extremely partial in Ekiti State and completely disregarded the Broadcasting Code provisions of equal access to the media by all parties contesting in the election. Apparently in desperation, the opposition APC in the State was reported to have resorted to the use of the services of Ondo State Broadcasting to beam anti Fayose/PDP propaganda into Ekiti State. This is also against the principles enunciated in the Broadcasting Code and I hope NBC would also investigate this and sanction them if the allegations are proved.
This week, Daar Communications, the pioneer private broadcasters in Nigeria and owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower FM have accused the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), of deliberate attempts to close down its stations for its political reporting. The Group Managing Director of the Group, Mr. Tony Akiotu at a press briefing in Abuja said the company has received two letters from the NBC recently accusing them of “exceeding the allowed band occupancy limit” and another conveying a fine levied on its flagship programme “political platform.” According to Akiotu, “under the present leadership of the NBC, there was a deliberate move to intimidate, undermine and ultimately muzzle the constitutional rights guaranteeing the freedom of speech enunciated in the Human Rights charter of the constitution of Nigeria”. The DAAR Communications GMD accused the NBC of deliberate ambiguity in the interpretation of its Broadcasting Code designed to attack the operations of the station stressing that the attack was “possibly due to some ulterior motives calculated at a deterministic agenda”. On the fine levied on the flagship programme “political platform” Akiotu said that it was out of place as the programme has been praised for the vibrancy and depth it brings to political debates in the country and its popularity among Nigerians and accused the Commission of trying to kill the programme. These are weighty allegations that need to be properly investigated and the NBC should respond to give its side of the story. What I know is that the Director-General of the NBC, Modibbo Kawu is a respected professional journalist determined to return ethical standards to the regulatory functions of the NBC.
In todays changed media context, Facebook with its 25 million commentators in Nigeria sets the pace of what needs to be in the regular media and a lot of what it carries are uninformed opinions, unverified reports and a significant slice of fake news, which people consume. Often, to catch peoples’ attention, the regular media seek to be as sensational as the social media in a race to the bottom. The NBC therefore has a huge task of ensuring that the Broadcasting Code is respected especially because elections are the nodal points for the most irresponsible use of the media. The Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Panel that was instituted following the 2011 election violence acknowledged that much of the violence was been in connection with the deployment of hate and dangerous speech by politicians during campaigns and in response to electoral outcomes.
The campaign for the 2015 general election took off in a rather contested and heated manner with the supporters of the major political parties, notably the PDP and the APC exchanging hate speech as they campaigned. Until late February 2015, when the political parties signed the peace accord following efforts by concerned groups to calm down the situation, politicians freely used inflammatory and inciting speech in their campaigns. They offered for broadcast political advertisements and programmes that were inciting with clear hate speech content. In general, civil society noted four classes of hate speech, which were discernible in the campaigns speeches.
Hate Speech Packaged as Political Advert Programmes: here materials were carefully prepared by politicians to create divisions along various lines. One of the clearest examples of this was the anti-Buhari so-called documentary that was aired by the AIT and NTA in which he was presented as religious bigot who hated Christians and Southerners.
Hate Speech that appeared to be spontaneously uttered by politicians during campaign rallies, which were then aired by the broadcast media. Examples include the call by then first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan for her supporters to stone APC candidates, the call on the supporters of the PDP in Katsina State to crush the opposition candidates who were called cockroaches by the then Governor of Katsina, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, the call by the Oba of Lagos to drive into the Lagoon (a euphemism for murder) all Igbos who refuse to vote for his candidate, and the call by former Governor of Rivers State and current Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi that the APC should be prepared to run a parallel government should the PDP rig the elections.
Hate Speech items that sought evil outcomes for opponents. An example that generated significant controversy was the advert in various newspapers by the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose listing Buhari as the next on the list of leaders from the north that would die or be killed in office. This “death wish” created significant levels of anger in the country.
The explosion of hate speech on the social media generated by people who were trying to denigrate politicians or parties they did not want to win the elections. This form of hate speech was particularly incendiary as it set out to denigrate the persons through throwing attacks at their religious beliefs and their ethnicity. Femi Fani Kayode is an example of someone who persistently made inciting statements that were both religiously and ethnically charged with hate speech undertones.
In all of these expressions of hate and dangerous speech, the intention of the perpetrators had been not only to divide the people but also to incite one group against another using the following identifiers. Words with loaded meanings such as arna (pagan), mai fitsari a tsaye (those who urinate standing), malu (cows), Boko Haramists (terrorist), pigs, cockroaches, etc. Those were typical hallmarks of dangerous speech, which dehumanized the other as part of the processes of normalization of the call to action desired. These methods that were used extensively during the 2015 elections are resurfacing today with even more vigour and NBC has a huge task ensuring that hate speech is not used in the media to throw us over the precipice. NBC must review the use of hate speech in 2015 and watch out for the following:
Religion: most religion-based hate speech divided the population into Christians and Muslims. Although all parties have members of all religious persuasions, where it suited them, they categorized either their party or the other party as belonging to specific religious groups and should be discriminated upon on that basis.
Ethnicity: Like religion, there are no parties that are for or composed of members of specific ethnic group(s). However, during campaigns, different parties opportunistically presented themselves or their opponents as the party of some ethnic groups or the other and invited members of the respective ethnic groups to discriminate against members and candidates of the other party on the basis of ethnicity.
Regionalism: campaigners from the two dominant parties – PDP and APC, most commonly employed this identity marker. In the north, because the presidential candidate of the APC was from the North, APC politicians in the north tacitly encouraged their members to campaign on that basis while the PDP was doing the same in the South, especially in the East and South South.
Political party membership: ordinarily, it is expected that political parties will campaign to show how different they are from their rivals. However, when the language used was not to indicate superior programmes but to suggest that the party and its leaders would not mind harm being done against members of their rivals, then that becomes hate speech. A number of high-ranking politicians were caught making such statements.
Minority versus majority ethno-cultural groupings: hate speech featured in the veiled reference often made that Northern politicians fabricated the Boko Haram insurgency as a conspiracy against the ethnic minority government of then President Goodluck Jonathan. Political hate speech often tended to exploit existing unresolved conflicts. Issues like the Boko Haram insurgency, the Herdsmen/Farmer conflicts and even kidnapping are being weaved into the narratives of hate speech.