Lately, there has been a lot of venom against hate speeches or hate songs. It started after the Vice President, then as Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, delivered a speech at a summit of the National Economic Council held in the Presidential Villa in mid-August 2017. He likened hate songs and speeches to terrorism and went on to speak on how populations could be intimidated by hate speeches or songs. He also mentioned some conflicts they had caused in different parts of the world including in Africa (Rwanda) and the urgent need to draw a red line against them here in Nigeria. Since then, a day hardly passed without one top government functionary or the other especially at the national level condemning hate speech in the strongest terms. The Nigerian Television Authority often repeats such condemnations almost ad infinitum and has also created special clips and jingles against the canker that hate speeches or songs represents. We join them here in hauling verbal stones at hate speeches or songs but we have some reservations about any move to criminalise them as hinted by the Vice President during his speech at the summit referred to here.
One reason we have reservations about hate speeches or songs being criminalised has to do with equity. A majority of Nigerians are either Christians or Muslims and the holy books (Bible and Koran) of these two dominant religions are not free of hate texts. Though most Christians have evolved to a level they no longer believe literally in most of the hate texts of the Bible, the same cannot be said of the Muslims. For instance, most Christians will not contemplate killing a homo-sexual as directed in Leviticus 20:13 but most Muslims still believe in the injunctions of the Koran that are similar to that biblical text. It is the belief in and the fanatical actualisation of these texts by Muslim fundamentalists that have turned groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Al Shabab, Boko Haram here in Nigeria and other less known groups and even individuals into a big thorn in the flesh of humanity today. Above all, both religions also indulge in intimidation with their threat of hellfire. Many Nigerians are likely to stop doing good works as well as going to church or the mosque to pray tomorrow if not for the fear of hellfire. It will therefore be highly hypocritical and morally unjustifiable of us to jail a poor politician or artiste who indulges in any form of speech or song that is considered as hurtful or intimidating while ignoring those in the religious books. Hauling verbal stones at the authors of speeches and songs adjudged as harmful as we are doing now or censoring their work (if in hard copy or recorded in discs) would do.
Censoring is being recommended here because most hate speeches or songs are not as explicit as those in the so-called holy books. Apart from Nnamdi Kanu, the enfant terrible and his followers, whose rhetoric are already like those the gods want to destroy, most Nigerians don’t indulge in hate speeches or songs as they are actually not in our character. The very few that do, often use their own language that their target does not understand. For most ethnic groups in Nigeria have their own peculiar names for other groups especially those that are their neighbours. It is these nick names given to other ethnic groups by our respective groups that were always employed by the few who engage in speeches or songs that could be considered as hurtful. For instance, when I was young, “those who defecate in their bedrooms” was used by my ethnic group to describe a particular ethnic group. If any song that could be termed as harmful was directed against this particular group, it was this nick name that was likely to be used by my people. Such songs or speeches were also usually in my language because they were not meant for the ears of outsiders. My people never come out openly to mention the real name the target of what could be considered as a hate song was generally known by. It will therefore be very difficult for anybody to drag to court any of my kinsmen who made a speech or song that could be termed injurious since no actual name was mentioned.
The main reason we have reservations on the criminalisation of hate speech or song is however not because most of the so-called hate speeches or songs would be difficult to prove in a law court. It is also not because some popular religious books also have them. Rather, it is because most of them, in the Nigerian context, are usually not far from the truth and in the past, some were actually the home truth! As most human beings vehemently hate being told the home truth, the authors of such songs, speeches or texts, if the truth be told, also don’t like voicing out these home truths. But they can’t help themselves. For, they will usually have no peace of mind until they say it out no matter the risk. They are propelled by some unknown force as some prophets are said to be propelled in some religious books. To mitigate the risks, most authors of home truths often resort to concealed verbiage when targeting any group. Only those of rare courage could speak the home truth ho ha as the late musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti used to do. But in some cases, he also resorted to nick names. But because of his apt descriptions, everybody used to know who he was referring to with these nick names. For instance, everybody knew who he was mocking in songs like Yellow Fever and Zombie.
Fela was different because he did not target any particular ethnic group and so Nigerians hailed his songs. He targeted mostly influential individuals, professional bodies and corporate entities. But they rarely sued him to court probably because they knew he was telling the home truth. But if he had targeted any ethnic group, it would have been a different story. For as a drunkard hates being told he is one, so most members of Nigerian ethnic groups hate being told what does not flatter their group to high heavens. The group that introduced subterfuge, tribalism and violence into politics and has continued with it up till now would only want to be painted as the most civilised. The group that once in a while erupts into violence in which the blood of innocent strangers in their area was shed would only want to be seen as the most peaceful. That’s not all. Just because one of its members has yet to hold the most prized post in Nigerian politics in recent times, the group that is sucking all the others dry through its commerce without conscience would want the whole world to believe it is the most marginalised. It is this rabid aversion to home truth that has made the subject known as History not to be taught in Nigerian schools today!
Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army Captain (Infantry) and novelist, wrote in from Effurun-Otor, Delta State