June 13, 2024

Bustan Daily

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Hate speech: When will Lai Mohammed fine El-Rufai?

6 min read

On August 7 , Minister of Information and Culture , Lai
Mohammed, appeared on a live TV show where he
announced the hike in the N 500 , 000 fine for “ hate
speech ” in the amended National Broadcasting
Commission Code by 450 per cent. According to
Mohammed, the increase was to stem the flagrant
violation of the code because the fine was “ very easy to
pay . ” Faced with the dilemma of people violating a
code that already comes with a hefty fine, the solution
should not be more fines . They should question if the
problem at hand is even resolvable by such
punishment . How much is a radio station licence that a
mere fine should strangle the business ?
When Mohammed blamed “ hate speech ” for the
genocides in Rwanda , Bosnia , and Cambodia , you
realised that his knowledge of history lacked nuance .
Like several officials of the present regime who
incessantly wail against “ hate speech, ” Lai fails to
demonstrate an enlightened idea of the concept and its
operations. Is hate speech what truly causes violence in
Nigeria , or the killings are the serial fallout of the
government ’ s mounting piles of gross ineptitude?
Which of the series of violence taking place in Nigeria
have they traced to hate speech that they keep
deploying state power at all levels to quell it ? If they
are not using the National Assembly to make laws to
curb hate speech, they are imposing stringent fines . In
a country where the minimum wage is less than
N 30 , 000 and many people are barely surviving, who
even came up with the idea of a N 5 m fine? Why has the Nigerian government treated “ hate
speech ” like a plague on the country but was self –
muted when a Kano Sharia court sentenced someone
to death over a frivolous charge of blasphemy?
Suppose their obsession with hate speech is genuinely
about regulating the social atmosphere to prevent
violent outbreaks , why did they not say something
when some demagogues ascribed to themselves the
power to override the constitution by sentencing
someone to death ? Why is one form of utterance
deemed bad for the country ’ s health , but the other that
pronounces a death sentence on someone merely
exercising the right to free speech was met with
cowardly silence ? When a lawyer wrote to the police
threatening public violence if an atheist , Mubarak Bala ,
was not punished for his free exercise of conscience ,
where was Lai Mohammed to remind them such
actions were tantamount to hate ? Maybe , they should
first define the parameters of damaging speech for us
because at the rate we are going , the only acceptable
public speech will be “ Sai Baba!”
Just days after Mohammed announced that hate speech
now costs N 5 m, the NBC fined a radio station, Nigeria
Info , for airing an interview with a former Deputy
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria , Dr . Obadiah
Mailafia . Among other unsubstantiated assertions ,
Mailafia had claimed that an unidentified northern
governor was a Boko Haram commander . The speed at
which the NBC applied the fine and which the
Department of State Services pounced on him makes
one wonder why such efficiency has not been running
the country.
Much has already been said about Mailafia ’ s goof , but
in all honesty , what exactly was new ? Blaming the
government and a shadowy elite for our national
dysfunction is a national pastime . Under Goodluck
Jonathan , a portion of the country spent valuable time
blaming the Boko Haram attacks on the northern cabal
that vowed to make the country “ ungovernable ” for
him. Another portion of the country was convinced it
was a government conspiracy . They took their anti –
government campaign to Washington to allege that the
failure to arrest the situation was a systematic plot to
decimate northern Nigeria . So, what is new about
Mailafia ’ s claims that could not have been put down
through a well – reasoned counter ? Why else would they
have used repressive force other than to intimidate
media houses and make them cower before their
imperial majesties ?
Since hate speech is so loosely defined , perhaps they
should extend their power of reprimand to the Kaduna
State governor , Nasir El – Rufai , over his comments on
the Southern Kaduna crisis . From his utterances, it
seems he has completely lost the will to be seen as a
neutral adjudicator and might even have become a
threat to the public quest for peace. In a recent TV
interview , El – Rufai said of southern Kaduna leaders :
“ Anyone that is moderate, anyone that is promoting
peaceful co – existence between various ethnic groups is
considered a sellout. And a governor like me , who does
not appease them because they are used to being
appeased , they cause troubles , they organise these
killings and then , their leaders are invited by the
governor , they wine and dine and they are given
brown envelopes . That ’ s what they have been doing
for 20 years . ”
In one fell swoop , El – Rufai made two self- indicting
accusations: one , that he knows the people that
organise the murders in his state and has not done
much about them ; two , that the government is as much
a collaborator in these unending acts of violence . On
the second point , he is getting consistent in
incriminating himself and his government . With his
mouth , El – Rufai had revealed in an earlier interview
that he paid some killer Fulani herdsmen
compensation for their losses in the conflicts . If El –
Rufai is telling the truth about southern Kaduna
leaders , what is deductible from both interviews is that
the government itself has been complicit in the orgy of
violence going on in that state . While his predecessors
allegedly paid southern Kaduna leaders some money
for their role in the violence , El – Rufai admitted that he
pays his kinsmen . There is no question of justice for
the victims of these massacres, it is about settling their
killers .
So , again , what exactly did Mailafia say that warranted
both a fine and a DSS invitation , but which El – Rufai has
not more or less confirmed ? Mailafia might have failed
to substantiate his sources , but his assertions are not
far from official reality . It is impossible that the
government is completely clueless about the sources of
the murders in Nigeria to the point that hardly anyone
gets prosecuted for these crimes . What is true is what
El – Rufai has admitted . And who is surprised ? Violence
has become a major enterprise, and it pays well for
both the “ ogas at the top ” and the local power brokers
who demand compensation for the price of peace . That
is why the defence budget keeps expanding alongside
the waistlines of the top brass of the Nigerian Army ,
but we are not any closer to achieving peace and
stability.
The fact that perennial violence in Nigeria is not
unconnected to the government ’ s machinations and
their schemes to perpetuate themselves in power by
mollycoddling killers is neither ground – breaking nor
ear – shattering information . Government conspiracy
against the people is a reality with which Nigerians
have always lived . We already deduced that, but for a
governor to publicly confirm it , is still huge . So, why
has the DSS not invited El – Rufai like they did former
House of Representatives Speaker , Ghali Na ’ Abba ?
What is hate speech that the DSS (and the NBC ) chased
people with sledgehammers compared to a governor
publicly claiming that murderers have been paid – and
are still being paid – for the rapacious violence they
have perpetrated over the years ? Should that not be
enough to launch an investigation ? But of course, even
the DSS must know all of these already .
At this rate , one can only conclude that any speech that
makes people like Mohammed and his paymasters
uncomfortable is deemed hate speech . Their manic
phobia for hate speech, as it is increasingly getting
obvious , has less to do with the danger of further
instigating crises that will add to existing ones . The
push against “ hate speech ” is about maintaining a
semblance of order even though reality shows that
managing Nigeria ’ s problems is now totally beyond the
limited capabilities of their regime. The focus on “ hate
speech ” is to prevent people from talking about their
failures. They know where that relative permissiveness
got the last government , and they will do anything to
repress dissent .

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