Africa harbours countries that have the most ethnic diversity rating in the word. On top of the list is Papua New Guinea with over a thousand ethic groups. Others are Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia, and of course, Nigeria, with over 370 ethnic groups and over half a thousand indigenous languages is not a ‘poor man’ on the list.
That is how the Nigerian society is structured along multiethnic lines, with diversity in character, religion, socio-economic status, political affiliations among other values.
It is against this background that some argue that the multiplicity of ethnic groups in Nigeria among other factors are responsible for the unavoidable and ever increasing presence of hate speeches in Nigeria particular in the Nigerian social media space. But, that argument cannot stand. This is because, if countries like India – with more ethnic groups than Nigeria, a population that’s almost six folds bigger than Nigeria’s- yet, don’t complain about similar issue as much as we do, the problem is not with the diversity, but how we are unable to manage our diversity to our advantage.
Based on a research conducted by HeartUmight- a student based anti-hate speech organization in 2019, over 48% of the hate speeches online since 2017 are inclined towards ethnicity.
It is no longer news to say that ethnic-based hate speeches have rubbed us of our core values of peaceful coexistence and collectivism. Hence, any effort to curb it should be applauded.
The decision of the Nigerian Senate to device a mean of curbing hate speeches is good in all sense of goodness, but, proposing death penalty, jail terms and N10million fine for offenders is quite out of place.
Instead of this strict legal approach, it is rather reasonable to think of adopting the model used by the HeartUmight students and active citizens network where sensitization are carried out online and offline to create sound awareness of such speeches and the need to deviate from them as well as identifying key hate words through studies and strategically countering them.
The federal government of Nigeria can also consider Public-Private Partnership to establish a working partnership with Nongovernmental Organizations like the Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), HeartUmight etc, and government agencies like the National Orientation Agency to address such issues of national concern. Former president, Goodluck Jonathan once said: “Diversity is the spice of life”
If fair strategies are not employed in eradicating the growing hateful narrations and violent extremisms in Nigeria, any attempt to do otherwise may be considered as a political plot to silence the masses.