The National Human Rights Commission has described as worrisome the rate at which politicians seeking political patronage were fuelling hate speech.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Tony Ojukwu, (SAN), who spoke in Abuja on Friday, lamented that the menace had also crept into places of worship, where religious leaders had joined “the unholy enterprise of spreading hate speech”.
He stated, “This trend has led to ethnic and religious sentiments being used to create division, fear and hatred among different groups. The use and misuse of social media to spread ethnic and religious hate-laced messages is also worrisome, with far-reaching and complex implications.
”These incidents can lead to violence and tension between different religious and ethnic groups; disrupt social, cultural and religious harmony, and affect rights to associate, assemble, freedom of movement and the right to live in any part of the country.
“It can also lead to a breakdown of law and order, increasing vulnerabilities and risks, including death, internal displacements, kidnapping, drug use, recruitment into terrorist activities and other forms of human rights and humanitarian concerns.”
Ojukwu said Nigeria was a party to regional and international human rights instruments that reinforce and guarantee everyone's right to association, assembly, residence, expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Ojukwu added, “The commission affirms that Sections 38 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) protect these rights. In addition, Nigeria's Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 criminalises the use of the internet to send offensive messages or post messages that are intended to cause harm, fear or distress. Individuals who engage in hate speech online can face severe consequences.”
He called on the government to take all necessary steps to reaffirm its commitment to the secular nature of the Nigerian State under Section 10 of the constitution as well as protect all persons from the violation of their rights.
He said everyone concerned should take urgent steps to stop the divisive tendencies. He stated that the commission was worried about the impact these could have on the 2023 general elections and beyond.
He added, ”It is therefore imperative that we address this urgently, because disseminating ideas that project the supremacy of one tribe or religion over another or incite violence on one religion or tribe against others constitute a crime and violate the Electoral Act, 2022.
“The commission confirms that under Sections 40 and 43 of the Constitution, every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he/she may form or belong to any political party, trade union, or other associations for the protection of his/her interests.”
He warned that anyone caught engaging in hate speech, would henceforth face severe consequences, under the relevant laws.