Acting President Yemi Osinbajo wednesday in Abuja described hate speech as another form of terrorism, which employs violence and intimidation to achieve certain political objectives, vowing that the federal government would henceforth treat it as an act of terrorism.
Osinbajo issued the warning while addressing the state governors at the opening of the National Economic Council (NEC) security retreat at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa.
He recalled that the Terrorism Act defines hate speech as an act done with malice, which has the capacity not only to harm a country but also intimidate the population.
Reiterating that hate speech would not be condoned but taken as an act of terrorism, which he said would also be met with the punishment for terror acts, the acting president appealed to religious, business and political leaders, irrespective of their political, ethnic or religious backgrounds to condemn hate speech in strong terms, even if it emanates from their constituents.
He also recalled how hate speech led to the crisis in Nazi Germany, the extermination of Jews in Europe, monumental genocide in Rwanda and silenced influential voices, warning that if leaders failed to speak up against terrorism, it would amount to a disservice to the unity of the country.
“Please permit me a comment on hate speech. The federal government has drawn a line on hate speech. Hate speech is a specie of terrorism, as it is defined popularly as the unlawful use of violence or intimidation against individuals or groups of persons especially for political aims.
“The law on hate speech, Terrorism Act, 2011, defines hate speech among other definitions as an act deliberately done with malice and which may seriously harm or damage a country or seriously intimidate a population.
“The intimidation of a population by words or speech is an act of terrorism and this government intends to take this matter seriously. As I have said, we have drawn a line against hate speech. It will not be tolerated.
“It will be taken as an act of terrorism and all of the consequences will follow.
“I call on business, political and religious leaders, whatever your political leanings or religion or tribe or faith, to condemn in the strongest possible terms at all times hate speeches.
“Speech that promotes violence against an individual or a group, especially when such speech comes from people of your own faith, tribe or group. Your silence in such situations can only be seen as an endorsement.
“Hate speech and promotion of the same throughout history, from Nazi Germany, to the extermination of Jews, to the Rwandan genocide, succeeded in achieving their barbarous ends by the silence of influential voices from the aggressor communities.
“When leaders in communities that speak in such a manner to create dissection or intimidate the population are quiet, they do a great disservice to our unity. They do a great disservice to our nation.
“This is why I urge all political leaders, religious leaders, business leaders and all of those who truly want a united country, a country where there will be peace and security, to ensure that we do not tolerate by our silence, the hate speech that we hear every day in our communities.
“Let me remind all of us that our constitution states that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of our people. And as President Buhari used to say, ‘We cannot administer a country you have not secured’.
“We will not relent in our vision of a secured country in which all citizens can confidently aspire to achieve their means and ambition. And I am confident that today marks an important milestone in achieving that vision,” he said.
In his remarks at the event, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, who pledged the commitment of the judiciary to doing things differently in the country, assured the gathering that the judicial arm of government was committed to the entrenchment of peace and justice in the country.
According to him, “Whereas it is commonly believed that there are two sides to a coin, in the true sense of events in Nigeria today, there are actually three sides to a coin,” listing them as insecurity, corruption and impunity.
He said if Nigeria must move forward, these three issues must be addressed holistically, pointing out that the support of all Nigerians must be secured if this must be achieved.
“The commitment of the judiciary is to do things differently and in a good manner. Our commitment is to have a good Nigerian society where peace and justice reign.
“I want to tell you also that though we also say that there are two sides to a coin, in reality, there are three sides to a coin.
“In our condition, in terms of where we find ourselves today, it is my personal view that insecurity, corruption, and impunity are the three sides of the same coin which ought to be taken together holistically if we are to move the country forward.
“I want us to think about that and to carry this through, we need the support of Nigerians, particularly the Nigerian on the street who feels deprived in one way or the other, rightly or wrongly.
“It could be imaginary but it ought to be attended to, as where his problems are coming from may not necessarily be the source of his problem.
“But it is necessary for us to look in that direction incase he is right. If we have security and justice, then many of these agitations will equally die down,” Onnoghen stated.
Speaking on behalf of the governors, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, said even though nearly all the problems confronting Nigeria today had arisen from the states, the governors were doing their best possible to fix them.
He disagreed with the CJN that there are three sides to a coin, insisting that they are two, which he classified as security and the economy.
He said both of them are inseparable, even as he highlighted the resurgence of terrorism in the North-east, noting that if at all government fails to achieve anything, it must guarantee security.
He observed that whereas agriculture has the capacity to provide employment to 75 per cent of Nigerians, various governments had paid scant attention to agriculture, disclosing that in the last two years, only N23 billion has been invested in the sector.
“The issue of insecurity largely, 99.9 per cent, emanates from the states. Only a few issues are from the centre here in Abuja. It is the primary responsibility of government to secure the lives and property of its citizens.
“The governors are doing their best and the security chiefs can attest to that. We have been shouldering so many responsibilities of logistics in our separate states.
“If government will not achieve anything, it must achieve two things – fighting corruption and ensuring that it stems insecurity. We are still having some pockets of issues in the North-east which is worrisome.
“In the last 12 months, we were experiencing some kind of progress but all of a sudden, it resurfaced again, and also you will agree with me that the issue of security has two sides of a coin, although the CJN said it has three sides.
“Security and the economy have to work together. The issue of insecurity is being supported by our teeming unemployed youths in the streets. Government needs to deploy resources and encourage those in the centre to employ those youth on the streets and take them out of the streets so that they can have something worthwhile to engage them in.
“We have not been paying much attention to agriculture. My reason: in the last 10 years, only N400 billion was invested by either the Central Bank of Nigeria or commercial banks or the capital markets in the sector.
“But in 2010, AMCON came to rescue banks with bad debts and over N4 trillion was injected into AMCON and not much impact was made on agriculture. N23 billion has been invested in 200,000 farmers across the nation in two years. But N23 billion can do nothing for the sector that we believe can give employment to 75 per cent of Nigerians. So more investment is required in the sector,” he stated.
Present at the meeting besides the CJN and governors were the ministers, service chiefs, heads of the anti-graft agencies, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), among others.