OPINION: TOGETHER WE CAN STOP DANGEROUS SPEECH IN NIGERIA

By Obiora Jane//

In recent times, Nigeria and its people have witnessed a disturbing trend in social, political and religious platforms that question our tradition for friendship, love for neighborhood and sense of unity.

For more than two decades, various communities in Kaduna state have had relationships built upon love and respect, but this trend appears to blur our beautiful stories of love, tolerance and unity that the world admires.

Dangerous Speech is any form of expression whether verbal, text, musical or images that are used to encourage violence towards an individual(s) or groups based on identity, religion, nationality, sex and disability, according to the Dangerous Speech project, an organization focused on understanding and countering dangerous speech. This has been weaponized by political, religious and civic leaders to mobilize people against each other and enable violence. Many people do not know how easily dangerous speech can encourage violence. Dangerous speech should not be an element of messaging because it negates fundamental human rights.

If you look at the conventional media, social media and blogs; channels used by the people of different ages, you will notice the rising trend of voices of hate, misunderstanding, intolerance and lack of respect as well as the level of division. If unchecked, this is capable of looming disaster and continuing to spread wars.

A clear example was the Rwanda genocide 1994 against Tusi by the Hutus, who are the majority. This emanated from one calling the other “cockroaches “which incited hate and violence that led to the death of thousands and wanton properties destroyed in just 100days.

Another example was on November 8, 2016 during the American presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump when then-candidate Trump used different forms of dangerous speech to incite conflict between Democrats and Republicans.

In Nigeria, the civil war from July 1967 to January 1970 proceeded and started because of a series of dangerous speech, hate pronouncement, hate conduct, and actions inflicted upon others, leading to the death of over two million Nigerians.

Today, many older Nigerians still carry deep pain and injuries on their bodies caused by the civil war.

A few cases of dangerous speech were recorded during farmers and herders conflict from 2016-2018 in Southern Kaduna over animal grazing land and access to economic resources, leading to the death of over 1000 people.

At the Centre for Peace Advancement and Socio-Economic Development (CPAED), we are committed to preventing and mitigating violent conflict and extremism.

As such, our concern is about the growing level of dangerous speech expressed on media platforms as well as in streets, which has ruined the social fabric. Nigeria stands at risk of an impending crisis in the face of unchecked dangerous, hate, and divisive speeches. This may snowball into a war situation.

To address this concern, CPAED has joined efforts with Beyond Conflict and Peace Initiative Network (PIN) to celebrate the International Day of People Living Together in Peace through its campaign against the use of dangerous speech and intolerance in communities of Kaduna state and Nigeria at large.

In its research with over 1,700 Kaduna residents, Beyond Conflict found that 59% of those who responded to the survey had family members injured or killed in inter-religious clashes and 12.5% had been personally injured themselves.

However, 81% of those who responded to the survey were willing to invite someone from the other religion to their family event, and 71% of them thought people from the other religion were good neighbors.

Interaction between Christians and Muslims is taking place in Kaduna – and people are willing to cooperate with each other – but conflict and violence continues to take place regularly.

To counter the violence, we must challenge the use of dangerous speech in our communities.

We must change the narrative and re-humanize each by recognizing what we share in common – love of our families, grief, growing up and many other experiences we share as human beings.

We all share common human traits and are complex people with various emotions irrespective of our differences.

We must remember that when hearing dangerous speech used against one group, it dehumanizes.

We hereby call on governments, Civil Society Organizations, media, professionals, bloggers, journalists, academia, political parties, religious leaders, traditional rulers, women and youth groups as well as digital citizens to join this effort to counter dangerous speech and promote social cohesion, love and peace.

We also appeal to digital citizens using social media to refrain from using dangerous speech by not sharing posts, retweets or spreading any messages containing hate and dangerous speech.

We solicit that you sign a pledge against the use of dangerous speech on www.cpaedng.org or use the Hashtag #RehumanizeNigeria to increase the campaign’s visibility.

Therefore, practice peace, preach peace and spread the word about peace in nook and crannies of Kaduna State and Nigeria at large.

God Bless Kaduna State
God Bless Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Obiora Jane is the Coordinator of CPAED