With barely a week to the Presidential and National Elections on 16th February 2019, the Arewa Media Forum last Saturday joined the ongoing affray against hate speech and electoral violence.
At an impressive one-day Seminar held at Arewa House in Kaduna, the apex body of media practitioners in Northern Nigeria, popularly known as Arewa Media Forum treated their select audience to the topical issue.
Chaired by the urbane and well-informed Emir of Kazaure, His Royal Highness Alhaji Najeeb Hussein, the main speaker was Malam Mohammed Ibrahim. Mohammed Ibrahim is the veteran broadcaster who has made history in the Nigerian broadcast media as the only person to be the Chief Executive of both the Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN – the two, giant broadcast organisations of the Federal Government. His speech centered on the role of the traditional mainstream media.
Another major speaker at the Seminar,DanlamiNmodu, mni, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Newsdiary also delivered a paper which dealt mainly with the role of the new media – the so called Social Media – in the war against hate speech and electoral violence.
The two papers were discussed by Dr. Noyeri Muhammad Jajere and Gloria MabeiamBallason, a legal practitioner. There were also major interventions from Aisha Sani Gwandu and Ibrahim Manufa and other members of the audience.
In the main paper captioned “Political Violence In Nigeria – Causes and implications”, the speaker displayed exceptionalinsightin the subject matter. Drawing deep from his knowledge of history, he argued that “the political violence in the Western Region culminated in the upheavals that were claimed to have led to the first military coup d’etat on January 15th 1966 which brought about the end of the first Republic, less than six years after the country’s independence.” He thus made it clear that political violence could be an invitation to undiluted tyranny.
He argued that “Electoral violence has been largely responsible for the evolution and sustenance of violent political culture in the country. This has emboldened some desperate politicians to threaten and actually resort to violence when they fear that they might lose elections. Moreover, electoral violence is a tool for the subversion of democratic order where some political leaders employ the services of thugs to intimidate majority of party members in order to impose candidates during party primaries and to ensure that the candidates win the general elections by all means.”
From a historical perspective, he identified the post- election violence of 2011 as the worst in the political history of Nigeria. From his vantage position as a member of the Sheik Ahmad Lemu Committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate the causes of the violence, he disclosed to the audience that 943 people were killed, 838 injured and 626 arrested. Out of the number of people killed, Kaduna had the highest with 827 and yet nobody was arrested let alone prosecuted in Kaduna.
Giving further details of the gravity of the 2011 post -election violence, he said “In terms of destruction of property, we received a claim of nearly N41 billion…Kaduna topped the league with a claim of over N23 billion. A claim of nearly N 6billion came from Katsina, Bauchi, with a little under four billion Naira, Kano a little over three billion and Akwa Ibom with a claim of about two billion Naira. The least came from Borno with a claim of forty-one million Naira.”
In his paper captioned “Hate Speech And The Role Social Media In A Period of Elections” Danlami Nmodu identified Hate Speech as a major challenge we are now contending with, globally and domestically.
He noted that because of the speed it delivers, social media can be used for good or evil. Politicians, religious, social and entertainment moguls use it as well as criminals and outcasts, including terrorists. In Nigeria, he said the liberalization of media space which internet provides has made it a veritable platform for hate speech. These are tendencies we must watch out for in time of elections to avoid bloodshed.
But why is Arewa Media Forum so concerned about hate speech and electoral violence. As pointed out by the lead speaker, Mohmmed Ibrahim, electoral violence is increasingly becoming a northern problem. In 2011, for instance when Nigeria experienced her worst electoral violence, States like Kaduna topped the list of human casualties and property losses and destructions. Needless to say, opinion leaders in the north like media practitioners must take it upon themselves to do battle with the menace.
After extensive deliberations, the one-day Seminar came out with a communique which emphasized the following:
*Government should embark on massive voter education and job creation.
*Adequate security measures should be put in place to ensure law and order are maintained especially by politicians during and after political campaigns, rallies and elections.
*Social re-orientation so that politicians should learn to accept the outcome of elections, embrace and congratulate the winner and comfort the loser.
*There is need to develop effective policies that could address the problem of youth restiveness and unemployment.
*Special courts should be set up to quickly deal with electoral offences.
*The NDLEA should breast up to curb the spread of illicit drugs to youth and criminal gangs.
*Religious and traditional institutions should respect their leadership position and remain neutral in political contests.
* Improve funding of security agencies operations especially the police.
* Restrictions should be imposed on the use of security vote to fund political thugs and militia who make and cause political violence.
* There is need for politicians to evolve a culture of political contest where there is always a winner and a loser without bitterness. We are all aware that democracy does not thrive on violence.
* The media both print and electronic, should reintroduce the old fashioned policy of self- censorship, and a way should be found tocontrol the excesses of social media.
* Those of us who at one time or the other occupied editorial chairs or are currently occupying such chairs should uphold the fairness, truth and accuracy.
* Democracy cannot thrive without a free and responsible media; It is therefore the responsibility of media practitioners to promote and protect our fragile democracy to survive.
* Hate Speech is yet to be codified under Nigerian law. The bill making hate speech actionable is still before the National Assembly. There is need for the National Assembly to study the bill carefully and pass it without delay.
* Nigerians must learn how to say no to incitement to violence by politicians.
* Government must reform educational curricular to ensure our children grow up to be adults.
It was a worthwhile enterprise for yours sincerely who participated at the Seminar.