Hate Speech, Ndigbo And Akiolu’s Free Fall | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Letters, Opinion

Hate Speech, Ndigbo And Akiolu’s Free Fall

Posted: Apr 30, 2015 at 5:44 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Okey Okoroji


History is replete with very many incidents of hate speeches and their consequential violence and even genocide. In Hitler’s Germany and Eastern Europe during the World War II, the Jewish people suffered as consequential victims of Hitlerian demagogic hate speeches. The traumatized Jewish people will not forget the holocaust in a hurry.  Nor has the world forgotten the Ruanda genocide and the Bosnian war of the mid-1990s preceded by inflammatory hate speeches. Robert Mugabe’s hate speeches drove his black countrymen into a murderous frenzy of violence against the white farmers and in turn, drove many of the white farmers out of Zimbabwe. Mugabe got away with it. The rest is history.

Oba Akiolu

Oba Akiolu

The United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will, for the first time, begin tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs. The move followed the release of new FBI guidelines on bias-motivated criminal offenses. The tracking of hate crimes started after activists complained that law enforcement agencies weren’t doing enough to monitor bias-motivated offenses and hate speeches against groups especially the ethnic minorities. That is a clear indication that hate speeches and other bias-motivated crimes have become matters of genuine concern in that country and the U.S. government has taken proactive and preemptive steps to confront them in order to nip and their ugly consequences in the board. There will be no sacred cows in the law enforcement.

This is unlike the situation in South Africa where a couple of weeks ago, a wave of violence erupted. The Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini was reported to have made hate speeches instigating his South African kinsmen against immigrants, in an already deeply volatile society, precipitating violence and xenophobic attacks on foreigners including Nigerians living in South Africa.  In his words:  “We must remove ticks and place them outside in the sun. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and be sent back,” he told supporters at a stadium in Durban in March. Xenophobic attacks followed. Several lives were lost and properties worth millions of South African Rands destroyed. South African government which ought to have quickly and appropriately dealt with the problem was lackadaisical in its response to the violence which seems to suggest its connivance or tacit approval of the xenophobic attacks. It took international pressure from China, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to steer South African government in action. The question is –if the white community in South Africa were to be the targets of the attacks would the South African government’s response be the same? Your guess is as good as mine.

Any speech that “attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability” qualifies as a hate speech. Speeches intended to foster hatred against individuals or groups based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, place of national origin, or other improper classification amounts to a hate speech. Hates speeches are not protected by law. In civilized crimes hate speeches are crimes. Under the US Constitution, a hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment and the fundamental rights provisions under the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 do not accommodate hate speeches.

Prior to the 11th of April, 2015 in Lagos State, Oba Riwani Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos arrogantly and without provocation, made a bias-motivated hate speech and even issued threats to life against the Igbo community in Lagos. What was even more amazing was the conspiracy of silence by those who should have spoken out against such backward affront to the democratic values of free choice. Regrettably, the Nigerian government ignored Oba Akiolu and did nothing. The Nigerian government’s appalling response or more appropriately –a lack of response to the hate speech of Oba Akiolu, clearly showed that the government underrated or failed to appreciate the explosive potentials of such speeches to cause inter-ethnic conflicts and violence.

More regrettable was that virtually all the self-styled vanguards of democracy in the publicity department of the All Progressive Congress lost their voices and even went into hibernation. The deafening silence of many of the ‘human rights entrepreneurs’ in Lagos was congruent. We were anxious to hear the comments of the Odumakins, the Falanas, the Keyamos, the Lai Mohammeds of this world. They all suddenly lost their voices. The Western Nigerian press known for its proactive stance on democratic and human rights issues showed clear bias by putting the matter in the back-burner. The ominous silence of Ndigbo, the actual targets of the hate speech, is even more worrisome and a matter for serious concern.

In Nigeria, time and time again, we have seen vicious attacks, threats of violence and actual use of violence targeted Igbo community in many parts of Nigeria and at different times. During the Biafra civil war, the hate comments of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the effects that hunger is a weapon of war provided the ideological basis for the policy of heartless blockades cutting of food supply lines and causing deaths of thousands of Biafra children. Few Nigerians are in doubt as to whether the comment of Oba Akiolu directed at Ndigbo qualifies as hate speech. Oba Akiolu’s comment may be dismissed as bigoted ranting or merely painful words, it could also serve as an important warning sign for a much more severe consequence: genocide. Increasingly virulent hate speech is often a precursor to mass violence.

Oba Akiolu’s speech only seemed to have reinforced an atmosphere of mutual intolerance and age-long adversarialism between the two major ethnic groups of southern Nigeria. It might even have undermined the much desired freedom from fear and mutual suspicion and also the assurance that Yorubaland particularly Lagos has pivotal role to play in the sustenance of this Federal Republic.

Perhaps Oba Akiolu and his ilk need to be reminded that their appellation as ‘Kabiosi’ is mere ornamental and decorative title. If they consider themselves kings, then they are kings without kingdoms since their kingdoms had long disappeared. They also need to be reminded that Nigeria and its constitutions have successfully subdued their kingdoms and taken over the sovereignties of their old principalities which had existed here in the pre-colonial times. So Oba Akiolu’s nostalgic assumption of his moribund monarchical powers has unveiled his anti-democratic mindset and revealed a man who so clearly belongs to the remote past that he is better consigned to the museums.

Akiolu’s comment belittled his office if he has any. His comments were comments of a desperate man, driven into paranoia by the mere presence of a harmless people whose only crime was that they genuinely resolved to exercise their constitutional right to elect one of Akiolu kinsmen, Jimi Agbaje, as governor of Lagos state, a right over which Akiolu has not powers. To remember that this man had risen to the rank of Assistant Inspector General in Nigeria Police Force (NPF) raises the question as to what kind of policeman he could have been.

By his comments he seeks to destroy all the gains this country has made in fraternal solidarity among the various ethnic nationalities especially in Lagos all because of inordinate greed for power and control of Lagos government, and for fear of competition and sharing of government contracts, jobs and with people of other groups. It is unfortunate.

Had hate speeches been criminalized in Nigeria, the Oba Akiolu Lagos would probably have been cooling off in the prison now or would have received other forms of sanctions or would not even have been as reckless with his mouth as he was on that day. However, there are sufficient provisions in our criminal law to ground his conviction for inciting violence and genocide. His unprovoked attack on innocent Igbo people is unacceptable. His prosecution both in Nigeria and in International Criminal Court (ICC) should be the right thing to do.

Moreover, there is a need criminalize hate speeches and to provide safe guards, checks and balances against such dangerous and unconstitutional conducts which must include giving law enforcement agencies the resources and information they need to help prevent and punish such speeches that might lead to violence and genocide.

Or was it part of the persistent and systematic repression of Ndigbo in Lagos or could it be the continuation of the post-civil war psychological warfare against a people seeking to achieve the impossible, namely to intimidate and cow a fearless people by those who feel threatened not just by perceived successes of Ndigbo but even by the their mere presence in Lagos.  Akiolu needs to go to biblical Goliath, learn some lessons, consider himself and be wise. That is the only way he can forestall his impending free fall.


•Okoroji, wrote in from Lagos