Dangerous Speech has helped to catalyze violence that caused the loss of lives and properties in many societies. It has also by extension broken bonds of trust and mutual coexistence and implanted hatred, suspicion, and disregard between many communities. The mass violence that has often ensued is a strong lesson that societies, communities, and people with a variety of religious, tribal, and political affiliations, must learn.
As Nigeria moves towards the 2019 General Elections now set for 23 February, we have noticed considerable dangerous speech going round, and this time mostly by politicians and clerics, many of who are extremely influential (such as serving elected officials, party leaders and stalwarts, former top government officials, respected clerics, etc). Their speech – all too often frightening, threatening, and catalytic of violence – has spread widely on various social media platforms. At the same time there is the increasing circulation of false or fake news, much of which is fueling the generation and spread of dangerous speech in relation to the election.
Dangerous Speech becomes even more volatile and threatening when it is made by prominent personalities. We are saddened that highly placed officials, who should act decisively to condemn dangerous speech and who pledged in writing to avoid it, are themselves producing it, thus stoking the fire of violence in the country.
In the first electoral peace accord, signed on 11 Dec, the candidates and party leaders pledged “To refrain from making or causing to make in our names or that of our party, any public statements, pronouncements, declarations or speeches that have the capacity to incite any form of violence before, during and after the elections.” On 13 February, the candidates renewed those vows in another agreement. Still, the two peace accords have been like thin reeds trying to remain upright in a storm of dangerous speech.
It is on this basis that we, (CITAD + Dangerous Speech Project) strongly recommend the following:
- The two leading political parties in the country, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alongside other political parties, must respect and abide by the terms of the peace accords they have signed at various levels and publicly warn their aspirants, members and supporters against engaging in dangerous speech during and after the 2019 General Elections.
- Jama’atul Nasrul Islam (JNI) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) should condemn dangerous speech by anybody and encourage their clerics and faithful to avoid dangerous speech either in mosques, churches or anywhere during and after the elections.
- Traditional leaders at different levels should also stay away from engaging themselves in dangerous speech.
- Radio and television stations as well as newspapers across the country should not entertain or amplify dangerous speech and their makers before and after the elections.
- Law enforcement agents should be extremely vigilant and ensure dangerous speech does not result in disrupting the peaceful conduct of the elections. As they do so, we call on them to be neutral and impartial.
- We urge Nigerian voters to be orderly, peaceful-loving and avoid dangerous speech during and after the elections, and above all resist the temptation to act on dangerous speech.
We wish Nigeria and Nigerians a peaceful election. God bless Nigeria!
CITAD and the Dangerous Speech Project.
CITAD, the Centre for Information Technology and Development, is a Kano-based non-governmental and non-profit organization that is committed to the use of information and communication technologies for development and promotion of good governance.
The Dangerous Speech Project is a team of leading experts on how speech leads to violence. We aim to use our expertise to maximum effect in advising governments, industry, and civil society in how to effectively anticipate, minimize and respond to such speech in ways that preserve freedom of expression.