In the midst of political agitations from different groups in the country, Nigeria’s federal government has come into the debate forcefully by declaring hate speech as a crime of terrorism under the country’s amended anti-terrorism law.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo clearly stated on Thursday at a security forum in the capital Abuja that the government is taking intimidation of people by words and speech very seriously and will not tolerate it.
“Hate speech is a species of terrorism … We’ve 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 it,” he said.
He also cautioned community leaders against speaking in a manner that creates dissension or to intimidate a population because “they do a great disservice to our unity and nation.” The government’s move is meant to douse tension in the country.
Nigeria’s amended Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 defines terrorism as inter Alia, an act which deliberately is done with malice which may seriously harm or damage a country or seriously intimidate a population.
In reaction to the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a movement agitating for a separate state for the Igbo people of southern Nigeria, a group of northern youth organisations issued a “quit notice” in June to Igbos living in northern Nigeria to leave the region by 1 October 2017.
Even though the group did not threaten violence explicitly, its demand is not only illegal but could prepare the moral climate for violence against Igbos in the North. The threat has been condemned across the country but the leaders of the northern organisations who are well known have not been arrested more than two months after they made the threat.
IPOB, led by the charismatic Nnamdi Kanu, has also been criticised for heating up the polity by its agitation as it could fuel separatist sentiments in other regions of Nigeria, which is home to three major ethnic groups and more than two hundred lesser populous ones.
Kanu, who shot into prominence as founder and director of Radio Biafra London, believes that Nigeria is unworkable in its present form and only an independent nation for Igbos can enable them realise their development potential.
Kanu, who was detained for 14 months by the government, was granted bail by a court in April under stringent conditions. The federal government has applied to the court to detain him again for violating the terms of his release and for posing a danger to peace and security in the country.
Analysts say the agitations in the country reflect popular disenchantment, especially in southern and central Nigeria, with the current political structure of the country. They say the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government should organise a national conference for the purpose of making wide-ranging constitutional reforms. Advocates of restructuring call for the devolution of powers to the constituent states, which will mainly enable them to exercise control over mineral resources occurring in their territory. The Muslim-dominated northern region has been vehemently against such constitutional reform.
Buhari, a Northerner himself who is currently on sick leave in London, has repeatedly rejected calls for the restructuring of the country.