The National Orientation Agency has warned promoters of hate speech to desist from making comments capable of threatening the national unity of the country.
Dr Garba Abari, Director-General of the agency, gave the advice on Tuesday in Kano while delivering a paper entitled, “Hate Speech is not Free Speech” at the on-going second Nigeria Union of Journalists National Conference.
Abari said that hate speech deepened fault-lines, primordial extremism and weakened the fibre that held the country’s component parts together.
He said: “Hate Speech also promotes suspicion, heats up the polity, heightens acrimony.
“It also inflames avoidable social discontent, often crystallising in social tensions and unrest, which ultimately takes its toll on national stability and development.”
According to him, the advent of the new media has provided free reins and propelled the phenomenon of Hate Speech and Fake News to an alarming and disturbing dimension.
He said that promoters of Hate Speech had also found allies in some conventional media platforms who seemed to have found it convenient to jettison professionalism.
Abari said: “If there is anything Hate Speech has and is still contributing to our society, it is nothing other than suspicion, tensions, violence, pain, agony and division leaving in their trail and bitter memories.
“Most regrettable is the fact that its promoters are not exclusive to a particular demographic group. All strata of our society are either by commission or omission guilty of this.
“Therefore, we must collectively bear the burden of taming this ‘wild fire’ before it consumes us all in the name of Free Speech.”
According to him, the constitutional provision that allows for Free Speech does not therefore imply absolute freedom, because one person’s freedom ends where another person’s begins.
He said that Nigerians must also be honest enough to admit that utterances, whether in private or in public, had had an escalating effect on the countries situation.
The NOA boss said that there was greater cause for concern in the build up to the 2019 general elections, considering the obsession with which people were jostling for power and positions.
He said: “It is true that politics is a contest for power; the fact must also not be lost on the players of the game.
“All stakeholders must know that the contest must be issues-based and within the limits of the rules of the game.”
Abari said that governance was about people and the guiding principle, adding that the country’s march toward 2019 should be that of self-preservation.
He this was necessary “because politics for the living and not the dead’’.
The director-general appealed to all Nigerians to promote national cohesion, love and unity in order to sustain the peaceful development of the country.