Two recent provocative and inciting presidential pronouncements; namely: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s misinterpretation of the regional and international meaning of hates speeches and returnee President Muhammadu Buhari’s war-like and militarized State of the Federation broadcast have further exposed how the democracy challenged Government breeds hates killings and speeches and secessionism by way of security radicalization, inaction, misinterpretation and selective application of the Nigeria’s Body of Laws especially the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
Most, if not all Nigerians and the State actor and non-State actor members of the international community have continued to express shocks and disbelief over the presidential and private attitudes in recent times of the person and office of the Vice President of Nigeria, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo-a professor of law and SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria). Though professorship of law does not confer on its bearer the status of the master of all in law knowledge and profession; but a dispensable authority in a very small unit of a sub law discipline; yet the above named attentive and respected members of the modern global community especially the citizens of Nigeria and all lovers of democracy and its free society/speeches have expected Professor Yemi Osinbajo to serve as soothing point and chief intellectual backbone for the person and office of Nigeria’s President; as they concern the leadership and management of the country’s democracy, constitutionalism, development, human living, environment, rule of law and human rights.
Disappointedly, Professor Yemi Osinbajo as a vice president, senior advocate of Nigeria, pastor of a Pentecostal church, human rights activist and professor of law has failed woefully and disappointed Nigerians and the entire global community. In a country governed by the Constitution and numerous ratified regional and international treaties as well as various codified laws of the country, the Vice President has continuously since 2015 imposed on all Nigerians his personal biases and highly sentimental views as the new laws of Nigeria.
In the immortal words of the late Music icon, Mr. Fela Anikulapo Kuti; Professor Yemi Osinbajo has become a teacher who teaches Nigerians nonsense! Totally alarmed and condemned are Professor Osinbajo’s recent undemocratic and biased interpretation of hates speech and his description of same as “act of terrorism”. We not only view the Vice President’s pronouncement with uttermost suspicion but also fear that it is targeted at shutting the country’s democratic forces and exponents of free society especially based or hailed from the South-south and Southeast Nigeria.
Mr. Vice President/Law Professor had not long ago given such warped interpretations to some sensitive sections of the Constitution. Nigerians and Nigeria are yet to recover from the controversial interpretation by the same Vice President of Section 171 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution with respect to whether Nigeria’s Senate can confirm or not the chairmanship nominee for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Vice President had claimed that the Senatorial confirmation is not needed for all appointive headships of the Federal extra ministerial bodies covered by Section 171. Yet the EFCC Act of 2004 in its Section 2 (3) provides for the confirmation of its Chairmanship nominee by the Senate. This was after the Presidency had sent the name of Mr. Ibrahim Magu twice to Senate for confirmation as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC. This has made Mr. Magu as the longest serving federal government political appointee in acting capacity in the history of Nigeria and its acclaimed democratic rule.
Yet, it was the same Presidency that recently or much longer after, sent another name to Senate to be confirmed as the Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulations Commission (NERC). NERC is another extra ministerial body created or covered by Section 171 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution. Since then, there have been controversies after controversies on account of the Vice President Osinbajo’s biased interpretational pronouncement. The controversies got compounded on account of the refusal by the Presidency and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to refer the issue, early enough, to the Supreme Court for resolution.
On the other hand, we see the Vice President’s recent description of “hates speech in Nigeria” as “act of terrorism” not only as militarist, draconian and unconstitutional; but it is also nothing short of the return of Decrees 2 and 4 of 1984. Though hates speech especially incitement to genocide is considered as a crime under the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the international law proper, but this is not yet criminalized and codified in Nigeria in clearly defined terms and procedures. Contrary to Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s claim that hates speech is an act of terrorism in Nigeria, hates speech has nothing whatsoever to do with Nigeria’s Terrorism and its Prevention Act of 2011 (amended in 2013). No part of section of the Act clearly and unambiguously says so. Besides, Nigeria’s body of criminal laws and their procedures do not recognize mens rea (guilty mind) alone as a crime except it is accompanied by actus reus or guilty act. Internationally, to be called a crime of hates speech (i.e. incitement to genocide), its intent must be irrefutably established printably or electronically with direct link to its specific targeted genocidal population.
The Vice President’s referenced biased interpretation further offends the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria especially subsections 8 and 12 of its Sections 36; which forbids arrest, detention, trial, conviction and sentencing of any citizen over an offense that is not clearly written down in a written and constituted an offense at the time of such arrest, detention, trial and sentencing; with its penalties clearly written, defined and proactively measured. Difference exists between a tribal group issuing a genocidal threat with a public quit notice targeted at over 11million guest residents and another agitating nonviolently for a statehood or a sovereign or general peoples’ conference; without any form of genocidal threat against its co-tribe; to determine how and whether to live together or apart. Nationally, regionally and internationally, the former presently receiving government protection, aiding and abetting; are offenders of the crime of genocidal incitement.
For purposes of clear understanding and putting the records straight, hates speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion. It is further defined as an advocacy of hatred based on nationality, race or religion; which has occupied an exceptional position in international law including the Rome Statute of 1998, ratified by Nigeria in 2001. A major component of hates speech is called direct and public incitement to genocide which was one of the key charges laid against defendants in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the case of its 1994 Genocide. In defining what constitutes hates speech, therefore, extreme is always taken. In the case of the Rwandan anti Genocide Tribunal, for instance, the Tribunal elaborated somewhat on the definition of the crime (hates speech). In the particular case of the Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza, Ngeze, it stated that the defendant’s intent must be established.
The International Law also recognizes the inherent dignity and equality of every individual as the foundational axiom of international human rights. It is upon this that it condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings. Article 20(2) of the ICCPR (Int’l Covenant on Civil & Political Rights) requires states to prohibit hate speech, but does not require states to prohibit all negative statements towards national groups, races or religions but, as soon as a statement “constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” it must be banned. That is to say that while we condemn hates speeches locally and internationally, our rise in strong condemnation of Professor Osinbajo’s latest pronouncement of hates speech as “act of terrorism” is strongly based on the likelihood of the present Buhari/Osinbajo Administration brutally eroding constitutional liberties and democratic free speeches hiding under the cover of “fight against hates speech”.
Advocacy silence over this could also give the Administration room to run riot on Nigerians using “hates speech”. This is more so when the same Government has now created its own version of “hates speech” and terrorized it without codification or federal legislation. A central Government that arrested since 14th December 2015 and detained till date without trial aging Nigerian husband and wife for their religious beliefs; after battering their bodies with live bullets and killing over 1000 of their sect members; cannot be allowed a breathing space in its latest pronouncement and magisterial criminalization of hates speech as an “act of terrorism”.
Yesterday’s Monday morning national broadcast by the returnee President of Nigeria has further added more salt to the injury and confirmed the real motives behind Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s terrorization of “hates speech”. The broadcast was riddled with threats of State violence, militarism and militarization and general state of hopelessness for all Nigerians. The broadcast also was anti free speech and a ferocious attack on Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution especially its Section 22 (roles of all agents of the mass media in defending, advancing and promoting democracy and civil governance) and Section 39 (freedom of expression). It further lent credence to the fact that Nigeria is not a democratic free society or civil government, but a fully fledged malevolent diarchy government with deployment of battalions of soldiers or military in 28, out of its 36 States.
The returnee President’s broadcast has further put Nigerians in quandary and hopelessness. Nigerians had expected their returnee President, to no avail, to openly acknowledge and apologize; with packages of practical solutions, that road routes from Enugu to Port Harcourt, Enugu to Abuja, Edo to Abuja, Onitsha to Kaduna, Kaduna to Katsina, Lagos to Ibadan, Asaba to Warri; to mention but few, have become nightmare. Nigerians also expected returnee President Buhari, all to no avail, to tell them how trillions of naira worth of central “budgets” since June 2015 have touched their lives tangibly and intangibly. In all, the truth that must be told is that it is the central Government of Buhari/Osinbajo; and not ordinary Nigerians that breeds hates speeches and killings and secessionism through its policies of security radicalization, inaction, misinterpretation and selective application of the laws of Nigerian. By way of government security radicalization through militarism, militarization, trumped up charges, over-criminalization, unlawful killings, extra judicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arrest and long detention without or before trial; the Buhari/Osinbajo’s Government had since June 2015 bred citizens’ militancy, radicalism, ethnic chauvinism, ethno-religious divisions and disunity.
By way of Government inaction including omissions, aiding, abetting and tolerance of illegalities, crimes and group violence; especially in matters of ethnic violence and government aided mass murder; hates speeches and killings are bred by the same Government with their consequential ethno-religious divisions, mass poverty, undergrowth and under-development. This was exactly the eruption of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. By way of Government misinterpretation of the laws especially Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, the return to the state of nature or banana republic is bred and nurtured by same. As a result of same, too, citizens begin to explore loopholes for the purpose of using them to suit their malicious intents and purposes or whims and caprices as well as manipulating and disobeying the laws with reckless abandon.
The key danger of selective application or enforcement of the national laws is the disadvantaged or victim citizens’ resort to self help and reprisal radicalization and other socially inimical approaches. The most recent clear cases in point are the returnee President’s broadcast where he deliberately and merely described well organized and one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups (Fulani terror group and its violent activities) as “Fulani herdsmen-Farmers’ clash”.
The second clearest case in point was the Northern elders backed quit notice against over 11million Igbo citizens residing in Northern Nigeria; which the central Buhari/Osinbajo’s Government has refused to act on punitively till date.
Int’l Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman.
Mobile Line: +2348174090052
Barr Chinwe Umeche Head, Democracy and Good Governance Program Barr Obianuju Igboeli Head, Civil Liberties and Rule of Law Program.