A fracturing of the Nigerian state looms on the horizon — harking back to a bloodied history of ethno-religious conflict and fuelled by unchecked ethnic hate speech.
When asked whether Nigeria could really split into two or more nations, Nigerian writer Tade Ipadeola, of the Yoruba ethnic group, tells me: “It’s a real possibility now. In the event that balkanization happens, the least number of succession blocs is three. There is a possibility of up to six countries emerging.”
In response to the worsening climate, a group of Nigerian writers — including Ipadeola — are calling for restraint amid heated rhetoric as the nation splinters along ethnic and religious lines. On June 28, 28 writers published a statement titled “Ethnic hate speech”, addressing the increase in hostile language.
“Freedom of speech, though sacrosanct, is not absolute,” they write. “Our freedom is a shared one, limited by the freedom of others. Citizens must draw the line between free speech and arbitrary spite.”
The statement is careful not to mention specific examples of hate speech, nor does it single out ethnicities. Rather, it’s an impassioned plea offering a “warning” of what can happen when “parochial politics” go unchecked.
Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby sits with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja House, London, UK, March 9, 2017. President Buhari has spent most of the year in London receiving medical treatment. Nigeria Presidential Office/Handout via Reuters