The following is a statement by a group of Nigerian writers in response to rising levels of hostile language in the west African country. It was released on 28 June 2017.
We, the undersigned Nigerian writers, view with grave concern the dominance of ethnic incendiary speech in our country. We are deeply troubled that the public space – both online and offline – has been hijacked by a vocal minority of individuals who promote ethnocentric ideas inimitable to the peace and well being of a majority of citizens. Nigerian citizens have a right to freely express their opinions on governance as enshrined in the Constitution. However, this fundamental right of freedom of speech is being used to disseminate hate speech, which goes contrary to the right itself and the spirit of the Constitution that enshrines it.
Nigeria is a federated state with over 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages. The survival of our 170 million people lies in our ability to curtail conflicting ethnic tensions. We have, however, had instances of conflict along ethno-religious lines, most notably the civil war in the period 1967 to 1970 which saw millions of Nigerian citizens killed. The “us” against “them” rhetoric that ignited bloodshed of a bestial magnitude since independence has re-surfaced again. A new breed of ethnic entrepreneurs seem hell-bent on causing anarchy for political motives. The lessons of our history are being ignored. Strength in diversity is considered weakness.
We, as writers, are aware of the effects of such parochial politics in our continent: the ethnic tensions in the early 1970’s in Zambia, the animus of ethnic hate in post-apartheid South Africa, the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, the ongoing displacement and insecurity in Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the post-election ethnic killings in Kenya, etc, are markers of warning of note.
We strongly believe that no amount of social grievance against the government can justify this level of irresponsible ethnocentric hatred currently being peddled by a growing number of disgruntled groups in this country. Similarly, we are mortified by the initial nonchalance and apparent misguided handling by the authorities of the root cause of hate speech in the country.
We condemn this growing trend of hate speech in the strongest terms.
Freedom of speech, though sacrosanct, is not absolute. Our freedom is a shared one, limited by the freedom of others. Citizens must draw the line between free speech and arbitrary spite. For a multi-ethnic state with fault lines such as ours, the lasting solution lies in healing the cleavages that promote ethnic division. This also means the triumph of a national identity that transcends the opportunistic ethnocentric group identity, which has been the bane of Nigeria’s nationhood. Clearly, we cannot pretend that all is well with our “federation”. We assert that our union can only be saved by transparency, frankness and a deliberate revision of structures and relations. Because of the lack of boldness and the inactions of the past, we have a bad deal of a leprous nation in our hands. As writers, we insist, that there should be no prevarication in this matter. We reiterate the call for the restructuring of Nigeria in a manner of true federalism.
We also call on the government of Nigeria to do everything in its power to protect her citizens and avert another spate of useless killings, and to listen to all aggrieved segments in a constructive and productive manner. It is the duty of government to make the country livable just as it is for citizens to work in building a country to which we are all happy to belong. This means an interrogation of our national memory, reinstating the teaching of a thorough curriculum of Nigerian history in primary and secondary schools, a celebration of our individual cultures and languages, and, above all, the application of justice where rights have been violated.
Nigeria’s democracy, attained through great sacrifice and loss, now faces its most crucial test of ensuring that citizens are safe wherever they choose to reside, be it in the north-east, north-west, north-central, south-east, south-west, or south-south.
Thus, we condemn hate speech or ethnic-based politics or activism that seeks to challenge the right of Nigerians to live, work, or associate in peace anywhere in the country. We also call on all Nigerians to unite and face our common enemies – those who have sworn to destroy our common wealth. We stand for open association and peaceful engagement and the nurturing of diversity. In insisting on this, we, as writers, stand for a secure country with a just society worthy of all our aspirations.
Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Abimbola Adunni Adelakun
Terseer Sam Baki
June 28, 2017