Gentlemen of the Press,
In the last few months, our country and its people have witnessed a disturbing trend in the social and political conversation that sometimes call to question our tradition of friendship, love for neighbour and sense of unity. This trend appears to give the impression that we have not learnt anything from our past and the long and well thought out programmes of integration and unification have not yielded fruits. At the National Orientation Agency (NOA) we are worried at the level of division and hate that is being expressed in the conventional and social media and even on the streets about ourselves. If you look at the social media, a channel mostly used by our youths, you will notice that the voices of hate, misunderstanding and lack of appreciation have begun to blur our beautiful diversity for which the world admires our country.
The government is concerned about this because that is not who we are. Our country is known for its beautiful stories of love, unity and respect for each other. For more hundreds of years, the various communities in our country have had relationships that were consolidated at Independence. Our forefathers worked together to achieve Independence for all of us. In fact, the Federal Government had risen quite early to underscore this relationship through several platforms. You will recall that the Acting President devoted most of the last two months in consultations with leaders of thought from every region and group to re-emphasise the imperatives of our unity. From those consultations, it is clear that our leaders, traditional rulers, religious groups, political organisations and parties and our women are in one voice for the unity of our dear nation.
Gentlemen of the press, the latest disturbing aspect of this trend is that of hate songs. NOA is in possession of at least three songs already recorded to preach hate in our communities. Two out of these songs are in mass circulation in the social media, particularly on Facebook and Youtube. The latest one was only released three days ago. The more disturbing part of this is that each of the songs appears to want to outdo the other. We are also aware that messages from Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) group have continually been filled with hate and derision for other ethnic communities. We have also noticed that those who dare to call them to order have become the subject of attack by these groups through their songs and messages.
Our concern is that the social fabric of our nation is being ruined and we stand at risk of an impending crisis in the face of unchecked hate and divisive speeches. Nigerians risk the loss of their freedoms if the current ugly trend of hate speeches is allowed to snowball into a war situation. The current on-going altercations and vituperations of hate across the country by individuals, well-known leaders, religious leaders, groups of persons and organisations have a strong foreboding of looming disaster. If we allow our country to be plunged into a crisis just because of the antics of an irresponsible few, none of us will be spared of the deadly destructive effects.
You will all recall that the 30 month Civil War of July 1967 to January 1970, in which over two million of our compatriots lost their lives, was preceded and started by intolerance and a series of hate pronouncements, hate speeches, hate conducts and hate actions inflicted upon one another by the citizens. Today, many older Nigerians still carry within their bodies, with a deep sense of nostalgia, the pains of injuries from the Civil War. There is nothing romantic about war. In any form, war is bad, condemnable and must be avoided.
The Federal Government is committed to its constitutional obligation to ensure the safety and security of all Nigerian citizens, wherever they maybe and is taking all necessary measures in that regard in the face of the current situation.
In order to address the concerns caused by the several agitations by ethno-religious interests that have also led to illegal quit orders and counter orders against some communities, the National Orientation Agency has directed all its State Directorates and Community Orientation and Mobilisation Officers (COMOs) to commence peace-building sensitization and advocacy visits to settler communities to reassure them of government’s commitment to their safety and security. Also, the Agency will soon embark on a nationwide advocacy campaign against hate and intolerance, which will focus on leaders of thought in all States of the Federation. These campaigns will underscore the Federal Government’s commitment to a united Nigeria where all citizens can pursue their legitimate aspirations. Our messaging will emphasize the following:
I. The obligation of settler communities to live in peace with their hosts
II. The illegality of the quit notices issued by these ethno-religious groups
III. The efforts of government at all levels to build peace, stability and promote dialogue
IV. The responsibility of the security forces to protect all Nigerians irrespective of religion, political affiliation and State of origin.
V. The obligation of all Nigerians to reports all suspicious persons to security agencies.
VI. The need to discourage local communities from using hate speeches.
On the social media, we have embarked on the “Say No to Hate Speech” strategic campaign, using our social media platforms, particularly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The hash tag #SayNoToHateSpeech is being sponsored by the Agency as part of our effort to reach the youth, confront hate speech and intolerance. We implore all journalists, media organisations and digital citizens to join in this effort by using the hash tag thereby increasing its visibility and making the campaign go viral. We also appeal to digital citizens on social media to refrain from hate speeches. Please, do not share posts, retweet or spread any message containing any form of hate speech against any individual, group, ethnic nationality or region.
There is an urgent need for all men and women of goodwill in Nigeria to take measures to curb hate speeches and promote national cohesion, love and unity. We especially urge Nigerian celebrities to exhibit patriotism by volunteering to become national peace ambassadors at this crucial moment in our nationhood in order to effectively influence and stir the youths away from anti-peace tendencies.
Thank you for your attention. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria