The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), with support from the MacArthur Foundation, has inaugurated a Special Investigation Panel to investigate all alleged cases of Hate Speech and Election-related Violence in Nigeria’s 2015 elections.
The Special Investigation Panel of the NHRC was set up to “investigate all complaints and petitions received by the Commission on Hate Speech and Election-related Violence during the 2015 General Elections and beyond; examine which persons or organisations were responsible for such Hate Speech or Election Violence; make recommendations for holding accountable all persons or organisations responsible for such election related violence or hate speech; and undertake any other or further tasks related to or necessarily incidental to the foregoing.”
According to section 5(b) of the National Human Rights Commissions Act, 1995, the Commission shall: “monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violation and make appropriate recommendation to the President for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance.”
Speaking at the inauguration of this Special Committee, the Executive Secretary, Prof. Bem Angwe, indicated that the Commission will not hesitate to prosecute all those responsible for hate speech and electoral violence during the 2015 elections. Prof Angwe said “We are taking this step to ensure that each and every person who took part in electoral violence or hate speech is held accountable and made to explain and if unable to explain, should be punished” adding that, “We promised Nigerians that this is what we will do and we want to deliver on our promise. Gone are the days when people committed electoral violence and went free.”
As part of efforts to stem the tide of electoral violence and the promotion of hate speech in Nigeria, Professor Angwe said that the Commission was taking steps to bring the full weight of the law on persons who engage in acts capable of breaching the peace of the nation. He added that the Commission was compiling names of ad-hoc and permanent staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who carried out acts that caused violence in the 2015 General Elections.
Professor Angwe noted that in the realm of human rights, there was no immunity for impunity and no one will be spared, no matter how highly placed. He explained that “We are going to be very impartial; this means that no person will be spared, no matter how highly placed that person is. Whoever was involved in this will be sought out and punished to serve as a deterrent to others.”
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Human Rights, Rep. Mahjud Alabi, expressed concerns that the elections which are the most civilised way of choosing representatives sometimes take the toga of acrimony and rancour.
Alabi noted that “Campaigners often use language that is inciteful, abusive, derogatory, provocative or clearly pejorative against an opponent. It is such speech that leads to violence or mischief. Hate speech is illegal and therefore not allowed by law and electoral statute. The patterns of hate speech in Nigeria during elections is national cutting across all geo-political zones’’
Alabi who was the chairman of the occasion, noted that hate speech violates the right to decency and dignity of the human person. According to him, using foul language to gain support or votes is criminal and punishable under the law. “When violence or conflicts occur on account of using hate speech, it amounts to violation of human rights. Under the NHRC Act, the Commission has the mandate to protect the rights of all Nigerians.’’ He recalled that a report released by the commission prior to the 2015 elections showed that 58 people had lost their lives due to hate speech.
The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, appealed to the panel to also explore ways to putting a stop to cyber hate speech. Prof Yakubu, who was represented by Mr Oluwale Uzi, Director, Voter Education and Publicity, said it was more effective to monitor hate speech and nip them in the bud before they escalated. He, however, pledged INEC’s support to the Commission to help rid the country of hate speech, particularly during elections.
Responding on behalf of members of the Committee, the Chairperson, Mrs Oti Ovrawah, pledged that the Committee would give fair hearing to all involved and appealed to Nigerians to cooperate with the panel in ensuring an end to electoral violence in the country.
The Committee is expected to investigate all petitions received on hate speech and violence during the 2015 General Elections and has two months to presents its findings. The Committee is also expected to identify all persons or organisations responsible for such hate Speech or election-related violence and make recommendations.