In today’s interconnected world, freedom of speech has become a double-edged sword. While
it remains a cherished right, the rise of globalization and the widespread use of the Internet has
transformed it into a weapon that can incite hate and violence. The alarming consequences of
unchecked speech have threatened other fundamental rights, such as the right to life and
freedom from discrimination.
Recognizing this pressing concern, Nigeria once took a firm stand with an attempt to enact the hate speech law that has not seen the light to date. While some criticize freedom of expression as an infringement, the reality is that hate speech can potentially tear nations apart. Nigeria, a diverse country rife with ethnoreligious sentiments, needs such laws to safeguard its unity.
Throughout history, freedom of speech has been a cherished right. However, as the world has
become more interconnected, the power of speech has grown exponentially, particularly with
the advent of the internet. It has become apparent that this right can no longer be absolute, as
it has the potential to incite hatred, division, and even violence.
The horrors of hate speech and its devastating consequences have been witnessed worldwide.
Discrimination has been at the core of these horrors, and hate speech laws aim to combat this
destructive force. Even the United Nations acknowledges the importance of such legislation,
underscoring the global consensus on the need to address hate speech as a threat to human
rights and societal harmony.
In Section 39(3), Nigeria’s Constitution recognizes that freedom of expression should be limited when it comes to protecting the interests of a democratic society. While the initial purpose was not explicitly focused on national unity and security, the rise of ethnoreligious sentiments in Nigeria has necessitated enacting hate speech laws to safeguard the country’s cohesion.
Critics of hate speech laws argue that they suppress freedom of expression. However, it is
essential to understand that these laws are not meant to stifle legitimate opinions or dissent but
rather to prevent the spread of hate and violence. Establishing the Independent National
Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches, as proposed by the Bill, the law aims to
balance curbing hate speech and preventing government abuse of power.
Precise definitions of violence and danger must be established to implement hate speech laws effectively. The law should only be applied in cases with concrete evidence of discrimination leading to violence on
a large scale. By setting stringent criteria for prosecution, the legislation will effectively curtail
baseless accusations and deter potential offenders while safeguarding freedom of expression.
As Nigeria grows and embraces its diversity, the need for hate speech laws becomes
The world is evolving, and with it, the understanding that freedom of expression must be balanced with the responsibility to prevent harm or massive violence. In other words, embracing hate speech laws does not imply relinquishing freedom of expression; rather, it signifies a pragmatic approach to protecting the fabric of a diverse society.
Hate speech poses a genuine threat to national unity, and Nigeria’s decision to implement legislation
against it is a proactive step toward preserving harmony in a diverse society. By establishing
comprehensive mechanisms and defining the boundaries of hate speech, Nigeria can protect its
citizens while upholding their fundamental rights. It is time to embrace the truth and recognize
that hate speech laws are essential to ensure a thriving and united Nigeria.