by Mustapha Kabir,
In Nigeria, Cases of murder, beatings, death threats, rape, abductions, malicious damage to property, stoning among others, have been reported.
Politicians and political activists must be aware that due to information and communications technology revolution, it is now easier to detect and publicise cases of political violence. Mobile phones, for example, can be used to take footages of political violence and post them on the Internet.
It will be sad and shameful if Nigeria is seen again under the spotlight for political violence due to the an undertaking signed to avoid actions that could promote violence during and after the polls by the major political parties and their presidential candidates recently.
At the event attended by former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, seven presidential candidates including frontrunners, President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, openly spoke against violence and committed to a peaceful poll.
As a country, Nigeria benefits nothing from political violence other than straining social relations and worsening poverty. And if Buhari and Jonathan can shake hands, Hug, and asked each other about campaign, why should APC and PDP supporters in Nigeria fight each other? It’s high time Nigerians from all walks of life showed maturity and shunned all forms of political violence.
One way of preventing political violence in the forthcoming elections is to avoid and denounce hate speech. Outside the law, hate speech can be defined as communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of one or more characteristics such as ethnicity, religion and political orientation.
I would like to suggest that while politicians and political activists have freedom of speech, they must not focus their campaigns on the vilification and derision of personalities. Rather, they must criticise the policies of their political opponents and outline their alternative policies and what they want to offer when they are voted into office. It is time that our politicians focus on policies rather than personalities. I have serious reservations with political slogans which vilify, deride and undermine the dignity of other people. I have noted with great concern that a number of Nigerian politicians use hate speech and inflammatory statements to garner votes from the electorate. This is totally unacceptable in a functioning democracy because there is strong link between hate speech and political violence.
The use of hate speech must be discouraged not only against public figures, but also against ordinary persons.
Political leaders and their supporters must understand that elections are held to ensure that people choose their leaders freely. This means some win and others lose. Those who win elections which are free of political violence and hate speech will feel humbled because they would draw their authority and legitimacy from people. Those who lose honestly must gain strength from the hope that they would win in future. They must look at their mistakes during their tenure in power or during the campaign period and look for ways to correct them in future. Losing an election in a functioning democracy is normal and does not mean an end to one’s political career or the extinction of a political party.
Therefore, Political leaders from all political parties must sincerely denounce political violence and hate speech and also voter education and campaign against political violence must be carried out simultaneously. Law enforcement agents, should treat cases of political violence in a professional and non-partisan manner.
Anyone who engages in political violence and hate speech must face the full wrath of the law despite political affiliation, social status and the office he/she holds.
After this year’s elections, the new government should focus on alleviating poverty, resuscitating industrial production, job creation, increasing worker salaries and developing infrastructure.
Mustapha Kabir is an unemployed graduate from the most peaceful university in Nigeria, UDUS.