In this interview with ISAAC OLAMIKAN General Idada Ikponmwen(Rtd), a senior lawyer at the Nigerian bar, a notary public, a member of the National Institute and a fellow of the Nigerian War College, spoke on the recent quit notices and hate speeches across the nation among several other issues. Excerpts:
On hate speeches
Quite frankly, this nomenclature or phase or terminology, “hate-speech” is quite new in the Nigerian legal lexicon. That terminology has become common in recent times by frequent use of it by our Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and other notable politicians and political commentators. The meaning ascribed to the phrase seems to be any publication capable of whipping up negative sentiments against any person or persons including group of persons or political entities within Nigeria. The phraseology would appear to include utterances capable of whipping up negative feelings thus leading to anger or hatred for the targeted people who are said to be victims of such speeches or utterances. The inevitable question then is how do we accommodate this phraseology within the concept of our constitutional framework that guarantees Fundamental Freedoms – right to life, right to freedom of movement, right to personal dignity and particularly right to freedom of expression(to impact ideas, freedom of the press). What about the right to self-determination which has been entrenched in several Treaties to which Nigeria is signatory which concept have become a global among civilised nations of the world. As far as I know, even the word incitement, which has been in our laws for a long time meaning any capable of causing such disaffection and anger against constituted authority as to lead to breach of peace must come under serious questioning with emergence of our new constitution that devotes a whole chapter(chapter 3) to Fundamental Freedoms. It must be contended that no matter who is incited or angered by what any person communicates, being that person’s genuine belief, the provisions for incitement in our statues must give way to the imperatives of Fundamental Freedoms and the dictates of the global concept of Rights To Self-determination. For the obvious reasons that any statutory provision must give way to the provisions of the constitution. I am not saying that we should go about abusing each other, castigating each other and doing things that will lead to hatred of one group of the other. But I contend that nothing can cause disaffection and lack of harmony as perceived marginalisation, injustice, oppression and inefficiency . If the working of our government are such that reveal these negative features governments would inevitably become the greatest instrumentality for “hate.” Rather than publishers of their beliefs in whatever language or form.
We cannot look at the issue of quit notice without addressing our minds to what our basic law provides with respect to freedom of expression. We cannot also but address our minds to the global changes in terms of criminal laws. We cannot look at these things without addressing our mind to the new International Legal Order that has become the global norm. I am talking here about the right to self determination particularly in the issue of how a people or group of people who are a component part of an existing nation can decide whether to remain or opt out of their present structure of which they are part. When the Arewa youths and their leaders affirmed the quit notice that they issued to the Igbos in the northern part of the country some people said that they should be arrested. In response, the people from the north particularly the Arewa elders asked why had Nnamdi Kanu, who has been campaigning that Nigeria should break up(which they termed as treason), had not been arrested? The question then is, at what point do you consider a gesture, intention or speech as treasonable? Does the law punish mere intentions before they are actualized? Individual views are bound to differ on this depending on their professions or specialty in life. But I believe that a legal mind and therefore the position of the law that neither the quit notices nor the “hate songs” nor indeed the expression of belief or desire in the creation of Biafra can be punished as offences until signs of actualisation become visible. When does a gathering amount to treason? We talk about the cinematography test in law. You put the totality of what the man is doing and saying together. At a point you tell him to stop it and show this film, photograph or audio to people and ask them what the people are trying to do. In effect, what I am saying is that unless the totality of what is being done points evidently to a crime you cannot say that there’s an attempt nor can you say the offence have been committed. I don’t think that words and gestures alone are enough to constitute a crime until it becomes evident that the people have embarked on measures that will inevitably lead to actualisation of that crime. Government should look at the agitations that are going on everywhere and sincerely address the causes of these agitations. There is no segment of Nigeria that has not agitated for one thing or the other since the emergence of Nigeria in 1914. Government’s duty is to assure people that they’re protected anywhere they’re. There is no well meaning Nigerian that would agitate for the collapse of our country. The original concept of unity in diversity as propounded by the founding fathers should be encouraged in a manner to make all components part to happy and comfortable to belong. This should be the present government emphasis for guaranteeing the corporate existence of Nigeria rather than devoting so much energies to fighting those responsible for hate-speeches and branding same terrorist activity.
The commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari administration to providing better security for Nigeria is not in doubt. It is evident that more than any other administration the present one has shown that the issue of providing adequate security for Nigerians is paramount in its agenda. But intention and declaration are not the same. The military has made so much sacrifice to fight the Boko Haram scourge in the North East and militancy in the Niger Delta region. The international human rights organisation, Amnesty International, had even accused the soldiers of human rights abuses. To address the issue, the Chief of Army Staff, General Yusuf Buratai, recently set up a panel to verify the allegations. With the high rate of kidnappings, ritual killings, assassinations, murder etc I don’t think it is ripe to shout hurray yet. We really need to beef up our security apparatus in a manner to fully and properly involve the generality of our citizenry and not just the affair of the armed forces and civil security organs alone. I don’t think that any Nigerian can go to bed and sleep with both eyes closed. Even people going to their places of worship are not sure of their safety. There must be a new direction in fighting crime. That fight should not be left to the security agencies alone. It should involve all and sundry.