Skip to content

Director-General of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, took the words right out of the mouth of many Nigerians, when on Monday, he warned operators in the country’s broadcast industry that hate-speech will not be tolerated.

A wide section of the Nigerian populace had been holding their breaths over what will unfold in the media space as soon as the ban on political campaigns is officially lifted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There were predictions that unless the authorities step in, the campaigns this year would be messy.

Officially, elections are not until February next year. In a country where joblessness, poverty and political thuggery have come to characterize not just the conduct of elections but the actual processes that lead to them, it became apparent that the campaigns this year, would be anything but courteous.

A look at the social media space would readily give insight as to the likely distasteful nature that the campaigns may be. Supporters of all the political parties have registered countless numbers of social media accounts with which they spew all manner of indignity against perceived opponents.

Such social media campaigns would often include rude attacks, trolls and open threats on opponents. In today’s era of “fake news”, party supporters have included to their arsenal, images, video clips, official documents and more – all cooked up – to score whatever political goal they have set to achieve.

Enugu-based political analyst Sunday Nwanko said he is not surprised at this trend because, “The ground is fertile. Poverty and unemployment mean it is very easy for young people to constitute themselves into groups that readily serve as online vanguards. They use hate-speech without caring who gets hurt in the process. These supporters literally shred opponents to pieces. Of course, they are paid.”

It is not just on social media that such extreme hectoring takes place though. Another platform that hate-speech is slowly getting overcome with overzealous party supporters, is the radio.

Liberalization of the media industry by the Obasanjo administration (1999 – 2007) immediately after Nigeria’s military experience, gave rise to the establishment of many private television (TV) and Frequency Modulation radio (FM) stations. The administrations that came after Obasanjo too, gave TV and FM licenses to many individuals and organizations. Today, dozens of FM stations operate in many States in Nigeria.  

Being a delicate enterprise, broadcasting across the world, tends to have umpires. They are the regulators that ensure broadcasting rules are enforced. Non-compliance often attracts sanctions – including withdrawal of license by the issuing authorities.

Here, the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has the mandate to ensure that broadcasters play by the rule. Sunday Nwanko explains why. “Providing platform for hate-speech in a complex country like Nigeria can undoubtedly fuel civil strife and unrest. This is not forgetting the insecurity the country has been contending with for some years now. Some of these rabid political supporters can go to any length. They must be regulated.”

As much as NBC has the capacity to sanction traditional media, the question now is: what becomes of the uncountable social media handles that cause the same level of havoc, if not more?

From June 2021 – January 2022, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari banned Twitter in Nigeria. This social media platform is popular in Nigeria, especially among the younger demographic. There was outrage from within and outside the country. Many said it was an undemocratic move which flew in the face of the “right to freedom of expression”.

Even with the ban, many Nigerians carried on their Twitter activities albeit through the back door. In effect therefore, the purpose was more or less defeated.

“Banning social media during campaign is not something that I will advice government to do. Afterall we are in a democracy,” says Mohammed Soda, a political scientist. He continued, “the government should continue to sensitize Nigerians. Aggressive public enlightenment is key. People should know that if they conduct themselves in anyway that will cause harm to others, the authorities will deal with them accordingly.”

As campaigns open on Wednesday, 28 September, all eyes will be on the same institutions whose officials attended the pre-election session with the Director General of the NBC. These are: broadcast media organizations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Nigeria Police Force and other stakeholders who are responsible for ensuring peaceful and rancor-free elections in Nigeria.

“If campaigns are done in a respectful, polite and civilized manner, then one would expect that the elections too is likely to be peaceful. But if the atmosphere is charged and there’s tension everywhere, there will be unfortunate consequences for the elections. We just hope everyone will behave with maturity and decorum. Political leaders must call their supporters to order, even before the campaign kick-off.” Soda ended with a nod, as if in agreeance to himself.