BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Democracy is widely regarded as the world’s most popular form of government. It is widely regarded as a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Democracy as an ideology, according to Obasanjo and Mabgunje (1992), cited in Ogah and Ogeyni (2014), is a philosophy of governance that places a high value on citizens’ basic freedoms or fundamental human rights, the rule of law, the right to property, the free flow of information, and the right to choose between alternative political positions. Simply expressed, democracy is a political system in which the people have sovereignty rather than a tiny clique or an oligarchy, and where the rule of law, majority rule, and constitutionalism are fundamental guiding principles of governance. In this context, Ramaswamy (2007) proposed that democracy refers to the rule of the people as opposed to the rule of a single person or group. He went on to add that, unlike a monarchy, dictatorship, or oligarchy, where there is a divide between the rulers and the ruled, it is the people who are both rulers and rulers.
Man has intuitively expressed a desire to express himself in things concerning his general wellbeing and the development of the society in which he finds himself since the beginning of time. Although, as societies grow, this innermost yearning has more often been faced with oppressive tendencies in the shape of harsh laws, exile, physical torture, and other repressive measures enacted by the ruling class, man has remained unafraid in his pursuit of free expression of views (Layefa and Johnson, 2016). Despite the unparalleled value and unique indispensability of free speech and press freedom to the proper and progressive functioning of society, many repressive and fascist governments, as well as numerous nefarious groups and institutions, and diabolical individuals, continue to harass, malign, victimize, terrorize, imprison, and threaten these noble institutions, according to Oloyede (2008). Indeed, despite the ominous dangling of the sword of repression, torture, and death, among other things, man remains undeterred in his pursuit of free speech and a free press, much to the anger of opponents of free speech.
In 1999, Nigeria became a member of the League of Democratic Nations. Freedom is one of the most important aspects of a true democracy. The capability to express oneself freely without fear of bodily or psychological harm exemplifies one’s ability to be free (by the government or otherwise). The boundaries of freedom of expression have become more pliable. Globalization, which has physically abolished all borders and is primarily engineered by the internet, can be blamed for this. The internet has revolutionized freedom of speech and expression, which was formerly restricted to television, radio, and print media. Today, we have social media, which allows people or organizations to sit in the comfort of their own homes or offices and express themselves freely to millions of other users who are not constrained by the physically defined borders and limits of countries or regions (Joel, 2013).
However, in a constitutional democracy, freedom of expression and the press means the freedom to speak whatever one wants, subject to the repercussions of the law, as the case may be, which laws must be fair and reasonably justiciable. Thus, liberty, or freedom of expression and the press, refers to two distinct concepts. These include imposing no prior restrictions on publication and press freedom; this entails imposing no prior restrictions on what to publish and what not to post. There should be no pre-publication censorship. Every individual has the right to express his or her feelings, facts, information, or publish them to the public. To deny this liberty is to suffocate the press and freedom of expression (Joel, 2013).
Nigerians were recently informed that the Senate was considering a highly contentious law. Senator AliyuSabiAbdullahi, chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, is a proponent of the proposed law, which is known as the “Hate Speech Bill.” According to its sponsor in the Senate, the Hate Speech Bill aims to “eradicate” hate speech and prohibit harassment based on ethnicity, religion, or race, among other things. It imposes severe punishments for offenses such as ethnic hate. It stipulates that anybody who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes, or directs the performance of any material, written or visual, that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or involves the use of threatening, abusive, or insulting words, commits an offence (Punch, 2018).
If that isn’t enough to scare you, the penalties for these offenses include a five-year prison sentence or a fine of not less than N10 million, or both. The death sentence, which is imposed when any sort of hate speech results in the death of another person, is the icing on the cake (Punch, 2018).
Hate speeches are utterances, typed documents, advertorials, musicals, or any other kind of literature meant to disparage an individual, a group – religious, social, political, or business – gender, or race. In certain nations, hate speech is punishable by laws such as sedition, encouragement to violence, and verbal abuse (Fasakin, Oyero, Oyesomi, and Okorie, 2017). Hate speech, according to Ezeibe (2015), is “any word, gesture, conduct, text, or display that may provoke individuals to violent or discriminatory action.” In essence, such comments degrade the dignity of others.
Hate speech is a broad term that can include insults directed at those in positions of authority or minority groups, as well as disparaging statements directed at individuals who are particularly visible in society. Hate speech can be manipulated at important periods, such as during election campaigns, when accusations of encouraging hate speech are traded among political opponents or exploited by those in power to suppress dissent and criticism (Ezeibe, 2015).
The propagation of hate speech and filthy language has been a current trend in media malpractice in the country. Indeed, the press has fallen into the trap of publishing hate speech by directly quoting from interviews, press statements, advertorials, and even supposed online sources. In Nigeria, popular media channels such as AIT, Channels, Thisday, Vanguard, and The Nation, among others, were flooded with campaigns by numerous political parties demonstrating blatant abuses of the right to free speech, including hate speech and other sorts of bad language (Olowojolu 2016).
While traditional media continues to combat hate speech, the rise of new media has extended the battleground in the hate speech drama. Because of its decentralized, anonymous, and interactive structure, the new media provides a perfect platform for adapting and spreading varied remarks and bad language. The frequency of harsh speech and bad language on social media in Nigeria, especially on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, bordering on political and national concerns, as well as social contact, is alarming. This is because it contributes to societal discontent among tribes, political classes, and religions, as well as among friends (Alakali, Faga, and Mbursa, 2017).
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Every citizen’s right to free speech should not be abused, and the government may limit such rights to protect other individuals’ rights or public trust in the government and its systems. The government’s ability to create laws or regulations that affect citizens’ fundamental rights, on the other hand, should not be abused. Because the country is governed by a democratic government, regulations that restrict citizens’ fundamental rights must be adequately consulted with the people or their representatives before being brought into legislative bodies. The imposition of the death penalty for hate speech, such as the “death by hanging” penalty, is disproportionately harsh and draconian. Furthermore, the bill’s text is overly broad, with terms that seek to include as hate speech any insulting or abusive expression directed at a certain ethnic group. The line between hate speech and offensive speech is thin since not all forms of offensive communication may be categorized as hate speech. The Bill’s definition of hate speech should have been limited to the most extreme circumstances, such as statements made with the intent of starting tribal warfare and separating the country, or words that clearly signal immediate danger or injury to specific people, among other things. If the bill is passed in its current form, ethnic groups who are offended by the joke’s goal may interpret even critical ethnic jokes as hate speech. Establishing methods for enforcing the Bill’s provisions without causing civil unrest among Nigeria’s ethnic groups would be challenging for the government.
OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The overall goal of the research is to:
1. Examine the level of awareness of the hate speech bill among Nigerian citizens.
2. Examine the public perception of hate speech bills in the fight against ethnic discrimination.
3. Examine the effectiveness of the hate speech bill in the fight against ethnic discrimination.
The following research questions guide the objective of the study:
1. What is the level of awareness of the hate speech bill among Nigerian citizens?
2. What is the public perception of hate speech bills in the fight against ethnic discrimination?
3. How effective is the hate speech bill in the fight against ethnic discrimination?
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will be significant as it will expose the level of awareness of the hate speech bill among Nigerians. It will also create awareness of the hate speech bill among Nigerians. Finally, the study will contribute to the current literature in this field and will also serve as a resource for academics, researchers, and students who may want to do future research on this or a comparable issue.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The study aims to examine the level of awareness of the hate speech bill among Nigerian citizens and also examine the public perception of the hate speech bill in the fight against ethnic discrimination. The study will also examine the effectiveness of the hate speech bill in the fight against ethnic discrimination. Internet users in Ikeja, Lagos State will be enrolled as participants for this study.
LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
During the course of this study, the researchers were faced with time constraints which prevented them from delving deeper into this study.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
PERCEPTION: the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
HATE SPEECH : Hate speech is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”
ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION: any discrimination against any individual on the basis of their skin color, or racial or ethnic origin.