The National Human Rights Commission has expressed concern about the rise in hate speech across the country, fueled by politicians seeking political patronage, decrying that this has led to ethnic and religious sentiments being used to create division, fear, and hatred among different groups.

Executive Secretary of the Commission Chief Tony Ojukwu stated this in Abuja ahead of the Gubernatorial and State Assembly polls slated for Saturday. He lamented that the menace has crept into places of worship where religious leaders have joined the unholy enterprise of spreading hate speeches.

He noted that the use and misuse of social media to spread ethnic and religious hate-laced messages is also worrisome, with far-reaching and complex implications, insisting that these incidents can lead to violence and tension between different religious and ethnic groups, disrupt social, cultural, and religious harmony, and affect rights to associate, assemble, freedom of movement, and the right to live in any part of the country.

He also warned that this situation can lead to a breakdown of law and order, increasing vulnerabilities and risks, including death, internal displacements, kidnapping, drug use, recruitment into terrorist activities, and other forms of human rights and humanitarian concerns.

He however reiterated that Nigeria is a party to regional and international human rights instruments that reinforce and guarantee everyone’s right to association, assembly, residence, expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

He said: “The Commission affirms that Sections 38 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) protect these rights. In addition, the Nigeria’s Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 criminalises the use of the internet to send offensive messages or post messages that are intended to cause harm, fear, or distress, Individuals who engage in hate speech online can face severe consequences.”

He called on the government to take all steps to reaffirm its commitment to the secular nature of the Nigerian State under section 10 of the Constitution, stating that: “It should protect all persons from the violation of their right to freedom of residence, association, assembly, political party, or association of choice, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion while also protecting everyone’s right to participate in elections and vote for candidates of their choice anywhere in the country.”

Ojukwu urged all persons involved to take urgent steps to stop these divisive tendencies. He said the Commission was concerned about the impact this could have on the 2023 General elections and beyond, “it is therefore imperative that we address this urgently, because disseminating ideas that project the supremacy of one tribe or religion over another or incite violence on one religion or tribe against others constitute a crime and violate the 2022 Electoral Act” he added.

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