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What Everyone is Missing About the “Hate Speech” Bill

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Both the proponents and opponents of the so-called Hate Speech Bill in the Nigeri...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Both the proponents and opponents of the so-called Hate Speech Bill in the Nigerian Senate don’t seem to realize that the bill itself is fundamentally rooted in, and nurtured by, crass and deep-seated ignorance of the very meaning of “hate speech.”

Hate speech doesn’t mean speech that hurts the sensibilities of government officials. Nor does it mean any speech that incites and insults individuals. It simply means speech that besmirches—and incites violence against— a community of vulnerable and marginalized people who are easy targets because of their invariable group attributes such as their ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, racial identity, national origin, gender, age, physical and mental disability, etc.

That is why Encyclopedia Britannica, in common with most recognized authorities, defines hate speech as “speech or expression that denigrates a person or persons on the basis of (alleged) membership in a social group identified by attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical or mental disability, and others.”

Since government officials aren’t vulnerable and marginalized people (they’re actually the very opposite of marginalized people) and don’t constitute a primordial community, they can’t be the victims of hate speech. Yet Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the sponsor of the “hate speech” bill, recently told the news media that his sponsorship of the bill has exposed him and the bill itself to “hate speech” from Nigerians!

Although both of us share a common Borgu heritage, I don’t know Senator Abdullahi, but he is obviously an uneducated legislative thug who would do well to go back to school for his own good and so he would stop embarrassing our people. Criticizing a clueless, illiterate senator who wants to strangulate people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech and constrict the discursive space isn’t, by the wildest stretch of fantasy, “hate speech.”

Senator Abdullahi also said his bill is designed to “seek justice for Aluu 4 and others.” But the “Aluu 4” murder doesn’t exemplify hate speech by any definition of the term. It was jungle justice. The victims weren’t murdered because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

Although I am a free speech advocate, I concede that there are groups of people in Nigeria who need hate speech protection. Here is an incomplete list of groups that are habitually the targets of hate speech in parts— or all— of Nigeria, which the bill doesn’t even address:

1. Homosexuals. There is no part of Nigeria where gays and lesbians aren’t subject to violent denunciations on social media, in the traditional media, and in quotidian dialogic spaces. In Europe where hate speech laws are codified, homosexuality is regarded as a “protected attribute,” and people who slur or incite violence against gays and lesbians can be charged with violating hate speech codes. Yet the very Nigerian Senate that is sponsoring a “hate speech” bill has criminalized homosexuality.

2. Shiites. This is perhaps the most vulnerable Muslim sect in the Muslim North. On social media and in mosques, Sunni Muslims perpetually direct wild, unrestrained hate speech against Shiites without any consequences.

They are indiscriminately murdered in the streets by both everyday Sunni fanatics and the government. Yet the Presidency, to which the current Senate is a shameful extension of, has officially labeled Shiites, who have been the victims of murderous persecution, a “terrorist” group.

3. “Fulani herdsmen.” Although the Global Terrorism Index has consistently ranked “Fulani extremists” as the “the fourth deadliest known terrorist group” in the world, most Fulani people are not terrorists, but Fulani people, particularly “Fulani herdsmen,” are stereotyped as inescapably violent and murderous, which exposes them to threats of indiscriminate mass murders in many parts of Nigeria.

 The Global Terrorism Index’s 2019 report says, “There are an estimated 14 million Fulani in Nigeria.” It’s impossible for all 14 million Fulani in Nigeria to be terrorists. If that were true, almost everyone would be dead in Nigeria. Yet in 2017, Apostle Johnson Suleiman said, “And I told my people, any Fulani herdsman you see around you, kill him. I have told them in the church here that any Fulani herdsman that just entered by mistake, kill him, kill him! Cut his head!”

That was classic hate speech that could result in a “hate crime.” Being a “Fulani herdsman” does not invariably lead to being a terrorist. To kill someone who has not committed a crime, who just happens to belong to a primordial category of people who commit a crime, is quintessential hate crime. Plus, the vast majority of everyday Fulani herdsmen are poor, illiterate, marginal people whom people and governments habitually cheat and exploit.

4. Christians in the Muslim North. Christians are an endangered group in the Muslim North. They are periodically murdered by homicidal thugs at the slightest provocation. Over the years, certain Muslim preachers, particularly in Hausaphone Muslim northern Nigeria, have typecast Christians as expendable, murder-worthy, inhuman outsiders who are invariably enemies—and who can only be tolerated at best.

The murderous contempt for Christians in the Hausaphone Muslim North is encapsulated in the odious term “arne,” which means “pagan,” but which connotes much more than that. The term functions to denude the humanity of whomever it is directed at. It makes him or her the legitimate target of remorseless cruelty or murder, especially in moments of political or religious tension in the country. An informed and legitimate hate speech bill would protect Christian minorities in the Muslim North from rhetorical—and actual— violence.

5. “Hausas” in the South. In all of Southern Nigeria, Hausa people (which is linguistic shortcut for all northerners even though the North is home to more than half of Nigeria’s over 500 ethnic groups) are pigeonholed as stupid, unthinking automatons who are always roused to mindless violence, who are indistinguishable from cows.

“Aboki,” the Hausa word for friend, has now been misappropriated as a term of disesteem to slur northerners. So is “Mallam,” the Hausa domestication of the Arabic mu’alim, which means teacher, but which is deployed as a term of courtesy for any male Muslim. It is also usual to call northerners “maalu” (sometimes malu), the Yoruba word for cow.

The insults, in and of themselves, are not the issue. The issue is that they homogenize a vast and varied people and prime them for often retaliatory mass murders. When I was a reporter in Nigeria in 2000, I covered the retaliatory murders of northerners in the Southeast in response to the Sharia riots in Kaduna that year. It turned out that most of the “Hausa” people murdered there were, in fact, Christians from Benue and Kogi states who share common boundaries with many states in the Southeast.

The survivors I spoke with told me their entreaties that they were Christians who would have been murdered in Kaduna, along with Igbo people, had they lived there failed to persuade their tormentors. They were told that they were “abokis,” “mallams,” or “malos.”

6. Atheists and agnostics. Nigeria is a hypocritically hyper-religious society with an overabundance of toxic levels of intolerance for people who choose to question or depart from the orthodoxy of received spiritual wisdom. People who question or reject the idea that there is a God who supervises and regulates the affairs of human beings are often reviled and attacked in almost all parts of Nigeria.

For instance, in 2014, Nigeria attracted global attention—and ridicule—when an atheist by the name of Mubarak Bala was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Kano by his family for publicly renouncing his faith in Islam and God. After he was found to be of sound mind and released, he was welcomed by a steady stream of death threats.

As is now obvious, hate speech laws all over the world are enacted to protect weak, defenseless, and marginal social, religious, ethnic, cultural, etc. groups from the tyranny of dominant, mainstream groups. But Senator Abdullahi and his uninformed political bedfellows are more concerned about protecting oppressive, overpampered, corrupt, and unaccountable government officials from the searing scrutiny of the governed than protecting weak, marginal populations.


Many Igbo commenters are crossed that I left out Igbos in my list of vulnerable groups that need hate speech protection. They are right to be disappointed.

However, I couldn't include every group. That was why I called it "an "incomplete list." This is a newspaper column with a word limit, which I actually exceeded by over a hundred words. I thought identifying "Christians in the North" as a vulnerable group takes care of Igbos because most people in the Muslim north who kill Igbos at the slightest provocation can't tell Igbos from other ethnic groups in the South. It is their Christian identity that stands out. But I agree that Igbos are an endangered group in the Muslim North.

Another group that I wanted to include but didn't have the space to include is women. Well, I'm glad this intervention is sparking the right conversation about what hate speech really means.


  1. Well written. The only points I beg to differ is about protecting gays and atheists. They have no place in our historically religious, and by extension traditional African societies.

    1. Evil heart, what do they do to offend you?

    2. Who the hell are you to declare that gays and atheists have no place in "our historically religious" and "traditional African societies?" Do you even follow the traditional or religious rites of the African continent?

      Let me guess, you set yourself up as a sort of a supreme authority and moral arbiter who can unilaterally decide who should belong to Africa and who should be banished. This is classic hate speech and standard ignorance that is as high as Kilimanjaro.

      It is intolerant and biogted creatures like you who need to be washed off the surface of the earth by natural selection if you persist in your destructive views. Your remarks here alone reek of extremism and deep hatred, and I wonder how your life must be so miserable and disturbed in reality.

      If you object to hate crimes against Shi'ites, Northern Christians and other religious minorities, then you must ALSO object to crimes against atheists. Otherwise your irrationality bleats to the highest heavens.

      And if you object to racial bigotry, then you must also oppose bigotry against sexual minorities. Otherwise, keep your "I beg to differ" cop-out to yourself. You are an evil soul.

    3. Well done, founder of African religion, dictator of people's belief and culture. Must your hatred be so glaring that you'll spew it over the internet.

    4. This is ridiculous. Your were definitely a part of those who issued death threats to Mubarak Bala mentioned by Prof. Shame on you!

    5. Victor,the term ''sexual minorities''is unknown to our Law and it's a crime to engage in a same-sex relationship.All crimes should be hated and discouraged, and as long as it has been criminalized by written laws, it remains a crime until thy laws are repealed. Therefore, categorizing gays and lesbians among vulnerable groups that should be protected is tantamount to encouraging crime.If we accept that, we should be ready to protect thiefs, kidnappers, murders etc against hate speech.Until the various anti same-sex relationship laws are repealed, there is nothing wrong in directing hate speech and condemnation at gays and lesbians.

    6. Same-sex tradition and practice amounts to sodomy. Practitioners of this animalistic act are sub-humans and deserve an eternal abode in Sheol.

  2. Interesting article. Don't you think Igbos in the Muslim North require protection by the law given that they are easily targeted whenever violence erupts anywhere in the North. The mild use of 'Christians in the Muslim North' doesn't show the danger Igbos have continued to face in that part of the country as past and recent events suggest.

    1. Thank you so much! I do not know whether exclusion of the Igbo's in the north was deliberate or act of ommission however, we are know that the Igbo's are always targeted at every excuse or opportunity. Now thee igbos are also becoming targets in the west courtesy of some prominent political and traditional fathers!!!

  3. You always fascinate me with your exhaustive approach in discussing issues of immense importance. But, I strongly disagree with you with respect to your point on marginalisation of gays and Shiites. Homosexuality is truly un-African.

  4. Your list conveniently omitted the group that is commonly targeted every where in Nigeria for religious, economic,political and tribal reasons. Why did the Igbos not meet your cut off mark?

  5. You have documented the intolerance and hypocrisy of Nigerians in so small an article. I love you, sir ♥️

  6. So many people arguing that homosexuality isn't part of our history or culture show why it is dangerous to hold a strong opinion without proper education. The colonialists and their abrahamic religions were the ones who ended homosexuality in many parts of Africa. They called it ungodly. Now that their views have evolved, western countries are now marketing homosexual rights to us as if they were the first to discover it. What we need to do is acknowledge the rights of homosexuals while rejecting the arrogance with which the West is trying to enforce their recognition.

    Even if we assume that homosexuality was alien to our precolonial cultures, it is basic knowledge that culture evolves. Many of the defenders of culture fly aeroplanes, build modern houses, eat noodles and burgers and practice religions alien to their forefathers. You can't insist on validating only the cultural changes you're comfortable with.

  7. Very exhaustive and well researched paper. Very interesting perspective.
    I personally find the idea of homosexuality and those who indulge in it repulsive but will not be seen or heard condemning them especially in the face of emerging reports that the practice was indeed African until the invading colonialists found it despicable. Otherwise, I agree essentially with all your postulations as adumbrated here and I hasten to add that you often times come across as a truly fearless writer and a detrabilized Nigerian who is not afflicted with the yoke of religious bent. It is always a pleasure reading you.

    1. I love your comment, it's embellished with some pinch of class. Pleasure reading it too

  8. Why are you insulting the sponsor? Don't behave like a motor park tout.

    1. He didn't insult him, he only called him what he is

  9. Farooq, you omitted IPOB in your list of examples. Is it because you come from the part of the country that hates IPOB with a passion? Your non-mention of IPOB is enough hate speech silently delivered.

  10. You wrapped it up. But come to think of it, even if the Bill/Law is out to defend the government against critisism from the public, this same government is guilty of it already. As Senator Abaribe earlier noted that, if the Hate Speech Law were in place prior to 2015, Alh. Lai Mohammed would have long by been chilling at one of the correctional centres. And I add, El Rufai would have join the train.

    Nice piece brother.

  11. Prof., I like reading your op-eds. Today, I beg to differ with your stand on gay thingy.

    We can't support gay relationships or whatever it's called in Nigeria. I kick against it in its entirety because we are a country supposedly governed by laws.

    Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act kicks against gay relationships in Nigeria. Anyone supporting gay thingy is doing so in strict violation of the Act.

  12. So Prof mentioned the Hausa in the Southern parts as 'endangered species" needing protection, but didn't consider the Igbo people all over Nigeria that have been reduced to third class citizens, humiliated and blamed for all the ills in our society because they are a defeated people!

  13. Prof I vehemently beg to defer , I would rather you replace Fulani herdsman with just Fulani ethnic group. We all what Fulani herdsmen lets forget the sectional politics that has refused to allow the constitution label them as terrorists.

  14. Some comments here only confirm the need for laws to protect these vulnerable people in our society. Or probably some people don't just have even an atom of humanity to think of protection of people from being lynched for just being who they are.

    1. Gonina Solomon LemoroDecember 1, 2019 at 1:44 PM

      Some thoughts on the comments thread are quite unfortunate. If one thinks certain groups that should make the list have not made it, one should be comforted by the caveat given by the author or better still, expand the list by adding theirs or best still, keep mute.
      I think Prof's perspectives on this issues are highly intellectual and correct.
      Keep it up, Prof.


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