To check inciting remarks by politicians as campaigns for the 2023 general elections intensify, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is partnering with Facebook, Twitter and others to track violators.
To this end, the organisation has arranged to establish a Hate Speech Register to monitor provocative, defamatory and hate speeches during the electioneering.
NHRC Executive Secretary, Tony Ojukwu (SAN), who spoke at the launch of the project, Mobilising Voters for Election (MOVE), explained that the initiative was to facilitate citizens’ access to Permanent Voter Card (PVC), participation in elections and ensuring that security agencies adopt human rights principles in protection of voter access and participation.
He said: “The NHRC is establishing a National Hate Speech Register, which will monitor and track hate speeches from all platforms across Nigeria and deploy its enforcement mandate on perpetrators.
“The Commission will be working with Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to fully establish a monitoring mechanism to achieve this objective.”
Ojukwu went on: “The NHRC, on its part, will fully advocate against the use of hate speech but the Commission will not act in support of any effort that seeks to place spurious limitations on the right of freedom of expression.
“The onus is on those who seek to police speech, especially on social media, to walk this fine line and strike the right balance to ensure that human rights are not further violated, while fighting hate speech.”
The senior lawyer said as part of the project, the Commission would ensure political parties and politicians integrate human rights commitments and messages in their campaigns.
He hinted that plans were underway to design PVC observatory centres nationwide to observe and collate complaints.
NHRC recalled that the three elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007 were trailed by complaints of irregularities, ranging from logistics failure, disenfranchisement to electoral fraud of all kinds.
These, the Commission observed, had negative consequences on the growth and sustenance of the nation’s democracy and laid the foundation for subsequent radical shift in voter behaviour as evidenced in the apathy and regression in electoral participation witnessed in subsequent elections.
Ojukwu submitted: “Consequently, in the three subsequent elections in 2011, 2015 and 2019, citizens’ participation in the electoral process and voting plummeted, reaching a historical low of 35 per cent in the 2019 elections. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the percentage of registered voters, who voted in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections were 53.7, 43.6 and 34.75 per cents.
“Of the 84,004,084 registered voters in 2019, only 28,614,190 voters cast their ballots at the presidential election. In per capita terms, turn out in the 2019 election represents the lowest in the West African sub-region.
“Statistics available to the Commission reveal that only around 10 per cent of the eligible voting public participated in the 2021 election in Anambra State. The lack of effective voter participation in elections robs citizens of their fundamental role in a democracy, which is the freedom to choose their representatives.
“We believe that this MOVE project will enable the Commission to integrate human rights into democracy and ensure citizens’ participation in the upcoming 2023 general elections.”