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Measuring election campaign messages against hate speech, fake news

Rotimi Olatunji Williams


When communications scholars and professionals gathered in Asaba, Delta State capital in September last year to deliberate on ‘Media Narratives: Hate Speech, Fake News and Political Stability in Africa,’ they had the intemperance that peppered the 2015 election campaigns in mind.

They did not want a repeat in the build up to the 2019 election. As scholars they understood the implications of the use of wrong communication and its volatility on the polity and they were eager to steer political actors away from that path.

At the said conference, media scholars and professionals made many contributions on why hate speech and fake news should be avoided for sane and civilized campaigns. As arbiters of communication models, therefore, how far have their sundry calls been heeded by political actors and their followers? How prevalent has the incidence of hate speech and fake news characterised the campaign messages? How would they score the campaign season on the scale of hate speech and fake news? How decorous have campaign messages been so far? Is there an indication of maturity?

While there seems to be some level of decorum so far in the feverish campaigns, two principal gladiators have somewhat muddled the political waters with foul language. Fortunately, those gladiators swiftly came under the hammer of strident condemnation. First was Peoples Democratic Party’s chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, who made threatening gaffs at one or two campaign rallies. And recently, All Progressives Comgress’ governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who made what may appear the biggest hate speech gaff in the 2019 election campaign season when he openly threaten international observers in what has become ‘body bag’ scandal.

However, communication scholars have said that the campaign messages have been fair and slightly different as compared to 2015. Professor of Mass Communication, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lai Oso, said the two major parties, All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party have been involved in hate speeches, especially during rallies. He added, “The social media also allows people to say anything without considering the social impact. In 2015, we had some broadcasting organizations deliberately involved; it is not the same this time. What we have seen this time is the fact that broadcasting organisations not been able to stop such hate speech at campaign rallies or during interviews, and I think that is where they should pay more attention.”

On the campaign performance of different parties, Oso said there was no much effort in capturing policy programmes, noting, “We have not seen really articulated programmes; one would have expected that the opposition would come out with well structured policy programmes. The ruling party has also not done much; it is only of recent that they are trying.

“In all, the two major parties have not done well with issues that affect the well being of Nigerians. Even the so-called young candidates, though they were able to talk the IMF and World Bank, that does not solve the problems of Nigeria.”For Assistant Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Kabir Alabi, some of the efforts made by National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), International Press Centre (IPC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have helped in controlling the spread of hate speech and fake news as compared to 2015.

He said, “So far, we have not seen front page advertisements or videos on television as we did in 2015. The attempt to portray people in the negative has drastically reduced. Attacks on personalities which was always tilted towards ill-health without any medical backings are eliminated. The political scene in a way has been sanitised.”

However, professor of Public Relations and Advertising and Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASU), Rotimi Williams Olatunji, said there was need to separate the old breed politicians from the Not-too-Young-to-Rule (new breed) politicians, stating, “As for the so-called big political (mainstream) parties, there appears to be nothing to write home about them regarding the campaign messages of APC and PDP. Their campaign messages are full of innuendos, attacks, criticisms and counter criticisms and empty promises.”

He lamented that the campaigns are bereft of political ideologies, or clear-cut ideas, adding, “Campaign messages of the major political parties are replete with ethno-religious sentiments, hate messages and peddling of fake messages and campaign promises. The possible exception relates to the Not-too-Young-to-Rule presidential candidates who are expectedly vociferous in their campaigns and articulating clear strategies for actualizing their programmes if voted to power.

Olatunji, however, stressed that the new breed presidential candidates’ campaigns were not founded on any political philosophy, and said, “their campaigns are mostly in the social media and on pages of newspapers. They seem to be lacking in grassroots support; new breed presidential candidates and parties are often urban-based and often elitist. They seem to lack any class support, too. Generally speaking, the two major political parties have not been concretely and adequately addressing the real issues in the current electioneering campaigns.”

With a few days left to the presidential National Assembly elections, just how decorous will the candidates and their supporters be for rancour-free elections? But with the eyes of the international community beamed on Nigeria, there is a sense to believe that the gladiators and their supporters will behave and not shame the country before the rest of the world.

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