People around the world have expressed profound outrage over US President Donald Trump’s alleged disparaging remarks about Haitians and Africans. In consultation on an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, Trump demanded to know, at a White House meeting, why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries”, rather than from places like Norway, according to legislators and others who attended the meeting. Reports had it that the remarks from America’s foremost citizen left members of the US Congress from both parties attending the meeting alarmed and mystified.
The backlash and reactions from various countries and persons had Trump doing some damage control. In a tweet, he denied making such comments: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians, other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
Congresswoman, Mia Love, a Republican of Utah, who is of Haitian descent, demanded an apology from the president for his remarks, saying his comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and flies in the face of our nation’s values”. Miami Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba and whose south Florida district includes many Haitian immigrants, said that “language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms, and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said the president’s comment “smacks of blatant racism, the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy”. What are the lessons to be taken from this?
In recent months in Nigeria, there has been an outpouring of ethnic incendiary speech both online and offline. In my view, a vocal minority of individuals, with a hidden personal agenda, are bent on promoting ethnocentric ideas which threaten the peace and well-being of the majority of Nigerians.
- Nigerian citizens have a right to freely express their opinions as enshrined in the Constitution.
- That freedom of speech and association is a fundamental human right, but does not give anyone the license to abuse it to the detriment of the well-being of the general populace and citizenry.
- Nigeria is a federation of states with over 250 ethnic groups and more than 400 languages. If we are all going to retreat to our ethnic bases and make unconscionable utterances about other ethnic groups, we are courting serious trouble and instability for our nation.
- Most of the young ones engaged in these hate utterances were not born to witness ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria with the resultant civil war from 1967 to 1970 that claimed the lives of millions of people. We should not pray to witness such devastation again in our country by sins of omission or commission. We should learn from history.
- The birth of the European Union was as a result of their coming together to say “No more wars” given the devastation of the first and second world wars in Europe. Even though the European Union is still grappling with socio-political problems, it has not had any major conflict in over 70 years since the end of the Second World War.
- In this regard, we should not overlook the peace that we can enjoy in being united in diversity. There is strength in diversity as presently constituted, and it should not be considered as a weakness.
- The effects of parochial politics in Africa abound, such as the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A lot of these conflicts happened after the Nigerian civil war, and must alert us to the fact that we should all seek after peaceful coexistence and avoid inflaming ethnic divisions which bodes no one any good in the long run.
Hate speech in the country must be condemned in the strongest terms by all concerned citizens. Freedom of speech, though sacred, is not absolute. Our freedom is a shared one, and must be considered in relation to the freedom of others. Citizens must draw the line between free speech and hate speech.
Our leaders must lead by example. Irrespective of tribe, tongue or religion, they must show by their words and actions that they believe in the peace, unity and progress of this nation. All our leaders must rise to the occasion and take the necessary steps to ensure fairness, justice and equity for all citizens, and not make utterances and decisions which speak only to their support base.
Those in positions of authority, irrespective of what they stand to lose must stand up and be counted like those who have come out to condemn the racist remarks of Donald Trump. Irrespective of tribe, tongue or creed, we must speak up in condemnation of all hate speech. We should all bear in mind what Edmund Burke said over two hundred years ago – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanise anyone with respect to their race, tribe, creed or colour.