The Daily Trust’s editorial of November 3 was dedicated to the contemplated regulation on the use of the social media, as the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, tried to press the move on the National Assembly. The paper posited that the move appears to be needless, considering the existing statutes of the land dealing with slander, defamation, and falsity. According to the editorial, the Minister used China as an example of where some social media platforms are outlawed while some are allowed for the citizens’ use, but with some degree of regulations. The Minister’s peripheral reference to China was quite disingenuous as it failed to contrast the two countries. There are many differences between China and Nigeria.
First, the People’s Republic of China is a one-party authoritarian state, which operates a quasi-democracy with some elements of communism. But despite the authoritarianism, there is no blatant personalization and abuse of power by the Chinese leaders as much the case is with Nigerian leaders. Second, unlike in Nigeria’s case, there is no much cankerworm corruption in the Chinese officialdom, and the commonwealth of China belongs to the people of China. Third, China has for long institutionalized what they call the People’s Political Consultative Conference that holds regularly to feel the pulse of the polity, while in Nigeria the current government has tenaciously defied calls for restructuring. Fourth, China has ensured the security and welfare of their citizens, and provided employment for the youths, take care of the old, and reward the retired workforce for their service. Fifth, China’s poverty level is not as teething as Nigeria’s. But so disappointingly the Minister feigned ignorance of these facts and compared China with the world’s poverty capital. Could this be ignorance or shamelessness?
There are many reasons for the people of China to feel comfortable with the system, while reverse is apparently the case in Nigeria. But the Federal Government may proceed to actualize their aim anyway. This is obviously because they fear the concomitant changes of globalization. It is not any surprise either, that the reactionary Northern Governors’ Forum applauded the idea, and they even ill-convened a chit-chat with respect to that. This has exposed the fact that the sensitivities of the Northern political class are more towards the protection of their parochial class interests than towards tackling the plight, fears and woes of the talakawas. Even if they must support the move, their approach to it at this time of more worrisome events tearing the North to shreds lacks subtlety.
The gory scenes of daily butchering of our people by bandits, kidnappers, and armed robbers ought to have elicited as much promptness of the governors to ameliorate our sufferings. The level of poverty, too, is another pathetic, lamenting, and alarming situation in the North. It is most unfortunate that they are frantically deploying their forces to fight the social media, rather than the real threats we are facing from marauding bandits and kidnappers. The reason for this is simple to understand: the social media attacks the political class (the first class citizens), and exposes their dirty deals, and enlightens the common man, and demand for accountability, while bandits and kidnappers kill the poor second class citizens whose lives mean nothing to the ruling class.
And last week governors of the Southern States have toed the same line. Surprisingly, the #EndSARS protests seen as purely the southern headache by the majority of the northern people, have caused a unified concern among the Nigerian governors. They have been jittery since the breakout of the youths’ uprisings; and they swiftly moved to gag the social media as a necessary step to press the lid, lest the bottled-up fury of the socially-deprived and economically-impoverished youths exude. By all possible considerations, they do not seem to have the wisdom to, in the first place, address the acute socio-economic conditions of life that compel the youths to take to the social media to unburden themselves of the silent grief that torments them. It is a blatant parody of leadership that our leaders do not want to know our mood and feelings. If this Gestapo method is what they are trying to entrench in our democratic society, I am afraid we are witnessing an unprecedented dictatorship in Nigeria. It is a pity that they cannot think of any other way of dousing the tension, except clampdown on the social media.
If only they knew, the social media could be used to improve intelligence gathering by the security operatives. For instance, the hate speech that they often point at to discredit the social media can be tracked. When someone makes any unguarded posts on the social media platform, being a public domain, that reveals the true state of mind of that person; and anybody that aligns with it can be jointly charged along with the original poster. But that is far from where their sight focuses. They are using hate speech only as a smokescreen; the real aim is to gag the unseen voices that are beginning to resonate in the heads of the poor citizens whose lack of enlightenment has over the years been exploited. Nothing underscores the governors’ conservative nature more aptly than their preference for Nigeria to be a closed society even in this modern era.
I personally would welcome any initiative to further the efficacy of our existing laws dealing with the misuse of the media, thereby tackling defamation, derogation, obscenity, and hate speech. But this is not what our self-serving leaders want. They, I repeat, want to gag, not to guard it. They are fully aware that we are in a globally digital-information-driven era. More so, the very administration under which Mr. Lai Muhammed serves as the Minister is itself the beneficiary of this truism; because they used the social media to sell their change mantra to the people of Nigeria. Above any other uses of the social media to which Nigerians are accustomed, is political enlightenment, and sometimes vituperation where necessary, and this in a way has effects on both the rulers and the ruled. Hate speech is rare. Realizing that the same weapon they used in the past is now being used against them, they can think of nothing but putting it out of use. I do not want to believe that the Honourable Minister prefers doing the job for which he is appointed, in an analogue way to doing it in line with the global trend!
I agree that the savagery exhibited by some irate youths during the #EndSARS protests was uncalled for, and I would not want to rationalize it. Such was a frightening manifestation of flight of values from our land, an unfortunate moral squalor, and spiritual disconnect of our generation. But beyond a cursory look, correct hindsight would bring to light the genesis of this quagmire―it all boils down to bad leadership. If at all our leaders intend to stem the rising tides of this youths revolt, they must change the existing socio-economic conditions of the teeming youths who have for long been deprived the nectar of life. Anything short of this would be a short-lived relief from a growing cancer eating the soul of our dear nation.