Following use and misuse of social media by strange and various unseen and unknown, let alone identified, forces on series of events in Nigeria in recent past, it became no more debatable whether this platform should be subjected to some form of control. The only reservation is, from where should that control emanate? In short, who has the moral for such a monumental assignment? That dilemma is not helped by circumstances which brought the issue of control into a more compelling fore.
Accordingly, the temptation of rushing to conclusion one way or the other should be resisted, since, so far, none of the contending sides has monopoly of guilt or innocence. Ordinarily, the very idea of social media is aimed at facilitating telecommunication and also at minimum charges to subscribers. But, like anything Nigerian, the opportunity has been bastardised such that confusion, disinformation of society and scandalisation or, at best, embarrassment of public figures have been taken as normal or even right of freedom of expression under the constitution. The higher the status of the targets of misuse of social media, the more vulnerable they become, mainly because of the mischievous elements from all strands of society. Hence, who qualifies as the complainant? The ruling class or the governed?
There are mischievous zealots on both sides, each displaying capacity for misuse of social media so alarmingly with the prediction, indeed, fake announcement of the death of high-ranking public office holders, all in the name of press freedom or freedom of expression. The more such criminal excesses were ignored, the more unrestrained the culprits became. Like the alleged deposits of billions of dollars in non-existing foreign bank accounts of personal aides of the President or even ministers. Should defamation of character be the reward or even the price for innocent ones serving their country in such middle-ranking positions? It hurts and only those on the receiving end feel the pain. To worsen matters, those who, when criticised, waste no time in fighting back are in the forefront of those rationalising misuse of social media.
If allowance is made for citizens’ notorious antipathy for governments in Nigeria, what could ever explain the malevolence against private citizens in society? Mrs. Joana Maduka, first female fellow of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria since 1974, and wife of ex-Nigerian Television chief executive, Vincent Maduka, is widely-known as a reserved self-respecting professional engineer. So she had been known throughout her life until, suddenly, an unknown crank did a harsh criticism of the current Lagos State administration on the social media for no specific purpose and credited the criticism to Mrs. Maduka. It turned out that the poor old lady knew nothing about the purported criticism and such a normal introvert had to issue a statement completely disowning not just the statement but also any concocted disagreement with Lagos State government. Till today, nothing is known about the identity or the source of that falsehood. Must that mischief be allowed to continue unchecked, all in the name of freedom of expression?
No matter the disagreement with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the fact remains that the man publicly expresses himself at will. When, therefore, there was some lull, why should mischief-makers concoct what was described as another open letter from Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari, but wrongly signed as “General” Olusegun Obasanjo and planted on the social media? Again, it turned out that Obasanjo never wrote the letter credited to him criticising Buhari. The timing and the thrust might be wrong and, even if correct, the fact remains that Obasanjo, or any Nigerian, must not be credited with any critical statements he never made and (especially) planted in the social media.
And then, my poor self. I never realised I am so important for my purported view to be planted on the social media as opposing enthusiasts of Oduduwa Nation. One Ibadan-based non-Yoruba I never met baited me for support of Yoruba Nation. But I made it plain I was never involved with the Oduduwa Nation campaign nor ever discussed such prospects with anybody, for a simple reason. From my youth, I valued (and still value) personal and group integrity. The short-sighted and opportunistic involvement of Yoruba in the 1967 civil war against Biafra secession on one hand and the latest secession demand for Yoruba Nation are two vital positions I find completely irreconcilable. Better still, I remain troubled with questions to which answers are necessary. All the same, I have never written for nor given any interview to anybody, group or media, including social media, on prospects, desirability or otherwise of Oduduwa Nation.
Yet, apparently state agents provocateurs (operatives) concocted their vested interests for which they were paid and planted it on social media crediting it to Chief Duro Onabule. They even went on a second leg concocting an interview critical of Oduduwa Nation and again credited it to Chief Duro Onabule. When, where and to whom did I grant any interview against Oduduwa Nation? Never. And the concoctions were circulated severally for more than a month in the social media. I don’t ever hide views on any issue, even if as an unpopular lone ranger. But nobody should credit to me views I never expressed.
This does not in any way endorse the excesses of presumed law enforcement agents in the country, alienating ordinary, unarmed citizens with life-threatening intimidation. That is why, constantly in this column, alerts are issued that 2020 is not 1967-70 when those who fought the civil war were not held accountable for what today constitutes crimes against humanity, for which trials are held at the International Criminal Court, at The Hague, Netherlands. That was the taste offered by foreign media, international institutions like United Nations, African Union and powerful nations like United States and Britain in reaction to the Lekki shootings in Lagos.
From that digression, there is also the misuse of social media to intimidate and disinform ordinary Nigerian citizens. The reader is left to guess the culprits. A few days before a speculated demonstration for the demand of Oduduwa Nation, more in a pre-emptive move, again, agents provocateurs planted an unsigned alert on the social media, to the effect that the unidentified writer as a friend of an officer in the army confided in him that order had been given to soldiers to shoot at whatever protests or demonstrations at Abuja on October. Was that good for the image of the army? Did the army deny such plan or order? If the speculated protest or demonstration took place, it was not likely the crowd would be shot at. Hence, the planted concoction aimed at intimidating Nigerians against protesting. On the other hand, it might be true, with the violence inflicted on Lekki protesters, that, in truth, order had been given that any protest or demonstration should be violently dispersed. In which case, the unidentified friend of the army, who was confided in that soldiers had been ordered to shoot protesters on October 1st, thought he was helping unarmed Nigerians against being shot. No sir. This man was portraying the army (assuming the army was not portraying itself) as blood-thirsty. Yet, if such bloodletting occurred, it would be denied since streetlights and CCTV on the protest route would have been switched off into darkness under which anything could happen. By the way, should’nt the army have been keen to find out and interrogate the man who claimed that his army officer friend had confided in him that soldiers had been issued orders to shoot at demonstrators on October 1st?
Again, after the Lekki shootings in Lagos on October 20, agents provocateurs took over the social media with posts impliedly inciting Yoruba against Igbo on the grounds that all property in the Lagos violence were not only owned by Yoruba but (the destruction was by Igbos. Former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu and Ohanaeze leader, Nnia Nwodo had to rush frantic denials. Till today, no effort has been made to identify the dangerous purveyor of that potential inter-ethnic violence neither has any explanation been given for the switching off of streetlights and CCTV cameras at Lekki.
It is, therefore, clear that there are culprits for the abuse of social media from two sides in the country. The greatest mistake is to be disoriented by persecution complex that, by controlling social media, only the excesses of ordinary citizens will be curtailed. The other important arm of society will also be disarmed from the disturbing and dangerous double campaign of disinformation and intimidation as well as blatant lies. Whatever curb to be introduced should make it possible to identify and criminalise any source of incitement to ethnic hatred. Nigeria could also learn from social stakeholders like Facebook, which deleted lies and harmful tweets by outgoing American President Donald Trump during the recent general election in that country. Like all culprits, Trump grunted each time but was ignored by the observing world.
Balance should be struck between tampering with level of press freedom or the right of the citizen to have access to information. What is certain is that self-restraint is no answer to this problem on both sides of society. It just cannot be entirely as before. Unlimited freedom which can destabilise society? Even well established and long-standing democracies are racking brains on how to curb excesses on the social media.
Lagos votes tomorrow
Following the death of Lagos East Senator Osinowo at the peak of corona crisis, voters in his district, comprising Epe, Ikorodu, Kosofe, Somolu and Bariga, are electing a successor tomorrow, in a showdown, which is certain to indicate which way Alausa goes in 2023. There is no doubt about the uphill task facing ruling All Progressives Congress (Lagos and Federal) and opposition PDP.
Even then, considering recent loss of popularity (as it seems) among voters all over the country, arising from, among others, hardship created by Federal Government’s biting austerity measures and internal squabbles in the national structure of the party, it will be monumental to dislodge Bola Tinubu’s erstwhile supremacy in Lagos politics. But the reality is that, lately, there has been massive focus by indigenous powerful PDP leaders in the state on the need to regain the state for their people.
Some kind of xenophobia, but it is fast gaining ground. Even indigenous Lagosian members of APC don’t seem to have much response to the siege on their leader. Yet, victory for APC tomorrow will return Tinubu to commanding heights in the party not just in Lagos State but especially at the national level, where he had been lately bruised. Bruised? More than that. Even his supposed immediate lieutenants throughout South-West have left him with a bloody nose. The blows are heaviest in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti states, not forgetting, of course, Edo State lost to PDP barely two months ago, The heavy task tomorrow is for Tinubu, in that weak position, to win the senatorial seat for the party’s candidate, Abiru.
This seeming very weak position somehow should not necessarily give any smile to PDP but the party’s candidate Ganyu Gbadamosi whose asset is personal merit. He shot to fame during the candidates’ debate for 2016 gubernatorial election when he emerged as a more preferred candidate. Cool, colourful, calm and given to details, Gbadamosi can cause a major upset. But then, for such a feat, Lagos must have retired Tinubu from politics. Only a win tomorrow for APC can sustain Tinubu’s continued relevance in Nigerian politics.