Olakunle Olafioye and Ojo James
Social media activists in Nigeria are currently excited. They appear to be winning in their battles. Presently, they are basking in the euphoria of their recent ‘victories’.
Indeed, three major advocacies were claimed to have been won largely via social media activism in the last few weeks. Sustained campaigns against the federal government’s proposed Rural Grazing Area, RUGA, by antagonists of the programme via traditional media with unrelenting scathing criticisms from the social media forced the government to announce the suspension of the project penultimate week.
Similar intensity of campaign greeted the allegation of sexual abuse leveled against Biodun Fatoyinbo, founder, Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, by one of his former congregation members, Busola Dakolo. Mrs. Dakolo had claimed that she was raped by the pastor as a teenager about two decades ago. The allegation attracted vociferous protests against the alleged offender from both social media users and advocacy groups, which besieged Fatonyibo ‘s church in protest.
Consequent upon the widespread criticisms, Fatoyinbo announced that he would be taking a leave of absence from the pulpit.
Amidst this controversy, came yet another social media sensation of Senator Elisha Abbo’ sex toy shop assault. The 41-year-old lawmaker has in the last few weeks become the butt of social media criticisms after a CCTV footage of a lady he allegedly assaulted at an Abuja sex toy shop surfaced on the social media platforms. The Peoples Democratic Party Senator who represents Adamawa North Senatorial District was last week arraigned before the Zuba Magistrates Court, Abuja on one-count charge of assault, which he pleaded not guilty. His arraignment came days after he was interrogated and detained for 24 hours by the Federal Capital Territory Police Command. If there’s any deduction to be made from these three social media sensations, it’s the reality that the social media is gradually becoming a weapon in the hands of individuals who hitherto had their voices muzzled by the powerful forces, which, for a very long time, used and monopolised traditional media to their selfish advantage.
Mr Agi Victor, a public analyst and media expert, opined that there is a need for caution in the use of social media as an instrument of advocacy and activism.
“Activism on the social media has been there. While it’s been deployed in politics in the past, we have not seen it in this fashion before, especially having to deal with sensitive questions around religion, morality and justice.
“This can be seen to be good, especially in some of those cases where justice could be seen to have been done. There is also no hiding the fact that we have seen cases of ‘social media justice’, in which case, alleged offenders are slaughtered on the altar of social media armies of critics, with little or no room for contrary opinions, which are sometimes labeled as ‘unimportant’.
“That an opinion is popular doesn’t make it right always, but the trend we have seen in one of the campaigns in recent weeks is a situation where a campaign accused, tried and crucified someone without room for fair hearing, which is the standard practice in a conventional court,” he noted.
Ago said: “If we so loathe jungle justice as we claim, then we must also consciously be careful about how we go about some of these campaigns, so tomorrow, we won’t be presented with revelations and facts about an issue we may have assumed a position that may be wrong. “
He noted further that if campaigns against moral, political and social injustice perpetrated by the highs and lows in the society continue, “we could say we have entered a new era of activism on the social media, which of course, will not come without it’s negatives.
“The social media can, certainly, spearhead change, but we must be careful about what kind of change we want at the long run, so it won’t be hijacked by the now popular ‘social media influencers,’” he said.
Many experts reckoned that the current situation where social media now comes handy as an instrument for ‘mob action’ with little or no recourse to the least of the principles of justice and fairness portends a grave danger.
Rather, experts are calling for the deployment of social media for advocacies targeted at social re-engineering targeted at stimulating positive change in the nation.
Dr Edith Ohaja, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) noted that Nigeria still has a long way to go in leveraging on social media to bring change in the most crucial areas.
According to Ohaja, “many social media influencers who can galvanise public outrage to bring pressure on the authorities to do what is right and make themselves accountable to the people do not confront them.
“We have just a few voices of those that have some clout and then many of ordinary citizens. For example, many influential Nigerians, particularly those from the North, are yet to speak out on their social media platforms against the grave danger the federal government is putting Nigeria’s corporate existence to by pursuing the Ruga policy covertly or overtly.
“There will be more social media impact when celebrities, captains of industry, notable ministers of the gospel and politicians of different parties join the fight against a social vice, harmful government policy or a misdeed by an official in the public or private sector, rather than playing safe or apathetic.
“We also need sustained coverage on and coordinated attacks against what is wrong if we want to make meaningful impact. Creation of simple and catchy harsh tags, arranging for viral posts and soliciting international attention as was done with the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is very important,” Dr Ohaja suggested.
In the opinion of Mr Ambrose Igbokwe, a public affairs analyst and communication expert, the social media has the capacity to engineer revolution in the country.
In spite of the potency of the social media, however, he reckons that Nigeria lacks the basic criterion of revolution.
“These three issues you mentioned are flashes in the pan, which got instantaneous results. They cannot be equated with the kind of revolutions that social media engendered in the Arab Spring.
“Maybe it’s a starting point. We can only say that Nigerians have begun the use of social media for revolution if we can achieve what Sudanese and Hong Kong Citizens did recently. The primary principle is for Nigerians to change their attitude of docility and fear for bold advocacy and engagement.
“If Nigerians can use the social media to make the president, ministers, governors, legislators, elected and religious leaders accountable to them, that is when we can say that Nigerians are using the social media for positive change,” he noted.