By Lekan Fatodu
The reality has finally hit home. Nigerian elites are not just self-serving and conceited, but they are also chronically confused and conniving.
This, to me, is a combination that is highly dangerous and painfully pitiful for a nation with an enormous potential. Those who control the levers of power in Nigeria, both in the public and private sectors, are all about self and profoundly objectionable to public accountability and scrutiny.
Though these individuals, particularly the public officials, are very proud to adorn the toga of public service essentially because of the benefits of their various public offices and the impunity that many of such positions enable, they detest the opinions of the public that suggest better ways of conducting public business.
As such these so-called powerbrokers are inclined to muzzling the voices of the people and suppressing the means through which the public can be heard. They will stop at nothing to perfect their heinous act of silencing the popular will for selfish interests.
While hiding under the guise of moderating public conversations, Nigerian Senators accelerated the second reading of a bill for an act to “Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected therewith”, now infamously known as the anti-social media bill.
Expectedly, this has stirred uproar in the system, and the social media actors, who are more concerned about the document, have started gearing up not just for a cyber war against the supporters of the proposed legislation in the Senate, but also for terrestrial combats through mass protests and advocacy.
What surprises me most about this reckless adventure by the Nigerian Senate is that this distinguished group of people, as they want to be addressed, just about a month ago had announced to the Nigerian public and the world about a partnership on a training on Facebook. Yes, it is well quoted, training on Facebook! And according to the Senate President’s Chief of Staff, Sen. Isa Galaudu, the training was in line with the promise of the leadership of the 8th Senate to utilise the social media!
So what is the sense and haste by the same Senate, according to an aspect of the proposed bill, to criminalise any abusive statement published as text message, tweets, and on WhatsApp or any social media posts, if it is actually preparing its members to get trained on the use of these social media tools? Sadly, the bill also proposes penalties for the offences which range from six months to two years imprisonment or N2 million to N4 million fine or both.
At this juncture, one wonders what constitutes an abusive text message, tweets and WhatsApp. Does a mere meme, parody or an innocuous remark about a public official qualify? Amongst other insidious intentions, I presume the senate is ultimately seeking to get many Nigerians as confused as a lot of its members are so the already over-fed senators can continue to feed fat on frivolities packaged as proactive legislative activities.
That this where I am a bit worried about a few of my respected colleagues who are tacitly giving a nod to the obnoxious bill in the name of regulating the activities of the social media. I am not saying some people don’t go overboard in their use of the social media, but sponsoring a bill of this nature will be overkill. Perhaps, unbeknownst to some Nigerians, especially the legislators behind the controversial bill, the social media by its very nature is exceedingly positively disruptive. And there is little or nothing anyone can do about that. Little wonder phenomenal developments like the social media are generally referred to as disruptive innovation.
Social media, like other inventions in its category, does not in any form support the normative trend, it actually seeks to totally disrupt and displace the norm. This is therefore the critical reason why our politicians, and their ilk in the corporate world, really and truly need to train, re-train and un-train in order to deeply appreciate and engage some of the discoveries that have come to re-define and re-shape this modern world.
For instance, as difficult as it appeared at the beginning, most people in the western world, where many of these innovations were developed, have come to adjust to the reality of doing things differently and more efficiently through innovative tools that enable governments to be more open and accessible.
Thankfully, the controversy generated by the bill has engendered some educated lessons and opinions across the country in protecting free speech particularly as regards the operations of the citizen journalists who employ several digital tools to deliver their work. While some individuals including the former president of NUJ Europe and chairman, Association of Online Media Practitioners of Nigeria, Mr. Wole Arisekola have elaborately pointed out that there exist extant laws in Nigeria that can be deployed to address matters of libel and defamation if need be, others have also re-emphasised the need to encourage civil society actions and promote entities that seek to protect citizen journalists on social media against threats, intimidation and arbitrary arrest from politicians and their collaborators.
Importantly, it should be re-stated that the social media, especially in a country like Nigeria, is still a necessary disorder that is very likely going to break lazy systemic norms and, ultimately, bring order.