By Okoh Aihe
LIFE in Nigeria would have continued its new normal last week, not the new normal imposed by COVID-19, but the bizarre reality of waking up to stories of deaths and attacks and threats of war – yes – that is the new normal, only if Twitter did not decide, in a flash of corporate affront and effrontery to Nigeria, to take its African headquarters to Ghana.
What a cheek! Nigeria is the giant of Africa with the largest economy and a population of over 200 million, compared to Ghana with just about 30 million people which can easily be accommodated by one and half states in Nigeria. So one could understand our entitlement mentality and why there is outrage in the land about how one organisation has decided to spend its money and in what location. We have the land. We have the people. We have the economy. So, nations must come to worship at our shrine and obliterate every little vestige of freedom of choice.
Such expectations by indignant Nigerians punctured my little cocoon of peace and excitement which had started for me early in the week. I thought I was going to follow the nation’s rambunctious presentation on the preparation for the Digital Switchover, DSO, launch in Lagos, one little orchestration of government genius and intervention, that would bring economic and tech relief to the people of Lagos, at least, something to look forward to, if they survive the daily grind of traffic on their bodies! Somewhere, the apparitions of a previous life were emerging from their pantheons to haunt the life of a minister who now has the immediate responsibility of clearing his name, apart from the simple task of pointing to dangerous enemies hiding in the shadows.
But there was also a breather, something to break a little smile on the face. Government has lifted, beginning Monday, April 19, 2021, the ban imposed on the registration of new SIMs since last year, but this must be done with your National Identification Number, NIN. Dear friends, in the situation we are in, you have to quickly hold tight to your half bread before it is taken away completely by the strongman.
However, the Twitter decision was the most irritating intrusion last week. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who should have been enjoying the fallout of a successful conference in Lagos on the DSO, couldn’t hide his anger when he blamed the media and those who speak ill of our beautiful nation for instigating such rash decision by a corporate international entity. Except, however, that Twitter was ready, knowing that there are countries in Africa who would like to dictate to owners of money where and how they would have to spend their cash.
That is, irrespective of their business plan. “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate. Furthermore, Ghana’s recent appointment to host the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement aligns with our overarching goal to establish a presence in the region that will support our efforts to improve and tailor our service across Africa,” Twitter said.
And Nigeria is fuming! Or, at least, the government is hitting the rooftop in boiling rage!! How preposterous! We claim to be so much that we are not. We claim to be a democracy but it is a strongman that is in charge, not strong institutions, dispensing favour according to his state of mind. The strongman decides who to listen to. When citizens’ actions become too irascible, and voices too loud, the strongman wields the big stick and hit everybody into silence. There is nothing unusual there, so we have ventriloquists who wax oriki (chants) for the strong man. Unfortunately you cannot force the international community to take their eyes away from evil.
Let’s do a little flashback. October 20, 2020, Nigerians saw an equivalent replay of happenings at Tianamen Square in 1989. In the night of that day, a group of men dressed in military uniform took advantage of the dark hours to attack a mammoth gathering of young people who had demonstrated for days under the #EndSARS, demanding for a reform in the Police Force.
From all sides, as pictures would show, bullets rained on them, their only crime being that they demanded to be treated better by their government. The event played out on Twitter. Blood flowed at the Lekki Toll Gate before mayhem would spill all over the land; but government said nobody died. Twitter would still have the details. It would have been wishful thinking for anybody to expect that organisation to bring an office to a land that drank the blood of its youths.
There is a hackneyed saying that investment goes to where it is needed. It goes beyond population and size of country. This is why at internal fora, like the GSMA, there are usually sessions organised for governments to share ideas on how to attract and handle big businesses operating in their countries. Plus genuine democracy are the policies of government, whether they accommodate investors and guaranty their funds.
Here we fall in serious deficit. One will only need to point to a few areas. The telecommunications and the broadcast industries are atrophying under inexplicable regulatory capture which is never an exemplary hallmark of genuine democracy. The Minister of Information and Culture is running the broadcast regulatory agency, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to the discomfiture of its workers, while his counterpart in Communications and Digital Economy, has guillotined the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to his own advantage.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning doesn’t seem to have the bravura to take on such a complex economy like ours. Oh, my God, just look at where we got the country by not playing a deserving first eleven!
Government should listen to quiet whispers on the streets. Quite a few operators in the tech sector are unable to express themselves because they don’t know what government will do next. Some have expressed fears to this writer that this government is so unpredictable that its officials can withdraw their licenses. This is an information that will be circulating locally and internationally. And there are policy decisions and individual predilections to support their fears.
Security is a major concern. Deaths are mounting in Nigeria as the country drifts towards anarchy in the face of strongman democracy. Yet government looks so incapacitated and nearly absent. No investor jumps into fire because it wants to do business in a big country. Where there is chaos, structures and systems are broken. The Nigerian system is fractured. We are too afraid to look at the mirror and tell ourselves the true image that we see. This government is abridging the future of Nigeria without claiming responsibility for such malfeasance. The world can only react by keeping away.