Foreign envoys in Nigeria

It is certainly not a coincidence that communities which have been unable to recognize the centrality of communication in the process of human development are those that are yet to develop. The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO, saw this long ago when she declared the 1970s as the ‘Communication Decade.’

It did not only take as long as 17 years for Nigeria to become aware of the declaration, her communication policy has till today remained in the realm of experimentation, thereby failing to use effective communication for development. Nigerians such as this writer in the communication sector who have often cried out against the posture are sometimes regarded as anti-establishment, whereas listening to them would have done the nation better than we are today.

Each time the National Broadcasting Commission is in the news these days, it is more often or not, a directive to restrain radio and television stations as if broadcasting which came to Nigeria in 1959 is still an infant. Surely, government needs to reconsider this by making broadcast regulation a tool to facilitate communication rather than to hinder it.

Against this backdrop, some people were saddened by the decision of government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. It was a decision which ran counter to the understanding that an increase in communication opportunities can put a nation in a position where leaders would inevitably find themselves on the same page as adversaries for mutual dialogue to the benefit of society. 

Those who have argued to the contrary by citing China as a world power without Twitter and other western devices are obviously comparing oranges with apples. First, China is not an ideal model of the type of government that Nigerians on their own volition, subscribed to. In addition, China has its own special type of Twitter.

As a result, we cannot ban Twitter like China did, without creating a Nigerian type of Twitter as China has done.Here, we reiterate the conclusion of other analysts that China’s so-called ban on Twitter did not and has not stopped innovative young Chinese or visitors from using other platforms to access Twitter within China.

Fighting Twitter is in our considered opinion virtually fruitless and unnecessary, hence some foreign envoys who have exacerbated the showdown under the guise of supporting free speech have not really been helpful. We are indeed, worse off on this Twitter matter for gaining a friend such as Donald Trump – a man notorious in and out of office for slander.

What makes the help of our foreign friends undesirable, is that in helping us to underscore the fundamental importance of free speech, they adopted a contemptuous posture.It is one help that reminds us clearly that the white man’s interest in Africa is ever superficial.

Foreign envoys in Nigeria are diplomats who need to always be guided by the basic principle of reciprocity – a principle in international law which expects each country to adopt a particular behaviour symmetrical in response to that adopted by another country. African envoys in American and European societies don’t dictate to their host countries the way some of theirs in Nigeria did last week on the Twitter matter.

It is irrelevant that what the envoys told our government tallies with what some of us have always canvassed. They have no jurisdiction to so act in view of the persuasive 9 rulesenunciated by Hans Morgenthau (1904 –1980) a foremost twentieth-century figure in the study of international relations. The very first of those rules in the words of Hans is that ‘diplomacy must be divested of the crusading spirit.’

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Our foreign envoys would have been better friends of Nigeria if they had sought audience with our government to offer advice on the Twitter controversy. But to come together to publicly issue a joint statement against government policy amounts to an aggressive intervention in the internal affairs of Nigeria.

A look at their statement shows clearly that they said nothing different from what the critical segment of Nigeria and our opposition political parties had also said. The only point they made or probably sought to make was that they are a superior race that must whip a straying black government into line.

They are totally in error because as Morgenthau’s 9th and last rule reveals, it is not them but our ‘government that is the leader of public opinion’ in Nigeria. In truth, we didn’t vote for foreign envoys.

We are indeed, worse off on this Twitter matter for gaining a friend such as Donald Trump – a man notorious in and out of office for slander

It is hoped that the envoys learnt some lessons from the matured disposition of Geoffery Onyeama, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who took time to explain the link between the Twitter ban and national security. This the minister did notwithstanding that many other nations hardly bother to rationalize what they imagine can adversely affect their national security.

Despite Onyeama’s conciliatory demeanour, the envoys according to the media still publicly said they were insisting on free speech. Our premise is that as good as free speech is, it is not foreign envoys that should insist on it in another country. Nigeria has several personalities including former President Olusegun Obasanjowho often publicly admonish our government, whenever they see the need to do so concerning certain policies and events.

Each time that happens, our counsel to those who quarrel with such critics is that they shouldleave themessenger and interrogate the message. We are unable to do same with foreigners who dabble into our internal affairs, just as we do not expect our ambassadors to interfere in the local affairs of their host countries.

Bearing in mind that some of the envoys hail from countries that claim to be traditional friends of Nigeria, we call on them to be more helpful to the country by avoiding to further heat-up an already heated polity. We also call on Nigerians themselves to recognize the superiority of dialogue to other methods of resolving issues.

For those who feel aggrieved over the Twitter matter and are unable to accept government’s decision, we recommend that they follow the due process of law instead of violent protests that can hurt us all. Luckily, many interest groups have chosen to legally challenge the suspension of Twitter.

Among them is the powerful Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) whose President, Olumide Akpata has said ‘the action of the federal government has no constitutional backing’ promising a law suit to challenge it. There is also a report that dozens of Nigerian groups including the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have filed lawsuits on the subject at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice. They are in order.

On the part of government, there is no doubt that she has made her point. She has established that no matter how articulate our activists are, the current ruling Nigerian government like other governments world-wide is better positioned to determine what can challenge the respective country’snational security.

Having made the point, it is time for our President to play the role of the father of the nation by reviewing policies which negatively affect a cross section of the country especially for the benefit ofwell-meaning citizens.

In the case of Twitter, over 40 million subscribers in the country most of whom are young unemployed citizens are affected – a figure that the nation’s leadership cannot ignore if the President is desirous of seamlessly fulfilling his promise of lifting 100 million people out of poverty. Nigeria needs both free speech and peace.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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