By Muyiwa Adetiba
The social media has its uses and abuses. Its strengths and weaknesses. For starters, you don’t need to be a professional journalist to become a practitioner as was the case in my time.
So all those who have always wanted to write or be a social commentator can now have a platform for the asking. In the past, the rich and powerful international media owners who operated mainly from the Western bloc, largely determined global news.
They fed us with stereotypes and gave us templates for different parts of the world. For example, many of us grew up believing communism to be evil. Many grew up believing the Eastern bloc to be the axis of evil. Many grew up believing nothing good could come from Africa – we were people living on trees remember?
Many grew up seeing the Western bloc as the perfect model for the rest of the world. This was the lens with which we saw the world and our place in it. This was the psyche under which some of us grew up. We even blamed ourselves for our colonial past and the slave trade from which Africa has never fully recovered.
The social media is helping to change many of these narratives. It is one of its strengths. At a click on a link, one can read about the partition of Africa and the cheap labour that developed Europe. Thanks to the unfettered nature of the social media, we know more about the three Super Powers – China, Russia and America. In fact, we know many more things than they would want us to know. We now know that none of them can hold up as a model and that all of them have their internal contradictions. More importantly, we know none of them really cares about Africa beyond seeing it as a cow to be milked.
The #End SARS movement which shook the nation last year showed the power and potential of the social media to sensitise, mobilise and possibly revolutionise a society. That was a strength that almost became a weakness. By the time the movement culminated at the Lekki Toll Gate, many law abiding citizens had been cowed as more and more streets were taken over by hoodlums. By the time Lagos State imposed its curfew, a self-imposed curfew was already on by people afraid to venture out. A revolution of sorts was brewing.
The social media was also at work in the collation and dissemination of information that was to run contrary to the government’s position on the shooting at the Toll Gate. How much of that information was true and how much was manipulated will remain part of the strengths and weaknesses of the social media. It used to be said that photographs don’t lie. Not any longer. Social media photographs do lie. And within hours of the year- long investigative panel’s report being handed over to the Lagos State Government, a leaked version of it was on everybody’s phone. That was in contravention of the normal process. This lack of restraint is a weakness of social media. Ordinarily, a report of such a sensitive nature would be vetted and harmonised by another independent body and recommendations made in a White Paper. Those that leaked the report might have wanted to force the hands of government which could be understandable given existing trust issues between government and the people. But it instead exposed some biases in certain areas of the report.
The US Secretary of State came to town at the time the report was being handed over and used the opportunity to give us a lecture on the need for democracy, probity, accountability and full implementation of the panel’s report. He did not urge for patience and the need for government to first study the report. He did not talk about the impropriety of leaking a report that had barely reached the hands of government that authorised it in the first place. Americans and indeed the whole world waited in bated breath to receive the Muller Report on Russian interference that had taken more than two years to investigate. Yet, despite the world-wide interest in the report, the system was allowed to play out. No wholesale leak of the report within 24 hours was reported. The system was respected even when the Attorney General was trying to use parts of the report for the administration’s advantage. That is how institutions are built.
There is no sane Nigerian who does not abhor the police brutality that led to the #End SARS movement in the first place. There is no decent Nigerian who does not regret the way the protest degenerated into looting and carnage around the country. There is no rational Nigerian who does not detest the brutish way the protesters were dislodged at the Lekki Toll Gate. Or the needless deaths the protests caused. But we do not need a sheriff to come to town and lecture us on law and order. We do not need anybody to stand on a moral dais to talk down.
Thanks to the social media, we now know more about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and how lives are snuffed out by the American police. We now know how high handed America can be with protesters. In fact, the week Mr Blinken was lecturing us about democracy, certain key allies of ex-President Trump were being invited to give account of their roles in the attempted coup of January 6. And within days of his preaching to us, an 18 year old who had walked armed into a protest killing two people about a year ago, was acquitted of all charges and treated as a hero in Blinken’s America. Nobody asked what an 18 year old was doing with an assault rifle. Or that the people he killed were unarmed. If this had happened in Nigeria, we would have received a lecture. And a travel alert against us if a gun had gone off at a Nigerian airport as it did in Atlanta recently. The fact is that all lives should matter everywhere.
There is a lot wrong with Nigeria that needs to be corrected. But it would help if these things were pointed out to us in ways that give us dignity. It would probably be more effective if an engagement of equals was made to discuss our short comings. After all, the last time I checked, we were a sovereign nation. Thanks to the unfettered social media, we now know about the decadence in some of these hallowed countries; and about the frailties of their leaders.
Come 2023, I pray for the kind of purposeful, knowledgeable and patriotic leadership that will make us proud and make other countries respect and take notice of us. I pray for an untainted and cerebral leader who can stand tall in a comity of leaders. May the days of leaders who bow to the dictates of the West – or the East – be over soon. And may the tribe of those who think our salvation lies in the West or East, grow less. Our destiny lies in our hands.