January 15, 2022

Nigeria needs to appreciate social media

By Tonnie Iredia

The term ‘media’refers to the organs of communication whose main function in society is to inform people about events around them and beyond. However, the media has since the 1980s, changed drastically.

In place of its conventional components, made up largely of newspapers, radio and television, new technologies which created opportunities for flexibility and increased social interaction emerged to revolutionize the use of media.

The new order which is essentially digital is significant not only for the speed inherent in its information dissemination platforms but also its ability to convert the media to an everybody’s tool.

No one needed to first train as a journalist anymore, all that was needed was to get hold of any of the digital social platforms and transmit any information whatsoever to anywhere – a trend aptly described as ‘citizen journalism.’ Of course, the development has had severe consequences.

First,because citizen journalists are not trained to do the work of media reporters, their amateurish contributions would necessarily lack professionalism, as they merely transmit stories the way they see or run into them.

Thus,devoid of any journalistic treatment or interpretation or indeed, reliance on any set of ethical values, social media users were foisted on the art of acquiring and transmitting unverifiable materials thereby causing incalculable damage to society.

Unfortunately, this aspect was sufficiently infuriating enough to exploitative leaders in underdeveloped societies, to make them develop strategies to strangulate the social media. In the process, such leaders lost the opportunity to understand global realities and to appreciate what people in developed societies found to be the transforming role of technology as well as its redeeming feature for humanity.

Unlike the developed world which recognizes that every positive change is basically achieved through technology, African countries have been fighting technology- especially the social media aspect that seems to be liberating the poor and gullible peasants.

In Nigeria, the predominant approach was to use lawmaking to halt the social media evolution through Bills that can muzzle dissenting voices and stifle free speech under the cloak of national security and defamation of character.

Prominent here was the ‘Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith’ sponsored by Senator Ibn Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South). There was also the‘ Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’ sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa (APC, Niger East) which turned out to be a bill that created offences for which truth was not to be accepted as a defence!

A similar bill on Hate Speech was sponsored by Senator Sabi Abdullahi, (APC, Niger North). Interestingly, all the sponsors belonged to the ruling party just as their apprehensions about media coverage were found to have been covered by existing laws such as the Penal Code, the Criminal Code, the cybercrimes Act, the Law of Defamation, the Nigerian Communication Commission Act etc.

The fight against technology has been so intense in Nigeria that it has become a culture for leaders to inadvertently work against matters that should normally benefit some of them. This viewpoint appears to illuminate the puerile claims of some legislators who for argument sake, swore during the debate on electronic transmission of election results, that their constituencies had no telecom signals.

There was the story of two comedians acting in a telephone chat one week after the debate and voting. The caller was in Abuja and was calling to express disappointment in his colleague who had reneged on their decision to vote in favour of the bill. The receiver’s reply was that he had been slightly ill and wanted to rest in the village for some days.

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He apologized for not keeping faith, explaining that his vote was influenced by lack of signals in his village. When the caller asked his colleague how he is able to receive calls in his no-signal village, the answer was that the situation fluctuates and that on election day, there might be no signal. To many Nigerian politicians, poor signals instinctively fluctuate to affect the transmission of election results, but they don’t ever affect the voting itself or other issues like JAMB activities or funds transfer to friends and relations in the same villages.

Our inability to embrace social media has in turn pushed us to treat the concept of technology with contempt. We have refused to allow the diffusion of technology in our clime with the result that those areas of technology that we are willing to accept are in jeopardy because we are yet to assimilate their technological foundation.

Take the issue of payment of salaries for instance in which we are the only ones who have not understood how to add new names to our pay list, hence many new staff can’t  be remunerated for the first few months of appointment. Yet, the digital nature of technology makes things easier, quicker and better.

Through modern communication systems, organizations are now better positioned to abandon repetitive jobs while manual labour is progressively shifting to automation. Everywhere else, modern technology is paving the way to faster devices such as smartphones while humanity is now able to make copies that are identical to the original. But in societies such as ours, skepticism has remained a barrier to our capacity to maximize digital potentials for national development.

It is time for Nigeria to fully embrace cybernetic decision making in view of the efficacy of machine-made decisions. By now, we ought to have installed CCTV everywhere in our nation to help provide instant information especially on criminal matters.

At the Dowen College Lekki, Lagos where a student recently died presumably on account of peer bullying, those who have done such criminality would have been captured on camera. Besides, because such can easily be detected by the state, excessive impunity would have been greatly dissuaded.

Instead, we want to trust the conventional media that cannot afford a standby camera crew within schools and organizations. We want to rely on law enforcement agencies that have become so overwhelmed and are now experts in casting catch-phrases like ‘we are on top of the matter’ which they are yet to know about.

But for our social media platforms, how would Nigerians have been mobilized in the last couple of months to publicly deprecate official lethargy? How much light would have been thrown on the cases of victims like Sylvester Oromoni or the 14-year-old Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher of Premier Academy, Lugbe, Abuja?

The vibrant inspectorate architecture for schools and colleges of the colonial era has since died. Even if that is revived today, openness which only the social media guarantees is what can compel open governance.

We cannot achieve the same capacity of the social media to instantly make information available when our priority is how to censor the media from publishing information. Indeed, as far back as the 1970s, the UNESCO had urged all countries to strive to become communicating nations.

Nigeria is yet to make any appreciable progress in that regard. In 2011, we claimed to have joined the nations which signed the Freedom of Information Act, but since then, we have only honoured the provisions of the Act in the breach.  Other countries have gone beyond encouraging communication; they now embrace open justice.

For example, South Africa has in the last decade instituted the LIVE broadcast of criminal trials with the argument that because courts exercise public power over citizens, it is important for their proceedings to be open so as to encourage public understanding as well as accountability.

Nigeria on its part is yet to be persuaded to allow broadcast professionals to interview bonafide sources for their news bulletins. Alas! censorship has become ineffectual in the global village.

Out of fear for social media power, we have not been able to isolate the demerits of the scheme and design civilized procedures for overcoming them. But because every period in history has its own time, it is time for Nigeria to appreciate the age of technology.

Vanguard News Nigeria