NIGERIANS are becoming ever more creative in the way they employ social media as tools of mass communication. In terms of their engagement of everyday reality and narration of contemporary events, the virtual world is fast becoming not just a familiar but indeed comfortable terrain for many Nigerians. A lot of what goes on social media platforms should, in terms of their mobilisation of popular consciousness, truly be of concern to many of those who abuse positions of leadership in this country. Social media are becoming a veritable means of mass mobilisation and tool of political education in a way never before seen in these parts and that should necessarily get those with soiled political image to worry.
It is not surprising therefore that legislators in the National Assembly recently took the profoundly self-serving and unpopular step to control Nigerians’ access to these platforms. The proposal of a section of the Senate leadership, smarting from what they consider unfavourable scrutiny from online media, to gag online media was met with the angry reactions of Nigerians, forcing the senators to go softly on the idea while offering afterthoughts as explanation for their false move. But even as we speak and in spite of assurances from both the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, there is no clear indication that the Senate has entirely given up on its ignoble plan to curtail these online platforms that only recently served many of them in battles with their opponents for the control of the political space.
But the truth is that these platforms are a convenient way to keep Nigerians very easily and quickly informed of happenings in their country. This even if one must recognise the relative ease with which the platforms can also be easily manipulated to confuse the unsuspecting, spread falsehood and malicious lies even among informed users. As we become more sophisticated users of online media, we must come up with very creative and acceptable means of standardising their activities without standing in the way of their operations. This is the challenge before everyone who recognises the great potential of online media to serve both good and bad ends. In the present situation in which we’ve found ourselves among a generation of politicians and public office holders that see public office as a means of fulfilling personal goals and ambitions, social media are a good way to let them know that all eyes are on them and that they can be called to account at anytime.
It’s in this wise that I find heartening the ingenuity of those ordinary Nigerians who employ social media in very creative ways. The visual language they’ve created and the narratives it tells are simply compelling. Of particular interest is the way they’ve tried to contrast governance and leadership styles and responsibilities among Nigerian leaders and their counterparts elsewhere. One way they’ve been interrogating power in Nigeria is to juxtapose images of Nigerian leaders in different situations against those of leaders from elsewhere. Parallels are drawn between these images and readers are left to reach their own conclusion. Even when some of the images provided can’t be independently verified, the underlying message they are intended to convey can hardly be missed.
In one recent example, two pictures of American and Nigerian military top brass are juxtaposed. In the one, a number of these senior officers are seated side by side in very alert and attentive postures apparently listening to a speaker or watching someone that is off-screen. Written below this picture are these words, ‘How would these not kill Osama Bin Laden?’ Or words to that effect. In the other picture, top military men of the Nigerian Airforce and Army are shown in ceremonial gears, slumped and snoozing publicly, in postures that are far from dignifying. The latter picture is a very realistic portrayal of scenes that Nigerians have seen now and again- of top civil servants slumbering in public or members of the National Assembly fast asleep while important issues are supposedly being debated in the chambers. Below this second picture are words to this effect: ‘How can these defeat Boko Haram?’
These images provide graphic statements and accounts of the different ways in which American and Nigerian leaders approach matters of governance and public office. The images were apt and said far more than can be adequately expressed in words. When their American and other more serious counterparts elsewhere were busy listening to strategy talks on how to capture Osama Bin Laden, Nigerian military leaders would rather sleep than confront Boko Haram the images seemed to be saying. Such images speak to our present situation in which funds earmarked for the procurement of arms were criminally diverted and shared by top military officers saddled with the responsibility of combating insurgency. They would rather send soldiers into battle without weapons while moonlighting as business moguls and real estate investors.
There was also this image of Barack Obama running to board Airforce One while secret service agents run after him. This picture suggests the sense of urgency with which Obama views his job as president, even running up to get aboard an aircraft that is available any time to take him wherever he was bound. Even when the aircraft couldn’t possibly leave without him, Obama still found it necessary to rush to join his flight. A Nigerian president will not be caught doing that. And when our big men rush on airport tarmacs it is certainly to board an aircraft that has been overbooked and filled like a molue beyond capacity.
Still on these visual narratives of the Nigerian way of life, I was told of an image of David Cameron carrying his own luggage in both hands at an airport. This was juxtaposed with the image of President Goodluck Jonathan, swaggering with a walking stick to take his flight while an assistant walked behind him carrying his luggage.
With these kinds of images circulating out there, there is no way Nigerian big men and women, public office holders and politicians, would be short of ideas on how to silence those criticising their unearned lives of privilege. These images highlight the abnormality of our situation. It was on social media platform that Nigerians first saw the shame of a ministerial assistant, a body guard, reduced to the level of a shoe-shine boy by Abdulrahman Dambazau, Nigeria’s Minister of the Interior.
At the moment when that image was exposed one can be sure that Dambazau could not have wished social media platforms anything good. With so much to expose, and so much to be silent about in the face of possible exposure, the presence of online media platforms will always be bad news for Nigerian big men.