Monday, 30 July 2012

Nigeria: Social Media is a Symptom of our Government Practices


The dangers we face
In Nigeria, there is every hope that the government of the people is by the people and definitely for the people, that is the supposedly the age-old definition of democracy.
However, the model of democracy we run has serious problems with an executive that appears to be a law unto itself, a legislature that makes it exorbitantly unaffordable with the many conflicts of interest that hamper its oversight functions and a judiciary in crisis constantly being intimidated by powerful and rich defendants that troop senior lawyers to court by the truck load.
We live in times where bad history seems to be ready to repeat itself like in 1966 and 1983 when the barracks let loose political juntas whose altruistic aims of righting the wrongs with Nigeria just seemed to compound things the more.
Our hope and desire
In our heart of hearts, I believe it is the wish of every Nigerian that the government and that is any government in power even if it consists of reprehensible aliens, unsightly to the eyes but diligent, competent and visionary is making the country work for the benefit of all.
The realities we face are such that they cannot be ignored, we cannot continue to have people in leadership who seem to be in office but not in power, whose purpose appears ill-defined and who we deem to simply enjoy the trappings of office and power without consideration to the people, aggrandising with impunity and without consequence.
The responsibilities we all have
It has created a backlash, for the promises are yet unfulfilled and the lauded achievements are no more than ideas that have yet to be well thought through.
The government of Nigeria that consists of over 160 million people with serious infrastructure and reputational issues cannot be where people who rule fail to be leading by bringing effective and lasting change to the people not just through economic growth but in development that fosters equality of opportunity and creates good jobs for the largely restless youth.
This amazingly resourceful youth that makes up more than half the population of the country are in the main disappointed, disillusioned and no doubt angry without much within the structure of our democracy to voice their feelings when the ruling party could not even find any in its ranks to fill in the youth leader’s post that it unashamedly fell into the lap of a 60-year old man.
The youth voicing out
The youth have not been silent, they are active and galvanised, working with technology where the old fogeys have no control, they are the lifeblood of social media on blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter they are calling out the leaders, irreverently questioning them, mounting challenges on the gerontocracies and entrenched power structures that want to be oblivious of the real Nigerian problems.
Beyond that, their anger is also expressed in abuse, yes, abuse, excoriating abuse, sometimes vile to the extreme, none of which is without cause but the situation can only be remedied if the government comes out of its siege mentality and begins to respond, react, reform, readjust and realign itself to the core aspirations of Nigerians.
Protecting the freedom of expression
If anything, for all the weak institutions that give a lie to our democracy that looks more and more each day like a kakistocracy we have the freedom of expression and much of that expression with cause is not to the liking of many especially those in government where the President has said it is a pastime, the Senate President has questioned unfettered access to social media forums and an aide has recognised the torrent of abuse that has gone the President’s way.
Nigerians have always had these discussions in their homes, at bars, amongst friends and all sorts of places, we are by nature political animals, that the discussion is now on social media forums should not be a surprise to anyone.
A democracy thrives on the freedom of expression and views, where there are any who take offence, they have the courts to seek redress, what we do not want is to have legislation that criminalises expression and foists lèse majesté laws on the people such that they cannot fearlessly and vigorously hold their elected representatives accountable.
The constitutional laws that give the most senior members of our government immunity from prosecution during their tenures have been egregiously abused as governors mostly manifest as demigod potentates, untouchable and literally outside the ambit of the law until they leave office after they have caused untold damage.
The real image of Nigeria
Nigeria’s image abroad has not been fashioned by the happenings on social media, it would be naïve to suggest the CIA World Fact Book, the Failed States Index or the World Bank – Ease of Doing Business report mines Twitter, Facebook or blogs for their indices – these are sadly but the best objective data available that determines the risk profile of the country and the investment potential for prospectors along with the perception embassies will feed back to their home countries.
Social media obviously brings more voices into the debate and that is important, Nigeria is bustling with educated and vibrant talent that want to have a say in how they are governed and even have a louder say when they perceive the government is inimical to the aspirations of the citizenry.
The problem is in the government
The honest truth is the image of Nigeria will change when the government gives us new things to talk about by moderating their excesses and more importantly dealing with the bad and somewhat classless behaviour that has become action and manner of speech of those in power.
If they have forgotten that they are in power to serve rather than be served living large like they are in the courts of Caligula given to wanton debauchery and lasciviousness too vile for expression, no amount of abuse will be too great until they begin to mend their ways.
We must not forsake our liberties and freedoms for the temporary absolution of government from every kind of scrutiny, be it informed or ignorant, else we deserve none of the liberty nor the freedom we have and lastly, the learned should beware that they are not found to give succour to those whose aim is to curtail our freedom of expression in the misguided view that social media is the bane of the problems Nigeria has.
Social media is just the symptom of a problem defined by the way the government has chosen to work and govern.

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