Monday 18 June 2012

Nigeria: Let's Do Twitter Sociology For Dummies

A dismal apologia
The weekend brought interesting mirth when a blog link by Noel Ihebuzor, an apparently erudite sociologist was shared with the title - A first sketch of a sociology of the Naija self-acclaimed “social activist” twitter community [1]
On my first reading of it, I opined that Sociology had joined Economics as a dismal science but the content in what was supposed to be a study of sorts played out as if the writer had identified hierarchies that had coalesced around the ejection of the ruling party from power and the power dynamics within the supposed clique.
Hierarchies and overloads
Having been on Twitter a few years, there is definitely strident criticism and opposition to the Nigerian government expressed on Twitter with a broad spectrum of expression from measured to intemperate, leading to discussion, arguments and biases but the idea that there are hierarchies of clones and mobs validating each other in mass denigration of the government controlled by some overlord is as far-fetched to be considered delusional.
I immediately sought his Twitter account as people began to tweet about the piece, but for me, what stood out was the clear bias and assumptions from someone with such a modest following whose claims to balance almost made a mockery of the science of sociology.
It is a given that the government does not have much of a voice on the Twitter landscape and where they do, the people are given to vacuous witticisms with the occasional breakout of attack dogs sent to maul “the opposition.”
Characters in the mind of a sociologist
There are some valid points in the write-up but they are poorly presented, however, in trying to press his case about the so-called hierarchies, he created some fictitious Twitter characters and some thinking had to have gone into this, because he offered a definition of sociology which I reproduce below:
The easiest definition of sociology is that it is a study of society – how society is structured, the rules, the norms, codes and convention that govern it and the power relations which sustain it.
It would be easy to overlook what he was getting at and he might well dismiss this analysis, but the mind of a sociologist is ever present with the object of his study, the assertions he wants to make and the conclusions he wants to draw.
At the top of the so-called power structure is @Yabiswacko, this no doubt formed of two words, yabis and wacko.
I found an interesting definition of yabis [2] - Not a ‘proper’ English term. A usage from ‘postcolonial English’ popularised by the Nigerian afrobeat maestro, Fela Kuti, in his recordings and live shows. In that sense of its most popular use it means ‘a playful insult,’ ‘light-hearted criticism’ or mockery.
Wacko [3] - A person regarded as eccentric or irrational or informally, a mad or eccentric person.
I suppose I can be allowed to say the Twitter overload in the mind of the sociologist is a mad, probably eccentric person and considering the tone of the study, definitely irrational, given to the maybe more than light-hearted criticism of the government, he makes a mockery of them and as for insults, he has a field day.
This looks like the concatenation of three words quite recognisable in Pidgin English; I will suggest the numbers are added to conceal the deliberate activity that went into crafting these names as if to show they were made up randomly.
Fine in this context is a qualifier; it is the shine-shine that is more interesting because that will be the Pidgin English occupation of a shoe shiner. However, there is another definition [4] which puts together shine shine bobo to mean a flashy trendy guy. What is missing here is any allusion to the person's independence, intelligence, intellect or ability to reason and this reflects in all the other names.
I suppose it would not take long to see that this is a homophone of airhead [5] which is a slang meaning a stupid or simple-minded person; idiot. Surely, this is not an insult, inferred or intended of the assumed character in the mind of the sociologist.
Again, using a homophone, this is definitely light brain and could as well be a synonym for airhead. Another seeking direction.
Homophones again, empty koko head, is no doubt, empty coconut head. By now, every claim to decency of the sociologist is rubbished. The feigned and affected cry of being mauled by Twitter should immediately fall on deaf ears, if you point a finger, it is most likely the other three are inadvertently pointing back at you.
This is a corruption of fine girl and considering the tone of the blog and the review of the preceding names, it can only be meant in the derogatory sense of someone who has beauty but no brains.
The context of how this is used in the piece might help, capo has an Italian etymology meaning head or leader. “@CAPO_ogbaegbe to all who follow him.” The underscore definitely suggested this was meant to be two separate words. I think the ogbaegbe is two Yoruba words ogba meaning compound and egbe meaning club, team or following.
This could easily mean head of a group of people in a compound but one gets a sense of what is intended, a power structure that commands troops.
How it plays out
Putting this together through the eyes of the characters, what we have is a vocal Nigerian activist Twitter community controlled by an irrational eccentric madman who trades insults, levels criticism and makes a mockery of the government.
Under him are hierarchies reporting to group leaders as these tiers control mobs of trendy but stupid and idiotic people ready to do the bidding of their Twitter overloads. Interesting! As the English would say.
I honestly, did not see anything dishonest in the backlash that had some rather humorous person create a parody @Yabiswacko Twitter account inspired by the sociology piece with Fela Anikulapo Kuti as the avatar and the URL to the source of inspiration added to the profile. His piece gained attention, even notoriety and possibly opprobrium; a badly written sketch deserves accolades from the persuaded and brickbats from the unpersuaded, the author has to bear the consequences of his folly. He should stop belly-aching and read Twitter's Policy on Parody accounts.
They who sow to the wind should be ready to reap the whirlwind once the veil drops from our eyes about this being a study to what it was; a hatchet job on supposed and imagined critics of the Nigerian Federal Government.
A sad day for sociology
If this is sociology, I am impressed but I will not be taken by the assertion that this is the sociological study it claims to be. Having identified in context a whole leadership structure that affects our federal government with siege mentality, this offers concealed but deliberate academic leverage to insult, abuse and vilify the supposed constituents of the power dynamic this sociologist has identified, simply mirroring what he appears to be exposing.
The subtlety of this term paper masquerading as a sketch requiring improvement as claimed by the author is probably one of the most sinister uses of propaganda I have seen in a long time. The government might however find this study quite useful because it could really now formalise structures along the lines of this piece to take on the Nigerian Twitter community it has heretofore failed to understand, manage, bribe, cajole or bludgeon into submission.
As for Noel Ihebuzor’s service to sociology, in deviating from his normal fare to deign to this, sociologists risk being put in stocks and pelted with rotten eggs and waste for the shame of its lack of rigour.


African Mami said...

You have declared against "sociologists". They will find you in this your hidden corner!! Great piece! Finally found the comment box!!!!

Akin Akintayo said...

African Mami,

What I can do to welcome you to my blog? Thanks for leaving a comment. I haven't declared war against sociologists, I have just observed and made a comment - you know I never get in trouble, if I can help it. (+_+)

Mama Badster said...

'Shine shine bobo' is also a nickname for the big bottle of Nigerian Breweries' finest Star beer. It could be argued also therefore that such a handle refers to a drunkard :)

Noel Ihebuzor said...

Good try, Mr Akin Akintayo! You successfully managed to by-pass the major issues raised in the article. The omission is deliberate and does not surprise.

Akin Akintayo said...

Mr Noel Ihebuzor,

I do not think anyone including yourself should be in any doubt about what I had to say in this blog, your sociology piece was badly researched, poorly written and the only particularly clear thought processes you had in composing your piece were in the names you created of your characters.

I dare say, this blog was much better researched that yours.

Obinna Mgbeahurike said...

Mr Akin. I was referred to read your blog and quite admittedly, you did some research. However, does this research aptly cover the real subject matter or does it just shoot at ephemeral and inconsequential issues? Noel wrote about the decadence and evils of social critics which are often based on uninformed view points. He neither mentioned names nor accused anyone indirectly. He merely drew parallels that best described the Nigerian critique-space. I am miffed that such a well-researched paper like this merely took a shot at the wind. Are your readers supposed to take home from your article, that criticism (in no matter what form) is welcomed even when they may be damaging to our society? Let's not forget that communism as a form of governance is a form of criticism itslef (even anarchy is!). Methinks(considering that I have read both articles) that Noel attacked the weightier matter and yours am afraid, clearly miscued. Redo your article and attack the issues he raised. You have the streak to make a proper critic. We must not always agree and Am sure Noel will concede to your points when they actually counter his. The idea of criticism is the beauty in its intellectual property. Your has it, but from a misplaced standpoint