When news flashed that Nigeria’s Information minister, Lai Mohammed was in a “friendly” meeting with bloggers and “social media influencers” (whatever that means), I immediately feared for the worst. I was a bit relieved to read that stifling or gagging the online press, voracious and crude as it may be, isn’t on this administration’s agenda. However, I was still at a loss as to the real essence of the meeting. Hear Lai :
“Let me assure you that the federal government does not intend to stifle free speech or abridge the rights of Nigerians to air their views freely.” The minister was further quoted as saying: “We are not about to regulate or stultify the social media. This explains why we are asking you to self-regulate. That is why we are encouraging you to rein in the impostors among you and show restraint when dealing with issues of national unity, issues of Nigeria’s sovereignty, as well as issues concerning the lives and well-being of Nigerians”
Three things are immediately clear. One. The government is scared of the social media. Secondly, The government is scared of the social media. Thirdly. The government is scared of the social media.
The meeting in itself is ironic. Very ironic. Lai Mohammed contradicted himself in the meeting. He started by first thanking the social media gurus for using the social media to devastating effect in giving the ousted PDP government absolutely no chance at the polls. Mr Mohammed went further by asking them not to abandon their keypads yet, as the government still needs all their support. In other word, Lai Mohammed was very appreciative of the role social media played in getting the APC on board. Then, he talked of self-regulation due to many dangers a free and uncontrolled social media poses for our national security. He asked for “impostors” to be reined in, and restraint in dealing with national issues.
There is a problem, honourable minister. First, you didn’t explain what you meant by “impostors”. Do you mean the people whose pastime is merely creating parody accounts swaying undiscerning populace, like we have Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida fully represented on twitter, despite the fact that both men have severally denied being on social media? Or are you talking about people who speak their mind, on their own space, on the accounts they created, and browsing with their own money and data? Or are you talking about people who go about spreading falsehood and demoralizing the country through wicked tales about our military and openly rejoice when Boko Haram strikes?
Then reining them in! Are you in effect ordering a class captain for the Internet, whose job would be to pull down any account that doesn’t fit in to the official code of conduct of the APC-led government? Are you asking for the “influencers” to ban twitter accounts of “Impostors”, or report them to the DSS?
There’s more confusion – “self regulate”! LOL! Lai Mohammed wants social media to regulate it’s activities! It goes this way. Probably. There’ll be an association of social media voltrons or overlords, with a president and a senate, where decisions would be taken on what can, and can’t be posted online. Now, if Lai Mohammed’s statement doesn’t amuse you and your tummy, nothing would.
Continuing in his strange sermonization, Lai Mohammed enthused: ”What I am saying in essence is that you must self-regulate in order not to self-destruct. Self-regulation allows you to weed out the charlatans among you in order to maintain your credibility and ensure your survival. Lose credibility and lose it all. That is the stark reality. If you must survive and grow, you must not compromise your credibility.”
He added that “hate debate is adding fuel to some low-intensity fires and, if left unchecked, could conflagrate and consume all of us. Remember, you need a peaceful country before you can even dream of greatness. You need a united, strong and virile country to provide the necessary environment for your dreams to come true.” Continuing, he said ”A marriage between Nigerians of different tribes that should be hailed for solidifying our unity as a people has become one of the reasons to vent incredible hatred and openly predict catastrophe for our nation on the Social Media. The New Media is a powerful platform that has democratized access to information and strengthened citizen journalism. But it is also a double-edged sword that must be wielded with caution.”
Lai Mohammed actually said the truth. But he said it without shame. It’s a classic case of the thief, who not apprehended quickly enough, has turned to the accuser. Lai Mohammed preached the right sermon, but preached it too late.
Many claimed Goodluck Jonathan was a weak president. If you observed the fiefdom on social media during GEJ’s years, you’ll agree. Lai Mohammed’s party, and individuals sympathetic to it, turned the social media to a vehicle of hate, terror and intimidation. They used innuendos, sensationalism, outright falsehood and stark abuse to harrass the government and individuals that supported them. Now, that’s not to support the PDP government. They had a lot of failings. And we’re rightly voted out. But the social media was used to shape opinion massively against the government of the day.
In January 2012, twitter was used to oppose the brilliant but poorly executed fuel subsidy removal strategy. A movement that typically shows how people can be easily swayed by social media. Boko Haram attacks were celebrated by APC twitter handles. “#GEJOut” trended almost simultaneously with every blast. The unfortunate loss of the Chibok girls was used. #Bring BackOurGirls simply transliterated to mean Kick Out Jonathan. Strangely, many twitter handles with BBOG as user names simply changed once Jonathan lost. The urge to get the girls back is gone. Or, it was never there in the first place. Every seeming failure of government was amplified to highlight why the PDP must be voted out. Hate speeches was normal. The president was called a pig. His wife, a “she-hippopotamus”, “clueless”, “idiocy”, “dumbo” were quite milder terms. You’ll had thought Jonathan achieved absolutely nothing.
At the height of the social media onslaught against Goodluck Jonathan, Lai Mohammed should have preached this sermon. He rather cheered them on. His many press releases contained several clichés cropped from the reigning anti-GEJ slogan. He severally called Jonathan names too. They, including the now born-again Lai Mohammed, sowed the wind. It is ironic they are afraid of the whirlwind.
Meanwhile, if Buhari’s government had merely fulfilled campaign promises, and positively changed the country as they screamed pre elections, the perceived ill-talk against them would have been dismissed as mere malice. But every anger directed at APC today is not misplaced. The subsidy has been mismanaged. Chronic fuel scarcities have returned. And no end is in sight. From never believing in subsidy, Buhari has now paid close to six hundred billion naira as subsidy in six months! Yet, queues wont go away. Power supply, initially thought to have “self-constructed” at the instance of a certain body language, have returned to normal epilepsy. The so-called “Fear of Buahri” is non-existent, except in the minds of apologists. Thieves are still thieving, crooks are still cooking, corruption is still in bloom. Or how can Timipre Sylva be put forth as a gubernatorial candidate, and you claim anyone fears Buhari?
And, they are too arrogant to swallow the humble pie by scrapping the unfortunate and wasteful subsidy. The economy is crashing. Corruption is still in town. And, guess what, Buhari’s body language is nothing more than mere dance steps. It took six months to select ministers and never have we seen such six months of lack of direction.
Lai Mohammed should rather face his job. He should be worried that a mere six months into their tenure, goodwill is fading like wax in fire. Even a promise as simple as declaration of assets was so bungled by them. Shame. Yet, Nigerians are yet to unleash anger on social media. Infact, he hasn’t seen anything. At least, no one is “Lai-ing” against them yet. I can assure Mr Mohammed, that if this strange pace of fulfilling promises is maintained by his government, not only would they be attacked on social media, even men and women who don’t even know whether twitter is a type of food or brand of insecticide, would openly give them ten times what they gave Jonathan – anger!
And, on a final note, Mr Information minister. The press CANT be regulated. Much less the social media; where every man is his own CEO. And I’m surprised you’re not aware of this.
Olufemi Oluwaseye is on twitter @olufemisp