by Akhigbe Samson
Nigeria is unique, as a demographic or geographical entity, we are different. In recent years, we have observed the proliferation of social media giants. Nigerians who have taken the bull by the horn and have maximised or are trying to maximise the potentials of social media.
Social media in Nigeria has created virtual leviathans, individuals with larger than life personality. They have become celebrities and are courted by titans and captains of industry. Their value in reality has crossed the virtual borders and they have established bases amongst us. Financially, many of them are millionaires, while the late comers are as poor as you and I. During the era of the illicit drug trade of the 70s, many Nigerians who saw the potentials immersed themselves fully and reaped massive benefits. Having seen the benefits from this illicit trade, typical Nigerian follow follow mentality pushed others to join; these newbies were left with crumbs and could only toe the path of the trail blazers. A similar trait has begun in the race to command social media presence.
Amongst these social media leviathans are social crusaders cum activists, men and women who have chosen to champion the cause of the millions of downtrodden Nigerians online. Their cause is no doubt noble. The likes of Fela Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana and Saro Wiwa created a platform to challenge governance in Nigeria, they amassed a credible following and their names evoke trembling amongst law enforcement agencies and government circles. These social media activists seek to walk the same path, they are creating a niche for themselves.
The affordability of social media platform is an encouraging pedestal. Unlike the physical activists who have gone through years of legal or journalistic training and spent hundreds of thousands acquiring knowledge and building followership by blood and sweat, a social media activist is not encumbered by academic or bureaucratic institutions, he needs not be a lawyer or a journalist or a former government official, all a social media activist needs is a mobile device, internet connection, free registration on a social media platform and couple of hours online daily. Cheap, anonymous and global.
Social media activists are changing the framework of activism, some of them are fearless and dabble into uncharted political waters. The anonymity of the virtual space affords them the non-confrontational method of conventional activism. Others are simply copy and paste activists, the typical follow follow. While it is commendable that social media activists are exploring new avenues to correct the ills of society, a dangerous trend is being set. The development of intellectualism is premised on the liberality of opinions and this divergence of opinions only helps to engender and engineer growth. When you spark off a controversial debate that challenges traditional values or norms, you have opened a Pandora’s box, whatever comes out of it should be accepted objectively.
The worst patient is a Medical Doctor. When you meet a real Nigerian Politician, I don’t mean a technocrat who found himself in politics, I’m referring to a real grass-root politician, you can’t help but fall in love with him in handling criticisms. He may be crude or brash, a real Nigerian politician is never scared of criticisms or critics, he doesn’t hide under the laws of slander or libel to challenge critics, neither does he shy away from war of words, he understands that to remain in the kitchen, you must be ready to assimilate the heat regardless of the degree. A real Nigerian politician will insult your mother and father if you simply insult his dog, he can threaten to sue you, but he will never sue you. It’s all part of the stunt.
The same cannot be said of our contemporary social media pseudo-activists. They have a loaded gun firing at people at random, spewing whatever they feel just to garner cheap popularity and wealth. The moment you question their opinion, you become their enemy, you’re either blocked or reported to the service provider. A critic is not a sissy, neither is he a lily livered writer or speaker, a critic is supposed to be adorned with the bullet proof of words, when you get a dose of your own reality, return the fire with objectivity not hate.
Many social media pseudo-activists who hide under the cover of virtual anonymity cannot face a gathering of 20 people and speak as eloquently as social media affords. If you’re bold enough to challenge corruption or gender inequality or religion or terrorism on social media, there are people whose lifestyle or livelihood rests on these structures, if they launch an attack, accept it in stride and respond objectively, not with hate. If you vigorously campaign for Buhari or Jonathan as the next president of Nigeria and I’m not inclined to acquiesce to your opinion, don’t respond by saying I loathe your candidate because I’m a Christian or Hausa, that’s petty. Be patient enough to educate your followers why you think your candidate is best for Nigeria.
Social media activism should as a matter of necessity be premised on issues, on institutions and not the spread of tribal or religious hate as is gradually becoming the case. Many germane debates have been sparked off online, these issues have questioned the conventional thought process. We should be mindful of the fact that social media is the only platform many people get information especially the youths, it is important that leaders of thought on social media premise activism on the pursuit of intellectualism, not bigotry or ethnocentrism. The area is new in our clime, there are few laws regulating social media in Nigeria, it is therefore important that we create an environment that our future as a nation can relate with.