29 August 2012

Nigeria: Managing Social Media

Photo: Flickr
Internet domain


Like the notorious 419 fraudulent practices that followed the prevalence of internet in Nigeria, new social media are being deployed to achieve negative, in some cases fatal, objectives.

Like the most recent and tragic case of Miss Cynthia Valerie Osukogu illustrates. The 25-year old postgraduate student of Nasarawa State University was invited to Lagos by people she had made friends with on the social networking site Facebook. It was supposed to be a business trip for her to purchase wares in Lagos to stock the shop she ran back in school; it was also to afford her opportunity to meet her virtual friends face to face for the first time. Her fatal decision should once again be a warning and a wakeup call to youngsters who sign up to these sites and to parents and guardians.

According to police accounts, Cynthia's 'friends' determined from interaction on the site that she shuttled between Lagos and Abuja for business. Their invitation to her was apparently all-expenses paid one: an airline ticket and hotel accommodation. On checking in, Cynthia was drugged and then strangled. Her lifeless body was later discovered in the hotel room, tied up and chained. Her valuables were taken away. Pictures captured by the hotel's close circuit camera identified the suspects and helped to trace them. They are believed to be undergraduates of other universities. This gruesome incident says a lot about the lust for money and material things among Nigerian youths and the murderous extent they can go to have their way. Last year, a student of the Abia State University was widely reported to be gang-raped. There are many other cases that go unnoticed because they are not reported. But it is a trend that the society must be equally determined should not be allowed to prevail.

The police acted commendably swiftly in the Cynthia case, by promptly arresting the culprits, who have apparently confessed their crime; they also disclosed that they had carried out four similar acts in the past. Social media, part of the worldwide web, are supposed to break barriers and communication between peoples faster and easier. With this ugly development involving Cynthia, parents and guardians should take more than a passing interest in how their wards use the various social networking sites. Children need guidance on how to use these facilities, some of which have no formal regulatory mechanism in Nigeria, made worse by the absence of government agency to educate people on the usage as well as risks associated with them. This is why, with the benefit of hindsight, it is regrettable that the Federal Government's National Centre for Educational Technology in Kaduna, which should perform the role, has since been closed down. The government must provide guidelines in how these social media are used without necessarily compromising free speech, but preserving good tastes and fair usage. The focus should not only be on computer literacy in educational institutions but how to use the social media safely and productively. The task ahead is however not just for government alone as individual citizens have a role. Cynthia's tragic experience should serve as a lesson to not only the youths, but all subscribers to social networking sites to be security conscious when accepting 'friend requests' by people they have not met before, and careful about divulging personal information on the Internet.

The security agencies need to brace up to the challenge posed by individuals who take advantage of the Internet to perpetrate criminal activities by training personnel to track potential fraudsters and other criminals on the Net and exposing their perpetrators. Cynthia's case underscores the need for the hospitality industry, especially hotels, to introduce gadgets that will enhance the safety of their clients and the public case showed. The installation of close circuit cameras in strategic areas for the purpose of recording movement of people should be standard requirement as this particular case showed. In the final analysis, a powerful deterrent would be the diligent investigation and prosecution of all suspects in the case of Cynthia and justice seen to have been done.

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