Nigeria: Stay Woke - the Government Wants to Gag You On Social Media

10 December 2019

Finally, the government is aware that social media is the new information and organising frontier, and the weapon of the information war is the smart phone. With cellphones in peoples' palms, they have access to information and can transmit this faster and organise better. As usual, what the government cannot control, they always want to take away. Before the democratisation of information and news, the government could easily control the social and political narrative by feeding Nigerians whatever they liked through the state-owned media. Those they cannot control, they shut downor if it is the print media, they confiscate the print runs to prevent damaging stories and information from getting out. The pattern has been altered with social media becoming the most important medium for public communication and culture. As a platform, the digital space is excellent for recruitment, mobilisation and organisation. Social media is feared because it does not rely on state structures and it is difficult to control. As the trial of Omoyele Sowore has shown, it has also become a platform to form alliances and debunk the lies and propaganda of government. All these are the reasons why the defenders of the status-quo are threatened.

For more than a generation, there has been an accelerated degeneration in moral values, leading to the lack of social cohesion, with attendant implications for nation-building. The systemic loss of values, elevation of mediocrity to state art, impunity and corruption are not caused by free speech or the social media. It was caused by moral degeneracy, love of quick money, greed and all other vices in between. Plans to censor free speech cannot be presented as a moral imperative. It is not!

Governments' interest in enacting the social media law is a misguided attempt to criminalise dissent and teach people how to behave on social media. Nigeria's problems require better and more reasoned solutions than the perennial attempt by succeeding government at silencing critical voices to mask embarrassing facts and ideas that can galvanize people into action. Nigerians are frustrated, alienated and disgruntled given the widening inequality, ethnic chauvinism, lack of opportunities and social mobility. With mobile telephony, the youth can see what their peers accross the oceans enjoy, in countries that are better governed. How is calling out politicians who do not have the best interest of those they represent at heart, hate speech?

The question is, can behavior be legislated? Certainly not! social media is not the problem. A rudderless and purposeless leadership without moral compass nor a sense of responsibility is. Any bill meant to curtail the rights and privileges of social media users is nothing but high-handedness and cyber fascism.

Mohammed Sani Musa alias Sani Card Reader governing interest is to escape criticism from those they have subjected to harsh realities by their actions. Majority of social media users are decent people. Many outspoken critics want a country that works for all, regardless of their circumstances of birth. Many people who educate and inform, on social media are active citizens who are exercising their right to petition the government and advance social causes. What Sani Card Reader want, is to silence the voices who expose the hypocrisy of opportunists and usurper of public good. These categories are the ones who undermine social trust.

People should be vigilant to keep their freedom. Under-performing governments like the Buhari administration will continue to seek increased control over digital platforms. They will attempt to use legislation or taxes on data subscription rates, to limit access as a way to clampdown on free speech.

Without doubt, social media has aided and given cover for, ethno-religious bigots, political anarchists, conspiracy theory peddlers and bullies. Boko Haram have used and exploited social media platforms to devastating effect for recruiting apostles of hate and for disseminating their hateful and murderous doctrines. It is clear Sani Card Reader and his likes are not targeting these categories of people. The real targets are active citizens advocating good governance and accountability. These brazen assault on free speech and constitutional violation should be a cause for concern and should be condemned by all.

I call on you to stay WOKE. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, "Bamidele Upfront" for PREMIUM TIMES.

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