The evil geniuses in Nigeria’s political area, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
… Nigerian rulers may not be smart or intelligent, but by God they are very smart! To be clever, it takes some imagination. They are evil geniuses; only good at using their skills for negative or harmful purposes. It was a smart move to ban Twitter on the grounds of “national security”. What the Minister of Information mentioned in this declaration is called “securitization of speech files” …
Are Nigerian rulers (not leaders) as stupid as some of us think? No! In the last few months I have struggled with many questions about how the Nigerian ruling elite thinks and acts. I was wondering if they are smart or just plain stupid. I didn’t think they were smart until I pondered the reasons given by Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed in the statement announcing the Twitter ban. In the statement, he said the use of Twitter was “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
A deep dive into the structure of the language used in this statement made me think about how smart Lai Mohammed is. Yes, Nigerian rulers might not be smart or intelligent, but by god they are very smart! To be clever, it takes some imagination. They are evil geniuses; only good at using their skills for negative or harmful purposes. It was a smart move to ban Twitter on the grounds of “national security”. What the Minister of Information evoked in this statement is called “securitization of speech acts” – a favorite of politicians and dictators since the end of the Cold War.
Security is not neutral, but an emotional word. Lai Mohammed used his social and institutional powers to pool the government’s grievances with Nigerians’ use of social media to petition and hold the government accountable as extreme security issues need to be addressed urgently. He pretended the issue was beyond politics by articulating it as a threat to Nigerian sovereignty. By calling the issue dangerous and urgent, the Minister of Information attacked securitization theory in international relations, which recognizes that national security policy is not a naturally occurring issue but a construct of politicians and decision-makers.
This means that issues that are described as threats may not actually be threats, but they do become threats when politicians and decision makers label them as such. In other words, issues that are not threatening become security issues when addressed in this way. As skilled players in the power game, the thought leaders who are pushing for censorship on social media understand the unequal balance of power between the government and the people. The government manages security while the public maintains security. Citizens are more likely to duck when the government tells them they are in danger.
Who Believes Lai Mohammed? Outside of the government, I don’t think anyone takes him seriously. He has long since created his own truth regime without any basis. For someone who has no respect for facts and objective truth, he cannot formulate threats through skillful manipulation.
In this case, the government’s attempt was received with ridicule. Who Believes Lai Mohammed? Outside of the government, I don’t think anyone takes him seriously. He has long since created his own truth regime without any basis. For someone who has no respect for facts and objective truth, he cannot formulate threats through skillful manipulation. We ask: what security? Security for whom? Security from what? And security by whom? The Twitter ban and the push to regulate social media are motivated by the concept of securitizing speech acts. This happens when a political actor exaggerates an issue above politics by declaring and enforcing the use of unnecessary extraordinary measures to violate people’s fundamental rights.
Absolute control over political speech is what drives the Nigerian government. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) code has allowed the government to mute freedom of expression beyond what serves it by maintaining control of the broadcasting channels. NBC imposed strict rules on the local media following the Twitter ban. Social media is targeted because the government has no control over the political expression of citizens. The Twitter ban and frantic moves to regulate social media reflect a concerned government trying to control the narrative and wield power over online discussions in Nigeria.
Nobody has said it better than the man who represents President Buhari’s constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, Fatihu Mohammed, who represents the federal constituency of Daura / Sandamu / Bau in the state of Katsina. He said, “For God’s sake what is social media? Do we eat social media? Let’s go back to the resources and reap them, and let’s put this aside and face the real problem in Nigeria. My colleagues have expressed the opinion of their constituents. If I gave the opinion of my constituents, I would include the president, because out of 360 of us, I am the only one elected by the president. Let’s look Nigeria first, let’s be honest with ourselves, let’s call a spade a spade. We should regulate the media, please. If the minister did not ban Twitter on the orders of the President, the insults to Nigeria’s sovereignty from Twitter users would be more than what we see. Let’s tell the truth, Nigeria comes first. Sometimes when I read tweets I am disappointed in the youngsters (because) we are the future of Nigeria. ”
In the words of President Muhammadu Buhari, Fatihu Mohammed is a mentally “lazy youth” who has found himself in the National Assembly. He detests modernity, but benefits from it. Perhaps he should be allowed to ride donkeys and go back to the farm with hoes and cutlass so that he can harvest those resources in his constituency. It is sad that he is unaware of the business side of social media and its benefits for the youth and small businesses that can sell their products and services without having to pay the cost of physical offices. He is unaware of the social media e-commerce contributions to GDP. All he cares about is hero worship, flattery, and the muzzle of free speech.
Even the plan to curb social media platforms through regulation will not work. Trying to license social media platforms through NBC is impractical. There’s no way the government can get social media platforms under the same regulatory regime that they have on broadcasting. It will prove problematic to target users as they are contained in their arrogant Internet Falsification Act …
Since the wise are not necessarily wise or intelligent, their approach poses new challenges. Attorney General Abubakar Malami threatened to prosecute those of us who circumvented the Twitter ban by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNS). Within hours he realized his folly that there is no legal basis to carry out his threat. In addition, many prominent Nigerians who cannot afford to molest them have opposed the ban. Malami himself was caught trying to access Twitter via VPN. How about hypocrisy?
Even the plan to curb social media platforms through regulation will not work. Trying to license social media platforms through NBC is impractical. There is no way the government can bring social media platforms under the same regulatory regime that they have over broadcasting. Targeting users as included in their arrogant Internet Counterfeiting Act will prove problematic as it does not scale through the legislature.
There are solutions to social media abuse that lie with the smart and intelligent, who understand the technology and its real threats, rather than the smart. The solutions are obvious; they require work and collaboration. Our rulers despise work. You are drunk with power and are always ready for quick fixes.
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú, a farmer, youth lawyer and political scientist, writes this weekly column “Bamidele Upfront” for the PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olfunmilayo
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