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Mfonobong Inyang: How’s Regulating Social Media In Nigeria The Best Decision?



Beyond my literary cheekiness, the deliberate use of oxymoron is a gambit to highlight how counter-intuitive a backdoor attempt to stifle social commentary in Nigeria through a proposed social media regulation sounds to the ears of right-thinking persons. There are no words to describe my contempt for the inability of our political class to read the room. The lack of critical thinking and situational awareness is palpable. I’m not surprised; I have previously penned that “Some leaders are killing the youth demography of their countries by insisting on stifling young voices rather than reasoning with them.”

In 2021, X (formerly Twitter) was banned largely because the community rules of the platform were violated when a very offensive tweet that referenced a historical genocide was taken down. It was a no-brainer; not only did it include language capable of inciting violence, but it was also seen as a dog whistle which evoked unpleasant memories. Instead of eating the humble pie, what did the dramatis personae do? They did one the most Nigerian things ever; they played the do-you-know-who-I-am card. They even tried to railroad the leadership of the micro-blogging company into making drastic changes to its backend. It was wild to see how Twitter was used to announce that Twitter had been banned! It would have been harmless if it wasn’t a socio-economic tragedy; the ban cost Nigerians a princely sum of $26 billion.

Fast forward to February 2024, there is chatter about how social media has become a menace. This joke writes itself. In a country where people are being abducted from their homes, out-of-school numbers are the highest in the world, terrorists have sacked several communities and taken over their ancestral lands, the Naira is the world’s third-worst performing currency against the Dollar, inflation is at an all-time high, a bag of rice costs more than twice the minimum wage, farmers cannot cultivate their farms because of the constant attacks by bandits, an electricity supply is horrible, many multinationals have exited the domestic market and local businesses have shut down, a bag of cement is north of N12,000 and people can no longer afford basic meals or medical staples. You would think any of these issues would be considered a strategic priority but no, regulating social media is the silver bullet that will magically solve all our problems. What a genius move!

Is this the best commercial for attracting foreign direct investment? I love how our political class makes dumb decisions and then turns around and feigns surprise as to why investors aren’t falling over themselves for Nigeria as a viable economy to put their resources into. Or worse, how they turn around and blame ordinary Nigerians for “demarketing” the country. Riddle me this, which shrewd C-Suite execs in the business districts and commercial hubs of Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Johannesburg, Kigali, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo et al are sitting in their corner offices and reading such hostile approach to public discourse will say to themselves, “Nigeria is looking like the best thing since slice bread right now, the socio-political environment bodes well for our corporate interests”. Your guess is as good as mine.

I’m not one to double down on whataboutism because I know that two wrongs don’t make a right, however, it’s very disingenuous the way those who weaponised social media to the obvious political advantage in 2015 are embarking on lame attempts at teaching revisionist history. Not too long ago, a sitting president was called names that are too grotesque that I cannot even reprint here, people were mobilised for huge rallies via social media, and a mock funeral procession was conducted with some of your faves cheering them on – his mother was traumatised watching her son go through all of that. Some of those who call themselves intellectuals today made a fortune for themselves that year by spewing toxic, bile and abominable comments on a steady. Evidence dey. Today, the space has been democratised and the grip on narrative-shaping has been lost. These calls for regulating social media are simply a kitchen sink strategy; when propaganda isn’t propaganding again, there is a high temptation to muzzle what you cannot spin.

Much of our political class loves mouthing off on democracy but a cursory interrogation shows that they crave a monarchical system where they lord it over us and we’re all subjects incapable of questioning their actions or inactions. It’s interesting that even the most sophisticated monarchy in the world, the British Monarchy, is still accountable to the public by disclosing the health condition and treatment of King Charles III. Here, the best you get is that a leader, holding a public office and funded by taxpayers, has gone on a nondescript “private trip”. Our leaders want worship but they don’t want to put in the work. Some of us find it very difficult to be loyal to incompetence; if you want to be the Big Kahuna, you must show workings otherwise you go just dey explain.

In principle, Nigeria claims to model our democracy after the United States of America but in practice, nothing could be further away from the truth. In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, the very First Amendment vehemently protects free speech. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” No, I’m not comparing apples and oranges, I’m comparing principles with principles.

I’ve said many times before that for the most part, Nigerians aren’t godly people; we are just religious. That’s why you see some leaders of faith, who are part of the Nigerian political industrial complex showcase their perfidy to the highest heavens with reckless abandon. I am not against prayers or praying for one’s country, I believe it’s a patriotic thing to do. What I will be forever against is the duplicity; how we are told to pray for Nigeria when their faves are in office but are expected to join protests and hold the feet of the leader to the fire when he or she isn’t “one of us”. Isn’t it an eyesore how many of your faves are out there trying to spiritualise obvious incompetence? How is insecurity a spiritual problem but politicians are steadily collecting security votes? You should read my piece on Joseph; the broski didn’t pray when Pharaoh asked him for a solution, he told the whole of Egypt a series of actions to take which would guarantee their socio-economic survival. Over here, we bask in debauchery then turn around and name-drop God because religion has been so weaponised that we’re expected to accept anything with a sprinkle of the divine on it.

There was a time when Nigeria sneezed, and the rest of Africa would catch a cold. That clout is gone; you saw how we threatened to invade Niger but instead of folding, they stood on business and rightly decided as patriots that they rather die on their feet than live on their knees because it would be a cold day in hell before they surrender to colonial powers. We can’t even call out the BS in Senegal where the internet was cut off owing to some inordinate political ambition because the so-called Giant of Africa cannot lead by example. I am yet to see a “strongly-worded” statement from ECOWAS, I hope it isn’t maintaining a studied silence – only to speak up when someone appears on television with the infamous words, “Fellow Nigerians”.

Friends of Voltaire, an anecdotal biography by Evelyn Beatrice Hall contained one of the most profound statements ever written: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I would advise those behind this ill-informed proposition that the street no get joy, folks want all the smoke and it might take an act of tomfoolery such as this to trigger a descent into the path of perdition. This doesn’t exactly help the futile hunt for legitimacy either because such isn’t gotten from an electoral commission but from “we the people” – if e didn’t dey, e didn’t dey! Me I go talk am as I see am, I no go use any sugar cover am.

Now available in select bookshops and on my Selar Store - get your hands on my brand new book, Hope Is Not A Strategy; Faith Is Not A Business Model - Mfonobong Inyang is a creative genius who works with top individuals and institutions to achieve their media, tech and communication goals. He is a much sought-after public speaker and consummate culture connoisseur who brings uncanny insights and perspectives to contemporary issues. As a consummate writer, he offers ghostwriting, copy-writing and book consultancy services. A master storyteller that brilliantly churns out premium content for brands on corporate communications, book projects, scripts and social media. A graduate of Economics – he speaks the English, Ibibio, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages. He appears to be a gentleman on the surface but the rumours are true - he get coconut head! Reach out to me let us work together on your content project(s) - [email protected].

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