December 3, 2020

AfricaTopForum

AfricaTopForum – News Around Africa

To be and not to be

6 min read

It seems as clear as daylight that where there is good governance, there is little murmuring. Where there is poor governance, there is much rumbling

 

 

Oyinkan Medubi

 

I remember telling this story before but I’ll tell it again. Once, a king set out to know what the people really felt about him because he could no longer rely on his aides’ views. So, he disguised himself and went into a bar. The first person he asked merely hissed at the mention of the king’s name and left his seat. Ditto the second and third. The fourth person, an old wizened character, took the king by the arm and asked him to follow him. Then he led him to the middle of a wide field, stopped, looked up, down, left, right, and left again before whispering ‘I like him!’ the informal medium

Once again, the social, or informal, media has come under the radar. To be particular, it is being ‘blamed’ as the culprit in the destruction that followed the #EndSARS protest in parts of the country. In a news report, it is said that some leaders in the north called for the ‘censorship’ of the ‘uncontrolled social media’ even though the Cybercrime Act of 2015 already exists to manage internet resources.

This is not the first time the social media is being attacked. In December 2015, the senate launched an attack against it because it considered that the medium was being used to write ‘frivolous petitions’. In reaction to that news then, this column wrote on the topic Let the People have their say:

The senate should listen more to the people they have consented to represent crying of hunger and deprivation… When a silence is forced on the people for any reason, it amounts to asking them to bottle up their feelings. We all know what happens to bottled up feelings: they gather steam. They also gather moss; both of which can make for one catastrophic conflagration. All you need is one little spark.

If I were the senate, I would definitely leave the social media alone. I would rather focus on those things that can dilute the concentration of anger in those petitions we are so afraid of, such as reducing hunger on the streets, and providing electricity, water and housing. Trying to control the people’s mind, when the stomach is still roaming free on an empty tank, amounts to waking up a sleeping dog.

It is profoundly sad that things have not changed since that time because the mindset of our politicians has not changed. I find it also very funny that each time there is a natural reaction by the people to issues emanating from poor governance, the politicians immediately begin to shoot the messenger, in this case, the social media. I find it sadly hilarious.

Now, in 2020, the social media is being blamed for problems of poor governance. This time, I think it relates to the precipitous mass looting of certain ‘hoarded’ palliative items by the masses in various states across the country. Honestly, when I saw some of those videos, I was also appalled, but for different reasons.

First of all, I was appalled by the level of contrivance and connivance of some of the politicians that made them ‘keep’ these items closed up when the very Nigerian air had been rife with cries of hunger since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nations on account of people not being able to work. People were dying of hunger and ‘foods’ were being allowed to rot away in warehouses. One ‘politician’ was reported to have said ‘he wanted to distribute it on his birthday as his gift to the people’! I ask you! How on earth can one explain that to future generations?

The second reason was that I saw that too many people had been allowed to suffer from deprivation in Nigeria. Things were so bad that people did not care for their personal safety. They forded through swamps, trekked distances, risked attacks and arrests just to be able to lay their hands on one item of food. This does not make for a healthy state.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have never been in support of anarchy. Indeed, this column has warned too many times on the state of the nation, particularly on how governance, or lack of it, was affecting the people and that the government should ensure good governance quickly to avert the inevitable bursting of the dams. When it eventually came, even private businesses that were struggling had to share in the losses. Sirs, we need to look for deeper causes of this bursting of the dams than the social media.

The question on my lips, I don’t know about yours is, why did the state allow things to get to this sorry pass? Why wait till the people had reached the point where their anger was allowed to boil over? That leads me to the third reason for being so appalled. I am wondering why this was allowed to happen in the first place.

Let’s face it. Nigeria has been badly governed since independence. In a country described as the poorest in the world in spite of her immense external earnings, there is no viable, respectable transport system, no round-the-clock electricity supply, no public potable water, no roads, no nothing for the people to be proud of. The people have only a bad economy and their poverty to nurse. Yet, our politicians appear to have no clues!

It seems as clear as daylight that where there is good governance, there is little murmuring. Where there is poor governance, there is much rumbling. I remember once reading in the papers in the seventies or early eighties that some youths went on protests in the streets of Sweden or Switzerland. They did not destroy anything but simply stripped themselves and walked naked on the streets. Their grievance? They said things were too orderly and perfect in the country!

It is not the place of anyone to attack the social media when the people can’t even eat. The reason is that we’re running a democracy! Until someone dares to explain to us that somewhere along the way we lost the democratic route, then we must assume we are still running it or it is running us. Whichever.

More importantly, democracy thrives on the freedom to information. When the American democracy started in the eighteenth century, one of the cardinal points said to have been made by the founding fathers was that there had to be an unfettered access to information. Their reasoning was that truth does not come from only one mouth (a dictator) but from many mouths. Freedom of information enables people to air their views, no matter how intelligent or stupid, and make informed choices. America has since gone on to lead the world in information management because of that principle.

To resort to censoring the social media is to deprive people of their say, as if people were not already deprived enough. Even in today’s Nigeria, not everyone can gain access to a television house, a radio house or even a newspaper to be heard. Everyone, however, can have access to social media and make their contribution, no matter how intelligent or stupid.

Besides, to seek to gag the people is to toy with the safety of the land. When everyone is given their say, then the government knows what the people are thinking. To not know what the people are thinking is as dangerous for the government as for the governed. Seeking to block the avenue for accessing the people’s thoughts therefore shows a lack of appreciation for the dynamics of democratic governance.

We can’t expect the people to be quiet when they are suffering. That is asking poverty to be and discontentment not to be. Where there is a ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ you have a mysterious situation indeed. I say again, let the people’s say be.