[By Rotimi Fawole]
After 6 years of the Buhari regime, two things amongst several others are clear. First, the President and his ministers are relics of an age long since gone and two, they have absolutely no understanding of social media and its primary uses. The result, and this is not exclusive to the executive in Abuja, is that every portrayal of the government in realistic, unfavourable light is by default perceived to be a calculated attempt to embarrass the government.
There are reports of government officials who are supposedly saddled with the responsibility of leading the nation’s media affairs demanding that journalists and press persons, in general, soft-pedal on certain reportage which the government feels embarrasses leadership, portraying them as unable to protect the citizens. Eventually, when these reports are thrown into the spotlight by everyday citizens via social media, the information is classified by the government as fake — and utterly embarrassing—especially when foreign, neutral parties are reporting these incidents as real occurrences.
One recent and rather humorous example was the response of Sunday Dare, Minister of Youths and Sports Development, to the Tik-Tok post by Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, a shot put finalist at the just-concluded Olympics. For readers who are yet to see the video, Enekwechi filmed himself washing a jersey with the caption, ‘When you qualify for the Olympic Finals but you have only one jersey’. It went viral and in the typical it-was-not-my-fault template response for the average government official, Dare’s subsequent comments included the usual accusation of a calculated attempt to embarrass the government. Never mind that this was at a global event where some of our athletes had been disqualified for insufficient testing prior to the games and where there was also a kit fiasco that resulted in Puma cancelling its contract with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN). None of the government’s incompetence and illogical justification was calculated to embarrass itself. No, it was the tongue-in-cheek social media post by an athlete that did that all on its own.
What government officials need to understand first of all is that the average social media user microblogging his or her life is chasing a laugh – banter. Social media, when you are not an influencer, is largely about capturing the ordinary events of the day but making them sound quirky or funny. Nigerians are extremely adept at this and, dear Lord, there is ample material to deploy. So as sure as the sun will rise, there are Nigerians all around you looking at social media posts right now and laughing. Like Nigerian government officials whose laughing pictures we see at the height of our daily crises, we too like to laugh.
If the situation captured is true, as it was in Enekwechi’s case, that it was embarrassing to the government was collateral damage – like a friendly fire incident blowing up internally displaced people in their camp. This is not to say that social media users never set out to embarrass the Nigerian government. You will know that this is their objective when they tag CNN, BBC, the British High Commission and the American Embassy in their social media posts. Because, as we all know, there is nothing the government official hates more than being called out for incompetence or lawlessness in a CNN report or, horror of horrors, no longer being able to flee to the US or UK for their medical checks and really, just to decompress from the conditions they have created in Nigeria.
The next Olympic Games in Paris are only three years away. Our officials have not accepted any blame for the Tokyo outing, so it is very unlikely that they will approach the Paris games differently. At any rate, unfortunately for our athletes, next year is an electioneering and politicking year and it would most likely suck the oxygen out of any attention the government would have paid to sports development programmes. We no longer have a kit sponsor so that is another round of intrigue to further muddy the waters.
A former boss once said to one of my colleagues, following a stare down in the office, ‘I am more disgusted at you than you are at me!’ This is the reality of the relationship between the Nigerian government and its bosses, the citizens of Nigeria. Nigerians are the ones who need to complain about the embarrassment its government brings to them daily. From a presidency set on betting the proverbial farm on nomadic herding to an attorney-general whose statements on applicable law are routinely discredited by colleagues to media and press aides whose primary output is hagiographies, our affairs are led by people with absolutely no sense of the urgency of the task at hand.
How long are we going to continue to trudge on, under the weight of their ineptitude; a nation with great potential yet lacking in output optimisation? How long are we going to tiptoe around their egos, while every index or benchmark of effective governance and social development keeps breaking records in reverse? How long are we meant to endure leaders with absolutely no sense of irony – running abroad for their treatment yet accepting dubious awards from the wrong cluster of Nigerian doctors?
Sunday, the 12th of September 2021 marked 100 days of the Federal Government’s Twitter ban. It’s unclear who exactly Lai Mohammed and his boss were seeking to punish here, as it is primarily Nigerians who sell and promote goods and services on Twitter that have borne the brunt. Nevertheless, as citizens, we must continue to speak up against mediocrity. And we should take pride in continuing to do it as creatively as we have so far. Our elite Instagram and Twitter comedians deserve all the support and recognition they get. As do the rest of us struggling to get through the day one punchline at a time. Together, we are unstoppable, VPNs notwithstanding.
We must never shy away from speaking about our daily lives simply because it might embarrass the government. If the government finds our circumstances embarrassing, it needs to roll up its sleeves and make our lives more camera-friendly. Either way, we shall remain witty, woke and continue to laugh! LOL!
- Rotimi Fawole is a lawyer and satirist.