Our supreme civic obligation is to visualize and understand the concept of virtue well enough as to be able to recognize, defeat and triumph over vice.
Free information, free and vibrant press are lubricants to the wheel of democracy. In liberal and participative democracies, the free press is a check on government, it exposes corruption, helps make the government more visible, transparent and creates an avenue for debate and criticism of government decisions.
Fortunately, the rise of the citizen reporter has reduced government control over information and has played a vital role from within by uncovering corruption, incompetence and cronyism especially in Nigeria where leaders have a stranglehold on the media, policy, and politics.
The Internet has changed the dynamics of journalism forever and particularly for us, it is the only avenue left for us to freely criticize government, leaders, policies, fight corruption and defend our rights. Omoyele Sowore and Jonathan Elendu blazed the trail earlier on as citizen journalists; they bypassed gatekeepers, traditional elites and institutions to serve and provide alternative sources of news and vital information on how Nigeria is being run, precariously.
What does citizenship mean? In Nigeria, our understanding of citizenship is amorphous. The symbolism of a democratic citizen is lost on us because long term docility has eroded our notion of an informed citizen. Thankfully, the Internet is here to help us make the quantum leap. Digitally we have the youth and middle class demographic has the numerical strength to adopt a unified vision of democratic citizenship vis-à-vis democracy of trust, democracy of partisanship, democracy of information, and democracy of rights, all on a single plate.
In a “thin democracy” like Nigeria, online platforms like Sahara reporters and Premium Times have shown us how to engineer change from within and from without as “Monitorial Citizens”. You can become a Monitorial Citizen by engaging in environmental surveillance using new media to network individual experiences of wide-reaching events.
I write this to inform each one of us with an Internet enabled phone, that we can also engineer bottom-up social action and force political change through decentralized associations and loose networks as found on Facebook and You-tube. An apt illustration is the use of Facebook and You-tube to expose the ill-prepared Mr. Shem Obafaye “My Oga at the top” as the poster boy for rank incompetence and sloth in public office. Viral and user driven information is a potent tool for uncovering corruption and allowing criticism of government policies, driving fear into the hearts of leaders.
There are 6.6million Nigerians on Facebook and growing daily. I’m using this platform to ask the youth and animated middle age Internet mavens to become Monitorial Citizens and cellphone enabled “smart mob” with the singular purpose of rescuing Nigeria from the brink.
The potent mix of smart phones, social media and new technologies allows us to act in concert, communicate in smart mobs, even when we do not know each other, and in ways we could not have conceived previously. As monitoring citizens, we can become purposeful actors in our government, in our economy, in this country. By becoming smart mobs, we can form new relationships, assert new public values, and mobilize political, economic, and cultural power to translate these values into action.
As monitorial citizens we can truncate hurried ambitions of politicians before it became a full-grown tyranny and turn them back at the polls. We can generate a rallying cry and a common narrative from available information very quickly. With growing mobile telephony and cellphone penetration, we can use digital tools to organize protests, recruit foot soldiers, capture attention of the mainstream media and wield considerable political influence.
We can and must redefine Nigeria by combining the energy and enthusiasm of bottom-up social social media enabled organizing with existing top-down hierarchical structures. Our pork-barrel democracy cannot withstand the awakening and onslaught of civil society groups, student union, professional bodies, trade unions, churches, ethnic associations, underground media, intellectuals, journalists and adherents of new media.
The recent firing of Sergeant Chris Omoleze seen sitting in the passenger seat of a car demanding 25,000 Naira in bribe showcases the sensitization that can accrue from decentralized digital reporting by monitorial citizens. No doubt, the government’s hand will be forced when there is sufficient outrage arising from abuse of power carefully documented on handheld devices uploaded for the whole world to see.
Viral videos are excellent tools for socio-political change, they have the distinct logical consequence of promoting a sense of outrage over corruption and political malfeasance and a greater appetite for social action. As more Nigerians gain access to the Internet, social and political awareness will increase, breeding a raft of political activists to be triggered by the next manifestation of social injustice recorded on a cell phone.
When combined with a continued restraint on organized social action, we will see an upturn in bottom-up spontaneous protests focusing on specific high-profile issues, local events and visible abuses of power. Naturally, we could see significant improvements in transparency, accountability, policy and governance from the government in response to massive outrage. No government survives too long by ignoring its own people. Yes, there could be other possible outcomes like the containments of civil action by deploying soldiers and armored tanks as witnessed during the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protests and Jonathn’s botched efforts to contain online freedoms by mounting online surveillance to preemptively disarm grass roots political action.
We have it in us to confront inept leadership, let us join hands to arrest this endless national festival of weirdness. Let us channel our Blackberry addiction as a tool for change. You have a voice, you can be heard, join the political debate and halt our narrative of misery. The blogosphere, social media, video sharing outlets has given us the tool for information sharing. We have access to alternative platforms, even with state sponsored pushback, we can devise ways around online restrictions.
Our success is predicated not only on technology but on determination, on human skill and zero tolerance for political malfeasance. Our motto must be Carpe Diem – we must seize the day and push Nigeria toward drastic political change and greater democratization. The teeming youths have nowhere to go than stay in Nigeria. Nigeria as it is today is impossible to sustain. it is in your hands, it is in my hands, we can’t and must not fold our hands.
The Tunisians and Egyptians did not sit on their hands waiting for a revolutionary. Sustained spontaneous protests and sacrifice did it for them. Shed your swagger and fight for a place in history. Become a Monitorial Citizen today, join a smart mob when you feel outraged! God bless you and God bless Nigeria!
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