I ended 2013 with an essay on how ethics and ethnicity will play a major role in Nigerian public space in 2014 and beyond. People are often surprised, or even derisive, when one raises the question of ethics in public governance in Nigeria.
After decades of abuse, especially through the use of poverty as a grinding tool of blackmail, Nigerian politicians have managed to breadth the lack of ethics into the DNA of Nigerian populace.
As a Christian and a catholic, ethics is at the core of my thought. With a God-enabled moral privilege of a distance from Nigeria and its challenge with kleptocracy, I have come to the conclusion that Africa’s biggest challenge is an ethical one. African countries big or small, the one-nation state, or the multi-national state, will all have to deal with the ethical question in the 21st century if they want to make it.
But really my family’s Catholicism is not the issue here. The issue is the moral tenor of my fellow Nigerians, the general question of ethics and how Facebook, an American institution, may become a tool in the hands of Nigerian corrupt politicians to violate free speech.
So the ethical is the context of Facebook story, which started almost innocuously. A while ago I got a letter from a reader who said unlike before he was unable to access my essays via Facebook. I wrote back and said I would inform Premium Times and get back to him. I did not because I did not suspect anything other than a temporary technical problem. Then the problem seems to get bigger until Premium Times itself became a victim of cyber-attack attacked not too long ago.
Whenever I open my essay or any story critical of President Jonathan’s government on Premium Times, I will notice a message emblazoned in Facebook setting that “this X, Y, Z story/essay is unreachable…” In other words, technically, readers cannot reach the essay via Facebook.
I am a teacher. So I checked what it means to be “unreachable”. “Reachable” means “to get in touch with” “extend” “outstretch” “hold out” “contact” “get through to” “speak to” etc. So? “to reach” is to “speak to”. To be “unreachable” is not “to be able to speak to”.
In other words, whoever or whatever makes someone to be “unreachable” violates one’s freedom to “speak”. This is too much. I have cut and pasted some of the warning messages for readers to see:
Let me give examples of what is happening in Nigeria in the 21st century, which were made “unreachable” via Facebook when they were published. In the last Governor’s election in Anambra state, it was reported and alleged (INEC needs to investigate this and confirm) that INEC the electoral umpire, registered a bowl of rice as a voter in the election. The bowl of rice has a voter’s card, PIN number, a profession, and a gender. And allegedly, the bowl of rice actually voted at the election at a polling booth in Nigeria!
I wrote about this to help Nigeria get out of this shameful practice. Why will any country register a bowl of rice as a voter and the same bowl of rice must have voted? If the bowl of rice voted, what is the moral credibility of such election? And why will an American originated company Facebook, bound by the Fourth Amendment Act technically collaborate with Nigerian presidency to make the report that a bowl of rice voted in a Nigerian election to be unreachable? In other words why will Facebook technically prevent this from being known, reached, read and spoken about?
The alleged registration of a bowl of rice as a voter in my country’s election shows that Nigeria does not run real elections.
Here are a number of examples to give a vivid illustration of the problem: The collaboration between the Nigerian state and antidemocratic forces such as Dokubo-asari, Hamzat Al Mustapha, a suspected murderer. How about the failure of Nigerian state to properly disclose its covert collaboration with Elbit, the Internet security company? How indeed is the case of Mr. Olabode George (a PDP Nigerian politician, and former chairman of Nigerian Ports Authority) and his team, where the Nigerian supreme court changed the argument by ruling that Mr. Olabode George’s deployment of his public office(in Ports Authority) to enrich himself is not an abuse of office? All these issues were made “unreachable” when they were published in the essays at that time.
Although it appears that there is a thaw in this censorship practice-this “technical” “problem”- in the last few days, I do not know if Facebook is aware of this. It will be interesting to know if Facebook does this deliberately whenever it happens. Where this to be so, it will clearly amount consciously collaborating with President Jonathan’s government and his media crew. Such a blatant violation of the freedom of free expression of a human being as facebook and the media handlers of Nigerian presidency seem to have done is a serious matter.
Here in the United States, the spirit and letters of the Fourth Amendment Act bind us all. However, the situation of the media handlers of the Nigerian presidency is different. Desperate, shadowy and secretive, some of their operations are covert, anti-democratic and can be deadly. Given their stealthy and covert operations they are not bound by the American Fourth Amendment Act or its Nigerian equivalent if there is any.
When critical essays become “unreachable” on Facebook without any explanations, it may amount to vicariously doing the bidding of the Nigerian presidency –either knowingly or unknowingly. Inadvertently, Facebook may be violating the Fourth Amendment Act. This is a serious ethical issue, which should be of concern to Facebook and the world beyond Facebook.
Unlike President Jonathan’s government and the media team of President Jonathan who either do not know or know, but do not care, I want to believe that Facebook, though a company, ought to be aware of ethical issues which are at stake.
Here in America, there is a materiality to that concept we call ethics, and to which we are all bound by. To make something “unreachable” as facebook has done “technically” (either intentionally or unintentionally)- in tandem with media handlers of Nigerian presidency- without any explanation or question is to violate one’s freedom to speak or be reached. It violates me. It violates those who care to be reached. It violates the American Fourth Amendment Act. Facebook needs to look at this, for it has an ethical question to respond to if it must be taken seriously as a well-behaved American company.
Adeolu Ademoyo firstname.lastname@example.org is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.