…Nigerian rulers may not be smart or intelligent but by God, they are very clever! It takes a certain imaginative quality to be clever. They are evil geniuses; only good at using their abilities for negative or harmful ends. Using the “national security” rationale to ban Twitter was a clever move. What the Information Minister evoked in that statement is called “securitisation of speech acts”…
Are Nigerian rulers (not leaders) as dumb as some of us think? No! In the last few months, I have wrestled with a lot of questions on how Nigeria’s ruling elite thinks and acts. I have wondered if they are smart or just plain stupid. I haven’t thought of them as being clever, until I reflected over the reason given by the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in the statement announcing the Twitter ban. In the statement, he said the use of Twitter was “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
A deep dive into the structure of the language used in this statement got me thinking about how clever Lai Mohammed is. Yes, Nigerian rulers may not be smart or intelligent but by God, they are very clever! It takes a certain imaginative quality to be clever. They are evil geniuses; only good at using their abilities for negative or harmful ends. Using the “national security” rationale to ban Twitter was a clever move. What the Information Minister evoked in that statement is called “securitisation of speech acts” – a favourite of politicians and dictators since the end of the Cold War.
Security is not neutral, it is an emotive word. Lai Mohammed used his social and institutional powers to package government’s grievances with the use of social media by Nigerians to petition the government and hold them accountable, as extreme security issues to be dealt with urgently. He pretended the issue is beyond politics by articulating it as a threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty. By framing the issue as dangerous and urgent, the Information Minister tapped into the securitisation theory in International Relations, where it is acknowledged that national security policy is not a naturally occurring issue but a construct of politicians and decision-makers.
It means issues that are described as threats may not really be threats, but they become threats when politicians and decision-makers label them as such. In other words, issues that are not threatening become security problems when they are referred to in that manner. As deft players in the power game, the masterminds pushing for social media censorship understand the uneven power relations between the government and the people. The government administers security, while the public receives security. Citizens are more likely to cower if the government tells them that they are in danger.
Who believes Lai Mohammed? Outside the government, I do not think anyone takes him seriously. He has long been creating his own regime of truth with no basis in fact. For someone who has no respect for facts and objective truth, he cannot frame threats through clever manipulation.
In this case, the government’s attempt was met with derision. Who believes Lai Mohammed? Outside the government, I do not think anyone takes him seriously. He has long been creating his own regime of truth with no basis in fact. For someone who has no respect for facts and objective truth, he cannot frame threats through clever manipulation. We ask: What security? Security for who? Security from what? And security by who? The Twitter ban and the push for social media regulation is motivated by the concept of the securitisation of speech acts. This is done when a political actor exaggerates an issue above politics by declaring and necessitating the use of unnecessary extraordinary measures to violate the basic rights of people.
Absolute control over political speech is what propels the Nigerian government. Through the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Code, the government has been able to muzzle free speech, except that which serves it, by maintaining control over broadcasting channels. The NBC has imposed stringent rules on local media outlets, following the Twitter ban. Social media is targeted because the government has no control over citizens’ political expression. The Twitter ban and frantic moves to regulate social media is reflective of an anxious government seeking to control the narrative and exert power over online discussions in Nigeria.
No one said it better than the man who represents President Buhari’s constituency in the Federal House of Representative, Fatihu Mohammed, who is representing Daura/Sandamu/Baure Federal Constitutency of Katsina State. He said: “For God sake, what is social media? Are we eating social media? Let us go back to the resources, and harvest them, and lets keep this thing aside, and face the real problem in Nigeria. My colleagues have spoken the mind of their constituents. If I would speak the mind of my constituents, I would include the president, because out of 360 of us, I am the only one voted by the president. Look, Nigeria first, let us be honest to ourselves, let us call a spade a spade. We should please regulate the media. If the minister did not ban Twitter on the instruction of the President, the kind of insults to the sovereignty of Nigeria from the users of Twitter would be more than what we are facing. Let us tell ourselves the truth, Nigeria comes first. Sometimes, when I am reading tweets, I am disappointed with the youths (because) we are the future of Nigeria.”
In the words of President Muhammadu Buhari, Fatihu Mohammed is a mentally ” lazy youth”, who found himself in the National Assembly. He detests modernity yet benefits from it. Perhaps he should be allowed to ride donkeys and go back to the farm with hoes and cutlasses, so that he can harvest those resources in his constituency. It is saddening that he is not aware of the business side of social media and its advantages to the youth and small business holdings, which can sell their products and services without having to take on the costs associated with physical offices. He is ignorant of the contributions of e-commerce on social media to the GDP. All he is concerned with is hero worship, sycophancy and the muzzling of free speech.
The plan to rein in social media platforms through regulation won’t work either. Seeking to license social media platforms through the NBC is impractical. There is no way the government can bring social media platforms under the same regulatory regime they have in place for broadcasting. Targeting users as contained in their hubristic Internet Falsehood Bill will prove problematic…
Since the clever are not necessarily smart or intelligent, their approach presents new sets of challenges. Attorney-General Abubakar Malami threatened to prosecute those of us who have circumvented the Twitter ban by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNS). Within hours, he realised his folly that there is no legal basis for making good his threat. Moreover, many prominent Nigerians that they cannot afford to harass have defied the ban. Malami himself was caught using VPN to access Twitter. How is that for hypocrisy?
The plan to rein in social media platforms through regulation won’t work either. Seeking to license social media platforms through the NBC is impractical. There is no way the government can bring social media platforms under the same regulatory regime they have in place for broadcasting. Targeting users as contained in their hubristic Internet Falsehood Bill will prove problematic because it won’t scale through the legislature.
There are solutions to abuse of social media, which lie with the smart and intelligent who understand the technology and their genuine threats, and not the clever. The solutions are in plain sight; they require work and collaboration. Our rulers disdain work. They are power drunk and are always in for quick fixes.
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