Last week, three major stories trended. Firstly, the Minister of Interior expressed concern over the mass exodus of Nigerian youths fleeing the nation and begging for foreign citizenship. Secondly, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Director-General said serving graduates could be sent to fight Boko Haram. And thirdly, the federal government banned Twitter. These stories are very much intertwined when taken in reverse order.
In a knee jerk reaction to one of President Buhari’s tweets being flagged because it contained implied threats, the federal government in a fit of uncontrolled rage banned Twitter, the social media platform. Twitter stated they had no idea who @MBuhari was, his handle wasn’t shut down, and only his tweet was deleted because of numerous complaints that it violated their rule number 4 of “safety and freedom”.
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As a result of government’s hubris- laden reaction, all Nigerian youths, and other regular users are being denied access to the platform and the nation is suffering great financial loss. Former Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose, commented in less than flattering terms that President Buhari is not high-tech-savvy and is unlikely to use android phones or laptops to post tweets. He believes the tweet was the handwork of the President’s advisers and assistants who, as Noble Laureate Wole Soyinka laments, habitually use unrefined language to create public relations disasters.
In this latest PR disaster, the world is reminded that on April 17th, 1984, General Buhari’s military junta enacted Decree 4 granting itself powers to close down any media outlet which voiced opposition to unconstitutional military rule. There are suspicions of a longing for those “good old days” when no opposition was brooked, because once again this time under democracy, he is muzzling free speech!
The ban is ill-considered because social media should be used to communicate policies and win support, but perhaps having themselves used social media to unseat a sitting president, those currently in office regard it as a weapon for opposition. Truthfully, Nigerians go to twitter to express resentment against the harsh realities of life in Nigeria, and focus global attention on government’s glaring failures. Tweets are mirrors which reflect public opinion and Twitter is a messenger. The federal government has decided to break the mirror and kill the messenger! Expected condemnation from foreign governments and prominent Nigerians was quick to follow. The US mission in Nigeria said the ban undermines freedom of expression as enshrined within the Nigerian Constitution. Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives Caucus claim the ban infringes upon the separation of powers and the federal government is trying to hide its socio-economic failures by executive fiat. Human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, bewailed the fact that the current administration “has a very thin skin for criticism” and “cannot take punches” but delights in always “giving punches to adversaries”. Another legal luminary, Femi Falana, asserted that the ban contravenes Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution.
Incomprehensibly, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) ordered the arrest of anyone using twitter despite such an order being unfounded in law. Quite absurdly, the AGF’s spokesperson said those arrested will know the law they breached when they are charged to court! It’s common knowledge that the National Assembly has not passed any law criminalising the use of Twitter to exercise constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of thought, expression, and association. The provisions of the constitution are supposed to supersede the whims and caprices of those temporarily holding political offices. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka noted that President Buhari’s threats to “shock” civilian dissidents, and “deal with them in the language they understand”, indicated use of unprecedented language which he has never used against Boko Haram, killer herdsmen or rampaging bandits who openly confess their murderous crimes. Soyinka also criticised the breast-beating over the civil war, pointing out that the majority of Nigerians are less than 40 years of age and were born long after the war. Unlike the nation’s aged leadership, they are more focused on the future than the past.
President Buhari’s threat to teach people a lesson, if carried out, would place further strain on the evidently overstretched and undermanned army. Apparently, government is mooting the outrageous idea of using NYSC members to supplement their numbers and fight Boko Haram! The NYSC was set up to involve graduates in nation building. Corps members are posted outside their states of origin where they mix with different ethnic groups to learn their culture and foster unity. The objectives of the programme are clearly spelt out and nowhere is it stated that graduates serving under the NYSC may be mandated to join the army or bear arms against their fellow citizens. It’s indefensible that government which cannot provide an enabling environment for graduates to prosper is toying with the idea of sending them to their deaths fighting against well trained militia which professional soldiers have been unable to defeat. Military authorities have been advised to think twice because it’s graduates who usually lead mutinies, and conscripted NYSC “soldiers” would be more likely to turn their weapons on their commanders and the elites, than the average volunteer Nigerian soldier who has been conditioned to brutalise poor long suffering citizens.
Given government’s attacks on social media use, the unavailability of gainful employment, insecurity, and the declining economy, it’s no surprise that Nigerian youths desire to flee to greener pastures. It should be clear to the Minister of Interior that there is absence of trust in leadership which cannot be resolved by bullying and coercion. Government would be better advised that instead of issuing threats and displaying anger, pride, arrogance, and malice, they should try using kindness, sympathy, love and compassion in dealing with the public. The Minister of Interior needs not waste funds setting up a committee. Quite simply, Nigerian youths desire to obtain foreign citizenship in order to join their age mates living in well-governed nations where they can enjoy the benefits of modern technology and take advantage of abundant opportunities to lawfully make good in life. They are fleeing a nation in which individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability are being suppressed.