During the course of an interactive session with members of the Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) ad-hoc Constitution Review committee, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the NASS delegation alluded severally to the power of Facebook and Twitter in engagement on national issues. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, RT Hon. Emeka Ihedioha encouraged Nigerians to continue using Facebook and Twitter to deliberate on national issues rather than “abusing each other”, at least with reference to the Constitution review. And this got me thinking: so they can hear the voices on social media, they can hear the “children of anger“.
Apparently, the tweeting, Facebook posts and groups, blogs, online news and other social media tools through which many of us are able to articulate our views and general feelings towards national issues, policies, corruption, national disasters and so on is not in futility as some would like to think. Not only does this admission by the NASS delegation reinforce this, but recall, President Jonathan last year, said he was the “most criticised President” in the world, implicitly referring to the critical social media voices of Nigeria. Jonathan’s spokesperson Dr. Reuben Abati also acknowledged, albeit derisively, the increasingly loud and critical voices of young Nigerians referring to us as the “…idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger“.
Yes, we are angry, as any sane person remotely interested in the progress of Nigeria should be, and we are pouring our hearts out in many ways via social and new media tools. Even better, our voices are no longer chattering meaningless noises to those whom it is aimed for, the voices are audible and real. Our leaders can hear us, make no mistake about that. Whether they use their own social media accounts, or deploy their army of Special Assistants to trawl through cyberspace, they can hear us, even though hearing does not necessarily equate to listening. The latter connotes a two-way communication and an implicit obligation on the part of the listener to respond or act on the information they are receiving.
The onus thus is on us, to move to the next phase, to ensure our voices are not only heard, but that our leaders listen, and that the voices translate into effective demands for transparency and accountability at the national level but importantly, at the sub-national level. We need to use our 45million strong internet population according to the World Internet Statistics (2011 figures) to focus less on unfounded, hateful, unsubstantiated, malicious and mindless chatter and focus more on productive engagement with one another. Sharing gory pictures of unverified crime scenes, unconfirmed rumours of religious or ethnic violence, distasteful jokes stereotyping other faiths or ethnic groups and being reflexively antagonistic and needlessly suspicious of anything-government-related with little logic or few facts, is unproductive.
Social and new media tools provide a unique opportunity — they have widened the democratic space, no voice or opinion can be marginalised anymore within this sphere of discourse. Let’s use this opportunity well, let’s keep engaging in productive talk because they can hear us!