The #EndSARS protests that hit the streets of Nigeria have jotted the ruling class into reality. The protests, propelled by young Nigerians, will forever be ingrained in the minds of everyone.
Before the protests hit the streets, the cyberspace provided the only channel through which young people can ventilate their frustration and anger against the system.
The young people that propelled the protests have been maligned and called all sorts of names. They have been labelled as a lame duck when it comes to the issue of nation-building and changing government policy.
They have been called the ‘phone pressing generation’ interested only in voting massively during reality TV shows but fail to take a step further and vote during general elections in the country.
A leader once called them ‘lazy’. Yet, another lawmaker called them a ‘drug-ridden generation’. It was therefore a shock to the old generation to see these set of young people pouring to the streets and sustaining protests for more than two weeks.
Even before the protests went ‘viral’ on the streets, some brave young men and women have camped in front of the Lagos House of Assembly, in the day and in the night, to call attention to the atrocities of the defunct Special Anti-robbery Squad.
When their message started taking hold, for close to 12 days, vibrant young people across the nation held the world spellbound with their dexterity, creativity and administrative genius.
They created a country within a country by creating a welfare system that fed the hungry; they created an army of nation builders who volunteered to clean up the streets; they created a security system that protected them against hoodlum as government shirk its responsibilities.
Unfortunately, these gallant heroes lost some patriots in Lekki, Ogbomosho and Surulere.
Characteristically, instead of the government to show true sincerity in tackling the issues that propelled the protests, they went on information gagging spree. First, they fined AIT, Channels and Arise TV.
Their spotlights are now on regulating social media platforms. “We need a social media policy that will regulate what should be said and posted and what should not. We also need technology and resources to dominate our social media space,’’ he said,” so says Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information.
Not to be outdone, Desmond Elliot, a lawmaker in the Lagos House of Assembly, said, “In the next five years, there will be no Nigeria if we don’t act now.”
Indeed, Lai Mohammed and Desmond Elliot new found passion to gag the press would boomerang on them.
I can’t but find a parallel between Obasanjo’s Decree 78 of 1976 and the ongoing vigorous call for the regulation of the social media space by the Minister of Information and the Lagos lawmaker because of the exigencies of the moment and need to gag the vibrant and some rancorous voices on social media that propelled the peaceful #EndSARS protests across Nigeria.
Obasanjo’s decree of 1976 was enacted in the heat of the moment when he was the Head of State but it was not until 1995 that the same decree was used to nail him in the phantom coup trial by the Abacha junta.
Lai Mohammed and Desmond Eliot need to know that what goes around comes around.
They may succeed in pushing down our throat an autocratic law gagging the free flow of information on social media, but they need to understand that the night can’t go on forever, the bright morning is coming!
A time is coming when they would need this same social media to advance their political agenda, but that same law would haunt them and may be used to silence them when that time comes.
The Yoruba says, Ori bibe ko ni ogun ori fifo (meaning – beheading is not an antidote to headache). The best way to regulate social media and reduce the venom from those platforms is good governance.
The government’s information managers should buckle down and put on their thinking caps and devise strategies to engage the millions of angry Nigerian youth, who are disillusioned with their leaders at all levels of governments.
Samuel O. Adeyemi, a media strategist, writes from Lagos