By Patrick Dele Cole
Social media has helped the demise of democracy and the enthronement of autocracy: Dutarte in the Philippines, Bolasonaro in Brazil, and Victor Orban in Hungary are the three people who used toxic social media to attain power. But can this policy be replicated in Nigeria? Possibly. The throngs following Obi obviously believe so.
Thus the more outrageous the story, the greater the adherence: e.g. several thousand polling booths have been discovered in Niger and Chad. Buhari closed Nigerian borders everywhere except in the North, where the borders were open for millions of Chadians and Nigeriennes to infiltrate Nigeria.
In Niger and Chad, there were several polling booths for the Chadians and Nigeriennes to register freely; the whole elaborate scheme of NIN was a Fulani exercise to capture a greater number of voters; the census in a time of general insecurity was the final push to increase the number of the North.
It is in this toxic milieu and atmosphere that the Federal Government is calling for a census six months before the election. It is almost certain that the census would become horribly political. We have enough problems without the added complication of an arguably debatable census. Where is the spatial distribution of NIN? why can’t any figures be produced in Nigeria that are not subject to questions? How many people have BVN, NIN, etc.? Since to get these enablers everyone must put his tax receipts, vehicle license and all the other enumeration exercises we have been: show some transparency.
Social media is a Darwinian in its growth and structure. It is the survival of the fittest, the more outlandish its content, the stronger its appeal; the most aggressive and brazen voices seize the media to the detriment of all others.
Social media heightens the ethnic, social, religious and geographic divisions in a country. Social media is anti-pluralism- which is the bedrock of democracy. Social media thrives on geographical division by the use of myths, emotionalism, and political grievances: resulting in engaging factionalism. This is the template Kanu, IPOB, Biafra, the Fulani Jihadists, and secessionists are using: creating the culture of wars in Nigeria.
Sweden had no right-wing party until 2014 when a former neo-Nazi party leader founded the Swedish Democracy which soon became the third largest party. Sweden Democrats were anti-immigration on the grounds that their culture was in peril: their websites were full of stories of Muslim immigrants committing crimes, brutalizing animals and refusing to conform to western laws. The party aims at returning Sweden to a simpler and happier time, “to restore the national home”.
Nationalist extremists heighten the toxic view of “the others”, thus demonizing and targeting others and creating division. In Nigeria, similarly, Southerners are demonizing and targeting Fulani for all kinds of crimes: the Fulani are doing worse in demonizing Southerners. Both South and North would soon lock heads in a fight to the death- each fearing that to lose the election would mean its obliteration.
President Modi in India uses social media platforms to denigrate all non-Hindus; communicating with his fellow Hindus through his 47 million followers on his tweeter account, the third highest number of any political leader in the world. He is ably helped by Arnab Gaswami; peddling misinformation and hate speech. Baba Rander is also helping MODI. In Brazil, Utube Nando Moura is the vehicle which Bolsonaro used to get elected.
Le Pen in France is using the same technique. She has 15 permanent staff researchers crafting and coordinating memes, spreading discrediting views about immigrants whom they claim do not appreciate French culture. Before now, far-right parties were unelectable in liberal democracies: it is no longer so.
Right wing populism is always more engaging: as we have seen in Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa/Fulani populism. It triggers strong reactions, primitive or primal reactions appealing as it does to emotionally charged subjects like nation, protection, “the other”, fear, and anger: starting, promoting and sustaining culture wars and cancelling culture regimes.
Democracies are vulnerable to violent conflict as Nigerian history has demonstrated. Nowadays enemies of democracy can infiltrate society and destabilize it from within. The internet is a potent tool in this infiltration.
In the United States, Trump called his supporters to reject the vote he had clearly lost. He said, falsely, that Mike Pence, the V.P., could change the outcome of the election and declare him the winner. He encouraged a march on Capitol Hill with the mob shouting “Hang Mike Spence”. And the mob nearly did. January 6, would have turned out differently and Trump would have been returned as President. The US is now more deeply divided than ever: thanks to Trump who has pushed the division to such an extent that some in the US no longer believe in the electoral system.
Buhari And Owo
Armed Muslims at 9 o’clock mass kill 50 Christians who are in church. What could have triggered such atrocity? Who planned it and why? What is the purpose of unleashing terror in a small community like Owo? Is it that the perpetrators feel entitled and emboldened to kill anybody without recourse to justice? There is no fear, no remorse, in fact what is being exhibited is a cruel nonchalance. I can kill anybody and nothing will happen to me.
Just imagine such an attack on the US. When Jews were killed in a synagogue, President, Obama was there; when blacks were killed in the church he was there- singing the uplifting song- Amazing Grace.
In France during the escapades of the ISIS at every stop, the President and his Cabinet were there to comfort and console the bereaved. In the UK such outings are not only condemned, investigation follows. In both US and Europe, none of these killings has gone unresolved, each had been followed to the end with commensuration to punishment.
What about Nigeria? Dapchi, Chibok- no Government response. Mr. President has not gone to any of these places. He should have been there to commiserate with these ethnicities and their relatives. Providing IDP’s for displaced persons is not enough. It looks like a ruse to cover shameful, unacceptable acts.
The President should have been at Owo. He should have been there with the Cardinals, Arch-Bishops, and GO’s and in full-throated eloquence condemn the killings that government could not tolerate and that the perpetrators have no place to hide. Imagine the powerful message such a visit will conjure up.
From the steps of the Owo church, Mr. President would throw the challenge that those responsible for these massacres would be hunted down and brought to justice. Such action would show non-Muslim that the danger posed by religious killing have no place in Nigeria. This protocol would be followed whenever and wherever such killing take place. Silence is not an option. It gives the impression that ASO ROCK is complicit with these barbarian killings. Politics is perception, if Muslims kill Christians and Mr. President does nothing about it, the perception would be that he was complicit.
Before long Christians will start taking measures to protect themselves.
If the leaders of the Evangelical Movements and the traditional missionary churches come together and asked their followers to come armed with guns and other instruments of war, what would happen? Supposed Christians in Owo, in a revenge fit, killed Mallams selling cigarettes or riding Okada or any Northerner they see in Owo? Some of the Northerners and other Okada drivers, in a further retaliation now kill kola nut seller, money changers, Northerners of various complexion in a revenge. Other Northerners would kill more Yorubas. How else does a civil war start? Are we ready for a civil war in Nigeria?
Buhari’s duty to Nigeria is to revive the Christian and Muslim Committee for Peaceful Co-existence. Buhari should invite the heads of all religions who would flank him while he delivers a strong message to Jihadists, bandits, ultra-right Christians- that there is no room for extremist or fundamentalist faith in Nigeria, which is a nation welcoming and defends all faiths.
It is still not too late; Buhari should go to Owo: declare that all perpetrators of the killing in Owo are not good Muslims; that there is no conspiracy for Muslims to kill Christians; that he would defend every Nigerian against ethnic and religious killing. He has to reduce the religious tension. Even he knows that a war between Christians and Muslims is unwinnable and would last several years. It will be the end of Nigeria.
Buhari is the President of Nigeria – i.e. Christians, Muslims, Animists, Atheists- all are under his protection- none deserves more protection than others. That should be the rule. His mantra should be religious freedom even if he is a pious Muslim. His piety is between himself and his God. The signals he send should be unequivocal and direct- I am the President of all Nigerians. He in fact said so at his inaugural. He should live up to his promise.
The President is also the Consoler in Chief. He is to comfort all those afflicted by natural causes, or ethnic and religious bigotry. He has a lot of good examples worldwide to draw from that fount his wisdom. He could learn from the Prime Minister of New Zealand when a bigot went to Christ Church and mowed down 159 Muslims in the Mosque. She went to Christ Church, closed all exits from New Zealand, until the culprit was found. The US has several examples. Another bigot went to a synagogue and shot dead several worshippers; in other incidents, gun men have killed school children, or shoppers in a mall and so on. In each of these sacrileges fired by hate, the President, whether Obama, Biden, Bush, went to the scene of the crimes, sat down with the relatives of those murdered, consoled them, prayed with them, invited them to the White House.
The President should leave no one in doubt about his abhorrence to these kinds of unprovoked racial, ethnic or religious killing. He should not rest until such culprits are put in jail and the relatives of those killed receive due justice. Not only the President should be seen to set these examples, the Governors and all those in authority must follow suit.
How could he go to Kuje prison which housed criminals and not go to Owo where innocents were killed?
*Cole, Ph.D, OFR, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil and Argentina