Kanu, Biafra and the rest of us
For the second time in a few months, the alert had gone out again on the social media to the effect that there was some big brother lurking around in the corridors of power seeking to know what goes on in our private lives.
Information had it that some goons in the Ministry of Interior were planning to monitor phone calls, the twitters, the facebook and whatsapp communication – if true it would have amounted to a clear and unwarranted invasion of the people’s privacy. But the government was quick to react. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said no, it was not true; it was a fabrication by mischief makers. And the Ministry of Interior reacted in the same vein. And there the matter rested.
But, not quite. A couple of weeks ago, a similar alert went out. Though incoherent and a bit garbled, the message was that the police was on the red alert to crack down on cyber-crime defined vaguely as social media posts carrying and forwarding political messages and anything pertaining to government and President Muhammadu Buhari and “the present situation.” It forbids political and religious debates through calls and posts on whatsapp, twitter and facebook.
But this time around I have not heard any responsible government official – not Lai Mohammed, not the police spokesman – giving a lie to this. I take it therefore that it must be true and authentic. And if it is true and authentic, it needs not be done in the cover of the night, stealthily in the manner of a thief trying to cart away our freedom of information, freedom of expression and the liberty to engage in a robust debate on the conduct of our national affairs. To do so under the cover of the night suggests that it is evil and obnoxious and that the security agencies themselves, possibly aware of their weak position, don’t want to come into the open on the issue. They have no choice but to be open and transparent. That is what the open and democratic dispensation calls for.
There is really no debating the fact that a government that has the responsibility to maintain law and order is duty bound to take legitimate means to curb the activities of criminals and mischief makers. But it must do so with a recourse to the many laws in the statute so it is not accused of being oppressive and illegal, in a manner that is clearly antithetical to the provisions in the country’s law book designed to uphold the rule of law and guarantee the rights of the citizens.
In dealing with the mainstream media, the laws are clear enough. The responsibility of the media is not absolute – they cannot libel and defame at will. Neither can the media promote and sustain a campaign of sedition bordering on treason and hope to be left alone. After some four decades in the practice a lot of us know a little bit to know that there is a limit to all freedoms.
But how do these laws apply to the social media? A different and difficult kettle of fish altogether. Online publications are registered and they are subjected to the same laws that regulate the practice of the mainstream media, the press and the electronic media. Their publications do not constitute the social menace that boggles the mind and horrifies our senses. The responsible media hardly promote hate and call for blood. They are largely decency compliant. But how about the gossip and rumour peddlers that spew out hate and outright provocation to anger through the social media? Who regulates gossip and bear-parlour rumour merchants who intrusively inflict their wares on us gratuitously?
To give an example is to run the risk of repeating their fabrications, their sins of omission and commission, but suffice to wonder how many times they have killed our president in the social media; each time they kill him, they give him life again and kill him again and give him life again. And to think that the people who engage in this shameless pastime are some imbeciles – yes, they are. But they are educated imbeciles masquerading as intellectuals either in the corridors of power or on the fringes of power. And they do so mainly for politics. Or simply for their sadistic delight, these philistines cohabiting with the rest of the civilised humanity. But wait.
There is also a dangerous variant of these social media purveyors of garbage whose activities also threaten the unity and peace of the polity. We recognise religious intolerance as one of the banes of peaceful co-existence in a heterogeneous society like ours. This heterogeneity – of ethnicity and various religious beliefs – provides a fertile ground for their mischief. These men and women, pretending to be answering the call of the Lord to spread out and preach his gospel, have also taken undue advantage of the social media via which, on a daily basis, they churn out half-baked and ill-digested gospel of hate. They wilfully quote the two holy books, the Qur’an and the Bible, out of context and pass them on as the gospel of truth, their objective not necessarily to educate and inform and hopefully to convert, but to provoke anger and violence.
The current drive by Nnamdi Kanu to resurrect Biafra that died a violent death in January 1970 after 33 months of bloodletting is another golden opportunity for the social media fabricators to ply their trade. So far theirs is more entertaining than being provocative. At least not yet. Kanu, the undisputed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the commander-in-chief of the new Biafran Armed Forces in waiting, generously used the social media to propagate the new ideology of Biafra before he was arrested. And after he was granted bail, this greatest Igbo leader, according to Professor Ben Nwabueze, has amply deployed his social media contact for maximum advantage. For him, it is Biafra or nothing. By his command, a whole region was shut down for one full day on May 30, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the still-born Republic of Biafra.
Apparently to help him and those he leads to achieve their objective in no time, the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups voluntarily offered to help the indigenes of Kanu’s resurrected Biafra out of the North latest by October 1. Their counterparts in the South West zone made the same offer. I thought all this was to promote the spirit of good neighbourliness and make the disengagement or the divorce seamless, but elders in the North saw it differently.
The Northern Governors Forum cried foul. Kaduna State Governor Nasir El Rufai, quickly ordered the arrest of the youths and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, pledged to comply. But to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been arrested so far. Is it that the youth volunteers, who extended their hands of fellowship across the Niger, have disappeared into the thin air or the police and the governors have had a re-think given the fact that the Northern youths enjoy the support of some elders like Professor Ango Abdullai just like Kanu group is enjoying the support and endorsement of their own elders?
Where does that leave the rest of us? Is the matter closed? Has Kanu, the brilliant Jew (I thought he was an Igbo guy), who missed first class degree by the whiskers been persuaded to learn the gory lessons of history so as not to repeat it? And our own indigenous tribe of the human rights activists? Suddenly their voice is muted.
What, if I may ask, is the fate of a man who gets bailed out from prison custody and goes out the following day to break all the conditions for bail and, to boot, gets anointed by a professor emeritus as the greatest Igbo man dead or alive?
One small matter before we are done. Some citizens, eminently placed and respected by the society, blame President Muhammadu Buhari for making a phantom out of Kanu. Their submission is that despite all the provocations by Kanu – hoisting a flag, creating a radio station for propaganda against the country, with a rival national anthem to the bargain – this man should have been left alone to his devices. The law, they say, must be blind to such treasonable infractions so that nobody makes a hero or phantom out of anybody.
Is that the way it is? No. That appears to be the answer from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo going by the stern warning he gave on Tuesday to ethnic jingoists who are threatening the corporate existence of the country.