Oct 4, 2014

Nigerian Social Media Abuses and the Law

I have always been struck by the differences in social media usage between other countries and Nigeria. Each time one logs into Facebook to make comments about local issues that concern Nigeria, he notices insults flying up and down the pages. If however, he goes to an international social media webpage to comment, he notices the decency and guarded usage of words.

I was of the opinion that the difference was born out of ignorance, a comparatively poorer standard of education coming from modest educational resources here in Nigeria. Recently however, I have come to understand that this isn’t the case. It is not poor education or ignorance. Rather, it is more of a case of a weakness of the law. People know this and choose to abuse the judicial loopholes. Thus social media pages, particularly those of Facebook, are always littered with insults when it comes to the Nigerian space.

Some years back, a young man logged into Facebook and posted abusive comments against the Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido. The governor was traumatized and directed the young man to be arrested. So it happened. The only problem in this case was that acceptable legal procedures were not followed in the retribution of the young man. He was, rather, tortured. I am sure however, the option was adopted because the governor knew the Nigerian courts may not do something early enough, thereby allowing time for the issue to lose steam.

When Isaiah Balat, late senator from southern Kaduna died, somebody posted to say that the senator deserved what he got as he was the Arial Sharon of Kaduna State. At the time, I felt that the individual should have been approached by the law and made to explain why he made such a comment. When my dream President of Nigeria, Nasir El Rufai lost a son in an auto crash, somebody posted insults in place of condolences. The comments suggested that such a fate was well deserved. I also think that the man who made that post should have been made to explain it in a court of law.

If undeserved insults are deplorable in the real world, then they should also be in the virtual world. The virtual world is a medium of expression that is even more powerful than the real world. When such an insult is posted, it is damaging to the victim just as it would be in the real world. Furthermore, it travels far in the virtual world more than it does in the real world and we cannot treat the internet differently from the way the rest of the world treats it. About a year back, I learnt that the Nigerian National Assembly passed a law to handle cases of unwarranted social media insults against leaders. It was a brilliant footstep along the right bearing. The insults have, however, continued to pace their way along the footpath of ignominy. The implication is that the law has gone to bed and is sleeping ceaselessly or is even in comma. This is a reflection of what Nigerian has always been: a theatre of legal dormancy. It explains the situation we are in now: a climax of confusion where you have a fracture here and as you try to seal it, another one opens over there.

Jos the city of my birth and to which I am besotted, once built a reputation as the most embracing city across the country. Then somebody went too far and the police just said something like “well, the boy was having his fun.” The result is obvious and we know it. While Jos may still be embracing, one cannot walk without looking over his shoulder because there are now “no-go-areas.” Along this line, if nothing is done about social media abuses, it would grow into a monster, just as anything else does, in Nigeria, when it is not curbed at infancy.

People should be made to justify every vile comment that is directed at the innocent. 

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