By Sanya Oni
While Nigerians struggle to make up their minds on what to make of the ‘clampdown’ on twitter – whether it is a suspension or outright ban – one of its many correlates is what to also make of the Abubakar Malami’s fiat which deigns to create a felony where none hitherto existed merely per force of his proclamation, and of course the growing rage that currently threatens to constitute the directing principles of state policy under the Buhari administration.
Although the conveying instrument read – ‘indefinite suspension’, it would really not matter either way at this point. Why because the Nigerian twitterdom has since moved on apparently convinced that the measure came to nothing really. For while many are left wondering whether the government actually appreciates how limited matters of territoriality have come to be in the intricate, virtual world of netizens; for others, the past few days – at least for the likes of yours truly and indeed those willing to explore – have been teachable moments in terms of the vast possibilities that makes state control of that world largely ineffectual.
So, what to make of the directive by Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami, on “immediate prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria” and calling on the public prosecutor to “swing into action”?
To start with, the learned Silk did not as much as tell Nigerians which law(s) that covered the ban and by extension its prohibition. Could it be in one of the numerous bureaus of the justice ministry – unknown to Nigerians? Or are we expecting some new multi-purpose but loosely-worded executive orders to take care of the exigency?
Quite typically; the minister also gave no hints on how the law would be enforced; will Nigerians be subjected to routine searches on their phones, tablets or other devices for the purposes of ensuring compliance? And by the same Nigerian Police serially accused of unfairly targeting innocent youths in the guise of chasing yahoo-boys? And all of these from the head of the justice ministry that can’t seem to draw the fine line between animal and citizen rights?
Again, these are interesting times. Talk of killing a fly with the sledge-hammer. So, for the offence of taking out what it considers an offensive phrase, the country – not the president and his 4.1 million followers on twitter that could have campaigned for a boycott – will have to endure the pain of enforced prohibition? And at what costs to the economy, particular the army of youths for whom the outlet constitutes a business companion of sorts?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Twitter may well be guilty as charged; I read somewhere where a colleague – to quote him – referred to “the tyranny of the Big-Techs and the emergence of an unprecedented, unconventional superpower”. However, while the debate on the subject of power without control as touching that unconventional media is both salutary and legitimate, it is however something else to argue that an administration can so whimsically shut out an entire platform on those grounds that the administration set out.
Of course, the debate continues. Suffice to say that the issue, in this particular instance, goes beyond the attempt at self-justification. No doubt, the charge sheet prepared by Lai Mohammed against Twitter – “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” – would, in the eyes of some, seem somewhat treasonable. Fact also is that a growing tribe of Nigerians would, while scoffing at the administration’s oftentimes specious definitions of crime and criminality, have just enough to point to in its unconscionable if not entirely bizarre interventions – yes, double standards – that assails our very essence as citizens equal before the law – actions which are routinely served live via the same social media!
That the administration, whose language is itself emblematic of the same problems of divisions and insensitivity to be found not just pointing accusing fingers but also going as far as charging others of the same crime is probably one of the grotesque demonstration of powers in recent time.
Yes, the Buhari administration is probably right to be angry with Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB and its pet-creation ESN. What is doubtful is the right to deploy such a language that in broad stroke, tars innocent youths of the southeast with terrorism brush, while in the same breadth, reminding the people of a past whose wounds are still fresh and so sore. Here, the president does not even need Twitter to let him know that his tone on that occasion is not helpful.
As for Kanu, only a weak-kneed administration can afford to ignore the anarchy being unleashed by his IPOB group in the Southeast. The issue is that the southeast is no more equal to IPOB than the rampaging bands of outlaw herders is equal to the president’s beloved Fulani! While both deserve the same treatment under the law, only a country of unequal justice would permit one and ignore the other; or as it suits the likes of Miyetti Allah Kaore and their ilk, to issue brazen threats to the extent of literally getting away with murder whereas other less favoured agitators can only do so at the risk of massive clampdown.
Finally, Tompolo versus FG
I don’t know if many Nigerians paid attention to the bizarre drama that just played out in the South-south. Earlier in the month, we heard Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo, serve the Buhari administration a seven-day ultimatum to either get the substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) inaugurated or be prepared for a showdown. Call it the mother of all ironies – a lone non-state actor seeking to force the hands of the federal government to do what is right by the law – something that the parliament could not get the president to do!
Remember, President Muhammadu Buhari had in October 2019 forwarded the names of the 16-member board of the commission to the senate for confirmation. A month later, all but one of the 16 nominees were confirmed by the senate, until the minister in charge of NDDC, Godswill Akapbio decided that the process could not go on until the audit of the place was concluded – something that is at variance with the commission’s enabling law!
Well, a year and half on – and two major crises in between both of which the minister was a star actor – the audit has become interminable just as the minister and his ‘people’ have continued to dig in as against their original pledge to clear the mess in the place in record time.
That was until penultimate week, when Ekpemupolo and company served notice that the region had had enough of the nonsense by the Uncommon Minister Akpabio! Ever since, the minister has been running from pillar to post to get the process back on track! Truly, in the Niger Delta, the fear of Tompolo is the beginning of wisdom!
Now, the same minister who once swore that the board cannot be inaugurated until the audit is completed has promised the month’s end to get the board in place – a case of bare threat achieving what the relevant statute and constitutionalism could not achieve!
See who’s talking ‘change’ in Buhari’s Nigeria?