By Abubakar Suleiman
“There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.” – Idi Amin
The advent and tremendous upsurge of social media platforms have really enabled and deepened freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It has interestingly also destroyed barriers erected by politicians to insulate them from public criticism or scrutiny. However, this freedom has come with some blowbacks. The platforms aren’t the sources of the blowbacks, but the abuse of their usage is.
An issue on the front burner is the arrest and alleged torture or physical assault of one Aminu Adamu, a student of Federal University, Dutse, who was accused of posting a tweet suggesting the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, to be corrupt for squandering the poor man’s money and her body size is a sign of this alleged thievery. The arrest was allegedly carried out on the instruction or directive of the First Lady.
Surprisingly, as at the time of writing this piece, Mrs Buhari or her spokesperson is yet to give a public statement distancing her from this allegation which is a classic case of impunity or abuse of privileges or government institutions. Sketchy reports have it that it is the handiwork of an overzealous security detail attached to her.
Warts and all, a Nigerian citizen has gone missing, and the Department of State Services (DSS), the Police and other security agencies have a duty to reunite him with his family or take him to a court of competent jurisdiction for whatever offence he must have committed. And, of course, whoever enabled this forced disappearance of Aminu Adamu should also be charged within the ambit of the law.
That said, it is worth noting that politicians or people in power are not alone in the abuse of privileges. What Aminu allegedly did was also a clear case of abusing the freedom of expression and the privilege conferred on him by the Nigerian constitution and social media, respectively. Some people are so engulfed by tendentiousness in partisanships sometimes that they miss the opportunity to network or create value for their business products or brands using social media platforms.
One of the disadvantages of the freedom that comes with social media is the ability to break barriers unconditionally. It is devoid of a vetting process. Hence it sometimes makes ill-mannered people feel empowered to impugn the integrity or character of people they ordinarily would not dare or attempt doing that too. Plus, others will share this character assassination with glee and without verification.
Tellingly, that politicians or public officers should be subjected to scrutiny or held accountable as humanly possible does not mean they can be maligned, slandered or outrightly and falsely accused with no scintilla of evidence. Politicians or people in power have blood running in their bodies. They have emotions. And bad as they might seem, they also have some integrities to protect.
Bridges have been burnt in exchange for likes or savages on media platforms. Oftentimes effused hatred or unintelligent zingers have replaced verification and validation. In the comfort of basements, unscrupulous people have willingly or unknowingly plunged people into fierce physical or fight online, or even a country into chaos with uncouth written words borne out of unstable emotions.
Some people just find it difficult to make a point without using insulting or derogatory words, while others will just classically defame or cast aspersions uncontrollably and even unintelligently.
Interestingly, these people who enjoy and propagate this kind of bashing find it difficult to stomach the slightest of criticisms whenever they are subjected to one. I especially blame no politician or a person in power who approaches a court for this purpose. That they are politicians doesn’t mean their characters or integrities don’t matter.
Therefore, we really need to tread carefully with our engagements on social media platforms. If we derive pleasure in unfettered access to such platforms, then our usage of them should come with a high sense of responsibility.
Let me conclude with a few lines from Kalev Leetaru’s article published on Forbes with the title, “A Reminder That ‘Fake News’ Is An Information Literacy Problem – Not A Technology Problem,” he wrote, “schools no longer teach source triangulation, conflict arbitration, separating fact from opinion, citation chaining, conducting research or even the basic concept of verification and validation. In short, we’ve stopped teaching society how to think about information, leaving our citizenry adrift in the digital wilderness, increasingly saturated with falsehoods without so much as a compass or map to help them find their way to safety. The solution is to teach the world’s citizenry the basics of information literacy.”
Abubakar Suleiman writes from Kaduna and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.