By Rotimi Fawole
After 6 years of the Buhari diet, two things among many others are clear. First, the president and his ministers are relics of a bygone age and two, they have absolutely no understanding of social media and its main uses. The result, and this is not exclusive to the Abuja executive, is that every representation of government in a realistic and unfavorable light is by default seen as a calculated attempt to embarrass the government.
There are reports from government officials who are supposed to be responsible for running the country’s media affairs demanding that journalists and journalists in general put the pedal down on certain reports which the government says embarrass executives, describing them as unable to protect citizens. Ultimately, when these reports are brought to light by ordinary citizens via social media, the information is categorized by the government as false – and utterly embarrassing – especially when foreign and neutral parties report these incidents as real events.
A recent and rather humorous example was the response of Sunday Dare, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, to the Tik-Tok message from Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, a shot put finalist at the recently concluded Olympic Games. For readers who haven’t seen the video yet, Enekwechi filmed himself washing a jersey with the caption: “When you qualify for the Olympic final but only have one jersey”. It went viral and in the typical response pattern of it’s not my fault for the average government official, Dare’s subsequent comments included the usual accusation of a calculated attempt to embarrass the government. Never mind that this is a world event where some of our athletes were disqualified for insufficient pre-game testing and there was also a kit fiasco which led Puma to cancel their contract with the Federation. Nigeria Athletics (AFN). None of the government’s incompetence and illogical justifications were meant to bother. No, it was the ironic social media post of an athlete who did this on his own.
What government officials need to understand first is that the average social media user who blogs their life is chasing a laugh – a joke. Social media, when you’re not an influencer, is a lot about capturing the ordinary events of the day, but making them quirky or fun. Nigerians are extremely good at this and, dear Lord, there is ample material to be deployed. So, as sure as the sun rises, there are Nigerians all around you looking at the social media posts right now and laughing. Like Nigerian government officials whose images we see laughing at the height of our daily crises, we too love to laugh.
If the situation captured is true, as was the case with Enekwechi, what was embarrassing to the government was collateral damage – like a friendly fire incident blowing up internally displaced people in their camp. This is not to say that social media users have never sought to embarrass the Nigerian government. You’ll know that’s their goal when they tag CNN, BBC, the British High Commission and the US Embassy in their social media posts. Because, as we all know, there is nothing the government official hates more than being called out for incompetence or lawlessness in a CNN report or, horror of horrors, not being able to flee to the United States anymore. or the UK for their medical checks and really, just to decompress the conditions they’ve created in Nigeria.
The next Olympic Games in Paris are only three years away. Our officials have not accepted any blame for the Tokyo exit, so it is highly unlikely that they will approach the Paris games any differently. Anyway, unfortunately for our athletes, next year is an election and political year and that would most likely drain the oxygen of any attention the government would have given to sport development programs. We no longer have a kit sponsor, so it’s another round of intrigue to further muddy the waters.
A former boss once said to a colleague of mine after looking down in the office: “I’m more disgusted with you than you are with me!” This is the reality of the relationship between the Nigerian government and its bosses, the Nigerian citizens. Nigerians are the ones who have to complain about the embarrassment their government brings them on a daily basis. From a presidency determined to bet the proverbial farm on nomadic herding to an attorney general whose statements on applicable law are regularly discredited by colleagues in the media and press officers whose main production is hagiography, our business are run by people who have absolutely no sense of the urgency of the task at hand.
How long are we going to continue to trudge under the weight of their ineptitude; a nation with great potential but lacking in production optimization? How long are we going to tiptoe around their egos, as every clue or benchmark of effective governance and social development continues to break records in reverse? How long are we supposed to endure leaders with no sense of irony – running abroad for their treatment while accepting questionable rewards from the wrong group of Nigerian doctors?
Sunday, September 12, 2021 marked a 100-day federal government ban on Twitter. It is unclear exactly who Lai Mohammed and his boss were seeking to punish here, as it was mainly Nigerians who sell and promote goods and services on Twitter who bore the brunt. However, as citizens, we must continue to speak out against mediocrity. And we should be proud to continue to do so with as much creativity as we have done so far. Our elite comedians on Instagram and Twitter deserve all the support and recognition they get. Much like the rest of us who struggle to get through the day, one punchline at a time. Together we are unstoppable, despite VPNs.
We should never hesitate to talk about our daily life just because it might embarrass the government. If the government finds our situation embarrassing, it needs to roll up its sleeves and make our lives more camera-friendly. Either way, we’ll stay spiritual, wake up and keep laughing! MDR!
Rotimi Fawole is a lawyer and satirist.