THE emergence of a new media without rules and boundaries is now an intrinsic part of this decade. Old media practitioners that failed to get tech savvy and adjust to existing realities are getting swept from the new marketplace of ideas. Whilst bloggers, whose only claim to journalism fame is their knowledge of “cut and paste” are emerging as billionaires, on the other hand, print houses are closing down in droves. Practically all our previously buoyant weekly news magazines are down and out.
The new kids on the block are the solo twitter and facebook warriors. Their weapons are usually a hardnosed ability to engage in repetitive monologue, coupled with all out trolling against their perceived adversaries.
The last elections announced the arrival of the social media as the political propaganda weapon of choice. All manner of messages was thrown at the opposing party and well a whole lot of times tribe. All types of crude languages were deployed against every notable tribe in Nigeria. The hate warriors, who ordinarily would have been censored by the traditional media made huge and noisy intrusion into National Discourse. In the process, strange alliances were formed across the social media platforms. The moderates allowed the fanatics to hijack their moderate views and amplify it out of all context, after all it all served to justify the correctness of their political beliefs.
The recent upsurge in Pro-Biafran protests is partly derived from the deluge of political and hate messages that seized Nigeria for almost a year. The fanatics continued with their hate campaign long after the election has been won and lost. The moderates retreated back to their day jobs and left the supposed loonies to continue with a battle that has been won and lost, at least until the next general elections arrives. Now all of a sudden, these fanatics appear to have seized the marketplace of ideas. They repeat their worn messages in various shapes and shades ad infinitum. To make matters worse, they still believe that the moderates are still on the same page with them on their new wars. Their old adversaries, who are also the extremists on the other side of the political divide continue to engage them in internet curse fest. The end result is a hardening of positions amongst these young and feisty characters.
Biafra as a country was never meant to be romanticised. It was a historical and highly unfortunate necessity that arose directly from a split in the Nigerian Army. Once the army turned their guns on their own men and started killing themselves and innocent Nigerians based only on tribe, the very fabric, of the union was lost. The coercive element of the State cannot be a weapon for genocide and the tribe receiving the cleansing expected not to fight back. The horrible split of the army in 1966 is something that all right-thinking men must pray never repeats itself in Nigeria.
The present day IPOB and MASSOB members are mostly young men in their twenties who fantasise about an idyllic country. Their position is premised on a fantasy that once their dream country is delivered, all their economic problems will immediately disappear and the land of milk and honey will be achieved. This has nothing to do with hard-nosed economic theories. The fact is that the Igbos are an enterprising and business savvy people. We are a people that actually need an Africa without all the artificial boundaries cruelly erected by the Europeans. The self-same Europeans have since ensured that they have a Europe with little or no borders. Whilst you will have difficulty transporting a carton of goods across Seme Border, you can virtually engage in any trade, or practice any profession across the entire European Union. What we actually need in Africa is not further balkanization of existing countries, but a serious-minded implementation of Pan-African economic policies. That slant of policy will give all of us a much bigger market to operate freely within. That is the type of market the Igbo man needs and not this tunnel vision being propagated by our new found facebook warriors in their Biafran monologues.
As a people, we do tend to exaggerate the effect of government in our lives. Yes, the Government can construct roads and create a better enabling environment for private enterprise, but the human spirit still outweighs governmental impact in the development of communities. That is why some towns in the South East have multi-millionaires in every kindred because the people have the knowhow and the unrelenting positive attitude that pertains to economic enterprise. These big investors and even the smaller investors are wheels through which most of our people realise their economic potentials and earn valuable income to better their lives. Our focus must be on how to create a better and larger environment for these investors and consequently the larger society to thrive and definitely not on how to shut them down in a tiny country.
As the Biafran Monologues on the social media continues, our new government will do well to unconditionally release Daniel Kanu, whose detention has proved to be ill-advised. His so-called Radio Biafra is totally inconsequential in the marketplace of ideas, he only used it as an example of his defiance. If the government had ignored it and him long enough, romanticists would have moved on to other issues. Also, moderate Igbo intelligentsia must step into this marketplace of ideas and proffer their own side of the argument on why we need a larger country. If those of us who are Igbos and genuinely believe that our people don’t need a tiny country that restricts our abilities elect to keep our brains and mouth shut, whilst the aggressive anarchists continue to have a field day on the social media, we might as well be on the road to Boko Haram. This was exactly how the Northern elite kept mute and dissembled whilst the Boko Haram ideology festered.
Emeka Odikpo is a Lagos-based legal practitioner.