By Okoh Aihe
I SIT in front of the television these days and I’m muttering to myself; I am probably one of the many people in Nigeria not thinking right. Our world is esoterica. We perhaps shout fire where there is even no tiny smoke around or run for cover when there is tranquil all around the nation and nobody is dying from any conflict whatsoever.
Even if we suffered such delusions, are we so unperturbed about happenings in the world around us that we have thrown every sense of care and decorum to the wind? This question has become necessary because in the past few weeks the country has become one big stage of theatre of the absurd, so much so that the only ones not amused by the buffoonery going on here are the citizens themselves.
Just when you think that the spat between the country and Twitter is going to ebb out, the embers are stoked for the misunderstanding to develop a life of its own. Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, remained in the news very solidly as a constant guest of the National Assembly whose members are looking at a litany of bills being arrayed against the media.
He has also been using the opportunity provided by the National Assembly to demonstrate government’s capacity to intimidate anybody, including the citizenry and corporate organisations where Twitter will feature prominently, but not yet ignobly.
Any idea that the issue will soon be resolved has become a retrieved misnomer. Those who have gone to court and securing judgements are very free to do so but this government is very clear about its position and the direction being pursued.
A clear indication of its pursuit is the setting up of a big team last week to negotiate with Twitter. Mohammed himself is heading the team which features the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AbubakarMalami, SAN; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minster of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, SAN.
The team will be supported by other relevant government agencies. Without a doubt Nigeria will be presenting an expansive team when the country negotiates with Twitter. And the meeting room will be like a political rally complete with all kinds of agbada and different shapes of caps. Only the drums will be missing.
We have managed to dredge up trouble where there was none and every day the posts are shifted and rules of engagement thrown out through the windows. Initially it was about President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet that was deracinated but by the end of last week, some other accusations have been added as accessories after the facts by Mohammed to the effect that Twitter funded the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.
While one will concede that government has its sources of intelligence, it sounds a little reckless the way information is being dropped and it would have served better purpose if the evidence was served at the table during negotiations.
My little observation here, which has been fairly made by others, is that the Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, is 45 years old, while the head of the Nigerian team is 69. The youngest minister on the team is Pantami who is 48 years old.
Ordinarily he shouldn’t be there at all because of the terrorism baggage he is carrying at the moment. But our nation does not care about the feelings of the people or does it care about the way the world profiles Nigeria because of actions that we fail to take.
Since news broke about the minister’s link with, and sentiments for terrorists government didn’t react except to say one day that the past is history, Pantami has become a new man. Just like that.
The Twitter boss may not come. He could send his regulatory team which will discuss with Nigeria. The point here is the drama we set up for nothing. Twitter has not craved this importance, but we are dressing the organisation with unfitting importance to the extent that a whole nation will sit at the table negotiating with Twitter.
Yet the country has the generation that can speak the same language with Twitter, but we are so afraid that there will be a conspiracy against the nation that we have decided to send as our first eleven some men who have obviously journeyed beyond their prime, plus one with a dot on his conscience. Oh, that word again, dot.
Since the negotiation must hold, our present line of argument is too deficient to establish any sense. Oh Twitter must register. The organisation must pay tax. What happens next? Is this is a punitive opportunity to deal with Twitter and other operators in the Social Media industry? What if Twitter decides to take a scram?
This government will be excited with that line of action. Unfortunately technology is hardly conquered. The technology that is out there may be more powerful or monstrous than what government is presently fighting unsuccessfully with might.
My little caution is for Nigeria not to start a corporate war against American companies for bogey reasons. The other day is was CNN. It is Twitter now. Which one will be next? And the world keeps records!
But while this bile against the social media? When this government sought power only a few years ago the Social Media was the best thing to ever hit our shores since Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory,brought television to Ibadan in 1959. Just on the eve of the commencement of a new season of elections, the government is pumping up media bills, pursuing social media with ferocious vengeance.
“Social media is a menace anywhere in the world…If you do anything you are not supposed to do we will fine you.” Those are the words of Minister Mohammed with the Constitution kept in abeyance. Is government afraid of a past hidden from the public but which is buried in lies?
Since coming to power it has already done a lot of harm to the broadcast sector. Unfortunately there is another broadcast bill in the house which seeks to further degrade what is already a very bad Broadcast Act and sow more mischief into the pages.
This government has done frightening things to the industry. The Nigeria Broadcasting Code which government released on July 4, 2019, has about 15 litigations instituted by people trying to salvage the industry from the hidden hands of greed.
It is nearly conclusive, therefore, that the fear being expressed about the various media bills in the National Assembly are fully established. It should behove people of good conscience to hold up a mirror to this government with the message that the future is more promising than a past and present which are fading out of the mirror in their hand.
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