The Nigerian Twitterati: Saints and Sinners?

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

 @EddyAniekan: Twitter, like Grace, covers all sins, ignorance, weaknesses, lies, all ugliness. On twitter everything is possible. Anyone can be anything…

In the past days, Twitter was turned into a battle field: an arena for spiteful exchanges between two groups of ‘respected’ young Nigerian opinion leaders. What was the crux of the fight? One of them – that works for the government – had released an insult which was directed to the other group. What followed was an exchange of ad hominium tweets from the offended group and their followers. I am not concerned about the pettiness of that act and I do not intend to join the conversation – for or against. However, this incident ruptured a latent but deadly metastasis that is gradually characterizing the Nigerian Twitter crowd. The twitter public sphere seems to be divided between saints and sinners.

Using the frame conceptualization – an over simplification – the saintly Nigerian Twitter elite is one who always criticizes government and her agents. The saintly twitter elite could also be one who engaged in government services and has an unrepentant bias against netizens.

On the other hand, the twitter sinner is one who has done the unpardonable: taken up a government appointment, does not latch out on government at the slightest opportunity and generally will never see anything good from that sector. In effect anyone who goes against the twitter crowd – it matters nothing if that person is right – by daring to assert an analytical consciousness or dares to think independently is courting trouble.

This same over-simplification was evident in the framing of the Arab Spring: the initial reaction and which still persists in some quarters was that of a Twitter or Facebook Revolution. This assumption did not stand the test of evidence which shows that although the social media played a great role in the people’s revolt in Egypt, it was demeaning to label it a Twitter or Facebook revolution. Rather it took an intricate synergy of traditional, new media and human involvement to get Mubarak packing.

Obviously both camps of Nigerian Twitterati saints and sinners are unfortunately wrong. This bifurcation is hinged on generalizations that may have no basis in reality. For the establishment crowd: all critics are necessarily noise makers seeking attention and are just waiting to be bought over to perpetual silence or praise singing. Neither is it always true that anyone who crosses over to the dark side –  ‘government’ has necessarily lost his/her soul. And by so doing has won a lottery ticket to be maligned.

Granted that instances that seem to justify both stances abound and the list is endless. However, to fall into the same pitfall that has characterized the Nigerian public space by the so called future of our country is indeed pathetic. In righteous indignation, we all cringed at the public vitriolic between Obasanjo and Babangida some years ago: in the sacred chamber of the social media, their act of shamelessness was dissected and discussed. And the some netizens are practically towing the same path. Who will now judge the judge?

Not all Nigerians who served in the public sector are sell-outs. Dr Oby Ezekwesili and Prof Pat Utomi have successfully navigated both the public and private sector with their integrity intact. Can any of us be more patriotic than these people? Same goes for those who invested all their lives as the living conscience of those in power: Late Gani Fawehinmi and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. These few examples are not revered today for their love for Nigeria only on the basis of what they said, claimed to believe in but on their unblemished records.

I was pushed into making this intervention because I understand the frustration that abounds in our land. The ineptitude of the political class and establishment lackeys are legendry. This has been one of the wins of the social media: to keep the so-called ‘representatives’ of the people in check. However, it would be hypocritical to pretend that the ‘Peoples Parliament’ is without fault. The tendency to focus on people rather than issues is gradually becoming the norm.

In any society, people differ and this variety of opinion is healthy and should be encouraged. Each person has the freedom to decide which part of history to pitch his/her tent with. What matters in the end, is that history also has a way to sift out the fakes from the genuine. Nonetheless, no one has a monopoly of knowledge – both saints and sinners. Ego fight and Messiah complex is the fastest way to destroy the Nigeria of our dreams. It’s high time to stop this senseless denigration – I better pass my neighbour!

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