Why I am a ‘Fencist’ [#NigeriaDecides2015]

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

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Nigeria Twitter has been boiling for some months now. As the general elections in February draws nearer, campaigns are nearing a crescendo. Currently, there exists a vicious bifurcation between the supporters of the ruling party, PDP and the opposition party, APC. The lies, blackmails, accusations and counter accusations between both sides have assumed epic proportions. In view of the above, I have decided to sit firmly on the fence.

The shouting match on whose presidential candidate is better than the other is all one hears on Twitter these days. Unfortunately, this ‘my candidate better pass your candidate’ has spiraled into mudslinging that will certainly embarrass professionals Motor Park touts. Rarely are issues discussed. When they come up it is usually pursued via the argumentum ad hominem pathway. More often than not, one notices so many ‘logical fallacies’. Some folks have patented the franchise of making unsubstantiated opinions which they present as equivocal ‘facts’.

I do not begrudge those who have taken sides, firmly dug into their respective trenches as supporters of either President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) or General Muhammadu  Buhari (GMB). As a matter of fact, I respect them, for it is no mean feat to consistently stand behind a candidate on TwitterNG streets. It matters nothing if these e-supporters are hired for their services or do so purely out of ‘patriotic’ zeal.  It is their choice and I respect their freedom of association.

Nonetheless, I will not be persuaded into joining the fray, a simplistic reduction of the presidential candidates or their parties as the ‘messiah’. Nigeria is so large and complicated to be reduced to a one man or woman having the key to reset all our woes. As a matter of fact, no single person – living or dead – holds the exclusive prescription to our national malaise.

I also hope that the fanatic supporters of both candidates on TwitterNG will be civil enough to respect my decision to remain on the fence. It’s my choice and I don’t see why it is so difficult to accept ‘fencism’ as a legitimate position.

But some folks have already ascribed divine omnipotence to themselves: that ability to read minds and to question the free decision of others. For some, a ‘fenceist’ is a traitor that sits idle while Nigeria burns. The only ‘legitimate’ freedom, according to them, consists in taking a stand for or against. It must either be for or against GEJ or GMB. Odiegwu! It does not stop there; you MUST profess the credo of your support all day long on Twitter. However, I am yet to see how their vicious rants and tweet fights translate into patriotism. But that is a story for another day.

Fencism is not neutralism! I have my political bias but I will not be bullied into displaying it on Twitter. Fencism is objectivity, realizing that both candidates have their flaws and not turning a blind eye – as many do – on them. Fencism is having the courage to tweet for and against any of the candidates. Not being held under the fanatical slavery of ‘my candidate better pass your candidate’. Fencism also means that I will vote on that day but will not waste my precious time only tweeting about the elections.

In my ‘yard’ the fence is sturdy and impermeable. The space on the fence also has an infinite coefficient of expansion. You are free not to accept my fencism, no big deal but at least respect it.

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The Narratives of Nigeria’s Politico-Twitterati

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

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The streets of Nigeria’s Twitter are hot and harsh these days. The clash of the politico-twitterati on each side of the divide – opposition and the establishment – has been characterized with vile tweet-blood. Politico-Twitterati means those influential tweeps or overlords who are active partisan politicians. They differ from “political tweeps” (or political activists) who though they tweet on politics, owe no allegiance to any political party.

The narrative as expounded by each side of the divide can be grouped into two: disruptive narration (by the opposition) and confutative narration (by the establishment).

The Disruptive Narrative of the Opposition Politico-Twitterati

A casual observation of the handles of some opposition overlords shows that they thrive on rumours. It looks as though they patiently wait for any gaffe from government officials and then precipitate a twitterstorm. For instance take the “news” on the 53 gold plated iPhones that were ordered for Nigeria’s independence celebrations or that of the president dropping the title of “Commander-in-Chief” for non-military functions. In both cases the opposition overlords ranted and cursed. Sadly they neither substantiated the rumours (for the 53 gold plated iPhones) nor read beyond the headlines.

And when they get it right: like the reprehensible acquisition of two armoured BMW cars for the personal use of the Minister of Aviation by a cash-strapped aviation agency, their focus is usually from an “all or none” angle. Rather than decry the scandalous corrupt act and propose an action plan, our opposition overlords went atop with rage. But this anger was basically narcissist and mired with denigrating tweets. And any tweep that dared to think outside the boundaries as defined by them was either a “closet” PDP voltron or a “confirmed” government apologist.

Generally, the Nigerian opposition politico-twitterati are afflicted with the same malaise as the opposition parties. It seems that their exclusive mantra is to get the PDP out of government and this has coloured their narrative. What is nauseating is the lack of originality and the delusion that freedom of speech equates to freedom to spite. Unfortunately, their “courage” to dispense copious bile is not and must not be mistaken for either true courage or patriotism. It is also not a virtue. It is something else.  To persist in seeing it as a virtue is self-deceit.

The Confutative Narrative of the Establishment Politico-Twitterati

The establishment overlords suffer a malignant refutation narrative. Many of them are only on twitter to debunk the actions – imagined and real – of the opposition. Or how else can one explain that the official establishment tweep – the adviser on #twitterthings – spends his time tweeting parables. And when he is not preaching, he perpetually engages the numero uno accidental public servant in a tweet-fight. Although the president is active on Facebook but it’s inexcusable that his twitter handle @JGoodluckTweets has been dormant since May 2011.

The establishment media team on twitter is a complete disaster. For instance: in the alleged iPhones ruse, there was no factual rebuttal from the establishment overlords. What we got were sentimental tweets that blamed the opposition. It took an independent political tweep to investigate and refute the allegation. Same goes for quoting the aviation minister out of context. It also took a neutral party get these facts on table.

Another sad case was the un-bulking and privatization of PHCN. An event of such magnitude, in which the government handed over electricity distribution to 14 private companies, was no news on twitter. Perhaps some of the establishment overlords were taking a siesta – save for two establishment fellows. And as is the norm, many tweeps got wind of this land-mark event via a non-partisan tweep who could not stand the unjustified silence. And I’ll save my ink for the awkward attempt at defending the purchase of armoured BMW cars for the aviation minister.

The principal aim of marketing is not disprove your rival but to sell the merits of your product. Rumours thrive in the absence of factual information. Besides, effective public relation is a deliberate, planned and sustained effort to create goodwill with your public. It’s about time the government tweeps wake up, do their job and stop blaming the opposition. It is time they moved away from reactive responding to proactive engagement.

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!