I know it has taken me a while to write this, but it is good to look back and reflect (my excuse. Handy, right?)
I have previously written about how the promotion of the ‘right’ to democracy infers that a peoples’ aspirations to human dignity can only be achieved through representative governance, evidenced by political participation and regular elections. Because of the premium placed on elections as the only marker of democracy, Nigerians have become inordinately emotionally invested in the hoopla of elections. With the advent of the internet, Nigerians have taken this investment and made huge online deposits that do not seem able to yield any returns. Rather than use the power of information technology to improve community, we saw in 2015, the spread of misinformation, pettiness and vitriol through social media. When it comes to post-truth, we got there first. Naija no dey carry last!
2015 Nigerian Elections & Cyber Attacks On Identity: Battle for the Heart of Nigeria
According to some reports, in Nigeria, internet usage grew by 16% in 2014. At which time 37.53% of Nigerians had internet access. These numbers are still growing exponentially. ICT is the new Nigerian Black gold (a completely redundant metaphor, I’m sure.) Now everyone is a blogger, including me, of course. Before the 2015 elections, both major political parties (APC & PDP) staged Google Hangouts and had websites. Those elections marked the first use of Facebook in Africa to engage voters. A major milestone. Furthermore, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) turned to social media to provide a check on the legitimacy of elections. The result was that more people were reached by all the major actors and agents, much faster. According to Tijani:
‘Facebook became platform for information diffusion, participation, mobilisation, propaganda, abuse, ethnic polarisation, radicalisation, caricaturisation and empowerment’
Political Thugs are being overtaken by Internet Warriors
Consequently very real battles were staged in the comments sections, with ‘soldiers’ instructed to attack opponents. The BBC ran an article on that very phenomenon. Nigeria’s internet warriors. The site of violence moved online. However, while physical violence diminished, the number of people subject to attack increases expansively. Fewer broken bones, more bitter souls. The attacks are focused on the fault-lines of our fragile union
‘I usually use corruption and ethnicity to attack…Distort public opinion’
-Chemistry graduate turned internet warrior
We saw facts distorted and shared as truth, pictures manipulated and shared as originals. Spreading like wildfire, no one bothering to fact-check. (I have often maintained that one of the reasons why scamming is popular in Nigeria is not because we are fraudulent, but because we are gullible. We will believe absolutely anything, anything at all.) The effect of the digitization of electioneering?
Post election violence in 2011 = approx. 800 killed, 65000 displaced
Post election violence in 2015 = approx. 40 killed, unclear whether Boko Haram or election
THE EXACERBATION OF THE FAULT-LINES
These fault lines were toyed with in various ways – fabricated stories, comments in response to actual events, or by pushing the boundaries of reality, but it was always the same fault-lines – our sense of belonging to something other than Nigeria, ethnicity and religion, always ethnicity and religion.
Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos was reported to have threatened the Igbos in Lagos that they will be drowned in the Lagos Lagoon if they fail to vote for the APC candidate during the governorship elections in Lagos State. This statement was reportedly made during the courtesy call of the Eze Ndigbos in Lagos on the Oba at his palace.
Soyinka in the Frame…Again
The Cable, an online paper, alleged that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka accused the Igbo of voting according to their “stomachs”.
In his response to the story, Soyinka said in a statement: “I have just read a statement attributed to me on something called The CABLE, a news outlet, evidently one of the Internet infestations.”
The Earnestly Religious
Ima Sadiq, a Muslim cleric tweeted to call on Muslims to support GMB stating that “It is a sin islamically for a Muslim to support a non Muslim for leadership”. Pastor Adeboye is believed to have backed the Jonathan ticket, Osinbajo’s presence on the ballot notwithstanding.
Identity Attacks Results in Negative Peace
At the core of International Human Rights Law is the concept of individual human dignity for all. However, many African philosophies’ ideologies on human dignity are centred around the core and cyclic concepts of ‘being’ and ‘belonging’. E.g. Umuntu ngumuntu nga bantu – ‘I am because others are’. Thus belonging is all-important, but belonging is naturally precedent on being. Failed (more accurately, developmentally-stagnated) states like Nigeria, impelled to promote a ‘raw’ concept of rights have failed abysmally at this. The intervention of international law, ignores the African-dignity need for belonging, promotes human rights ‘raw’ i.e. with no diffusion between IHRL and cultural expression.
Further, where there is a proliferation of competing internal ‘others’, ‘belonging’ is contaminated and thus ‘being’s’ cultural currency is devalued. The ensuing breakdown of community paves the way for disconnection between communities and between communities and the government, resulting in escalating hybrid conflict, human rights violations and infrastructural stagnation. The right to democracy is then implemented in a formulaic manner rather than substantively.
The 2015 election campaign witnessed concerted and direct attacks on the cultural ‘belonging’ need. While the election turned out to be much more peaceful than the 2011 election, where there was large scale pre- and post-election violence (attacks on the ‘being’ need), the 2015 election was conducted by attacking the need for ‘belonging’. Therefore, the scars that were opened by an election that was relatively peaceful, could have a more negative effect on the stability of the Nigeria than an election that was quite violent.
Identity attacks indicate a zero-sum conflict situation. They arise in a community where there is no collective sense of identification, no shared values, and no common vision for the nation. The nation-state is perceived as an imposition by the colonial invaders. (We can see this in the renewed calls for a state of Biafra.) The state is also seen as being perpetuated by the dominant group whose identity defines the national character. This results in a weakened democracy, that regular elections, no matter how peaceful cannot sustain. There is very little alternative to state disintegration or state failure.
We should never presume that the mere absence of violence is the same thing as POSITIVE PEACE. Positive peace is marked by the restoration of relationships, creation of social and political systems that serve needs of whole population and constructive resolution of conflict. That is what we want. What we have is negative peace or perpetual pre-hostility.
But guess who won the internet?