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Opinion

Femi Gbajabiamila Is The Social Menace That Must Be Regulated -By Abimbola Adelakun

At a recent public event where he represented his principal, Chief of Staff to the president, Femi Gbajabiamila, used the opportunity to retrieve the hackneyed topic of social media regulations. While he noted the bid failed while he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he did not indicate that any new development had since emerged since Nigerians spiritedly resisted the Bill, which had given him a better perspective. So why bring up the topic again? He must have lacked useful things to say. In sensationally describing social media as a “social menace,” Gbajabiamila gave himself away as the real menace to society that must be regulated by the force of public vigilance.

Common to Gbajabiamila and those who echo his line of thought is how they somehow overlook all the serious issues that imperil our society and zero on social media as the ultimate destructive force. It does not matter what economic tensions Nigerians grapple with and the potential for such agony to fuel social restlessness, these head-in-the-sand observers still maintain their monomania. They routinely scapegoat social media, apprehending the “hate speech” on social media while the entirety of their administrative procedures boils down to “hate acts” against Nigerians. If Gbajabiamila is not tired of this con game, we are bored. It is high time he found us a more engaging ruse.

Various kinds of people despise social media in Nigeria. Some, like Bishop David Oyedepo who thinks social media is a destiny stealer, are those of the older generation who generally look down on almost anything involving young people. But then the political/elite class are also stuck on social media regulations. Those are the ones who ascribe all the evils that can possibly happen within an ill-governed society to what social media can precipitate. Their real fear is that what constitutes their once unquestioned and even unquestionable constituted authority now faces regular bringdown from social media users.

Gbajabiamila should tell us why we even need new rules when there are already repercussions for what people say online. Apart from extant laws on defamation and slander, social media commentary is one aspect where the repressiveness of our government serially is exemplified. Recall the example of the random young man who made fun of ex-first lady Aisha Buhari’s weight on Twitter? The police laid in wait for about six months just to ensnare and incarcerate him.

Then there was the case of the woman who reviewed a brand of tomato paste on social media. The police did not only harass that poor woman, they still returned to her home months later to lay a siege. When has it ever happened in this country that the police would spend such extended hours battling criminals? But they could deploy that much force over a woman who expressed her opinion. No reasonable person will consider such a propensity for abuse and still support social media regulations.

Those advocating social media regulations have never quite demonstrated that they have thought through the incredible complexity of the terminologies. For instance, they scream about “fake news” but what would it mean under those laws? Would “fake news” laws have jailed presidential aide Ajuri Ngelale, who announced that the United Arab Emirates had lifted its visa ban on Nigerians due to the president’s intervention? Ngelale did not resign when the story turned out to be fake and the sky did not fall either.

Apart from the complexity of language is also the intricacy of technology and the expertise that will be necessary to enforce regulations across the vast global communication network reductively called “social media.” This deficiency was plainly demonstrated when the Buhari administration banned Twitter and it turned out that people could easily bypass the ban with VPN. Shamefaced, they reversed their ban. To save face, they cooked up stories of tax remittance negotiations with Twitter, Inc. when elections loomed and they needed their attack hounds to return to social media.

Again, calling for social media regulations overlooks the ongoing efforts of various Nigerian media organisations that fight falsehoods circulated online. Take the online newspaper, The Cable, for instance. Their team not only challenge some fake stories, but they even do so in several non-English Nigerian languages. Instead of trying to make new laws, why not boost such initiatives?

This is not to downplay the tendency for social media exchange to overwhelm or even turn into bullying. To an extent, social media—like any other media form—can truly be used to cause havoc. Its democratic structure that features multiple gateways without barely any gatekeepers provides nodal points from which mischief can be sprung. But all that fixation with what could go wrong overlooks the multitude of things that go right. Where would Nigerian popular culture be today without the driving force of social media? Can we extricate the popularity that Nigerian music stars have achieved from the activities of Nigerian youth on social media?

Some of the advocates for social media regulations say it is necessary to curtail the excessiveness of those who get carried away by the freedom of that space and slip the borders of what should be ideally permissible. But it is through the same excessiveness that some people routinely condemn as the evils of social media that Nigerians promoted Hilda Baci into an international star, passionately supported their football team at AFCON, and regularly advocated for their fellow Nigerians even if it took wrestling other foreign nationals to the ground in the process. Why take away all the spontaneity and vivacity of social interactions within that space all because you are obsessed with fixing what is not broken? Besides, what is this Nigerian tendency to want to punish, punish, and just punish?!

Perhaps Gbajabiamila would even have been worth taking seriously if he had spoken on these issues during some key points in our national history. For a man who was the Speaker during the administration of one of the most incompetent and corrupt government in Nigerian history, it amounts to a lack of introspection to describe contemporary reality as living in a “post-truth” world? Really? For Nigerians, the ideological manipulation of “post-truth” is largely a fallout of the lack of integrity in governance.

Our version of “post-truth” is instantiated when the government stages a rice pyramid for photo-ops to deceive the world that its agricultural policies have worked while the market prices of those food items spiral out of control. “Post-truth” is when the government borrows an aircraft to launch an airline. Gbajabiamila forgets that it was the denizens of social media who busted the official lies within mere hours of that “fake” launch. He was the Speaker while the Muhammadu Buhari regime deployed these deception strategies straight out of the North Korean regime playbook, but where was he?

This time last year, Nigeria faced another divisive election. People on social media, egged on by certain political associates now working for the same administration as Gbajabiamila and other social media influencers, slung vicious mud at one other. I do not recall Gbajabiamila intervening to douse the tension. But today, after their elections have been safely won, he mounts the pulpit to perorate on the dangers of a world where emotions rule over reason. So is it just now that he just noticed that “our politics is fuelled by emotive arguments” or that “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeal to identity and personal belief”? Where would he even be today without that kind of politics?

If he truly believes in what he is saying, then I challenge him to repeat that speech in 2026 when his political associates will expectedly be stirring the ethnic and religious pots again just so they can win a second term.

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