GO TO social media any day, in Nigeria, currently and you would leave in horror even if you are the most stable or strong willed. Log on to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, among others and you would find stories, images and audio posts that are terrible, in the extreme. Tales and spectacles in the media, daily push Nigerians to the extremes of fear, depression and loss of incentives for life and future.
If you want to behold a cowed citizenry, check out the majority of Nigerians of today. They walk the streets and pathways of their motherland, apprehensive, like startled dogs with their tails between their legs. It is such that, in the country of today, should a junk car with a troubled exhaust pipe blast off, just in bid to sneeze off a clogged smoke channel, the result could be pandemonium in the street.
In fact, some would argue that should a mischief-making lad walk into a crowded place, be it market, church, mosque or government event, and burst a balloon or air-filled empty ‘pure water’ cellophane bag, there could be a stampede.
Events in recent days have shown that these are possible. For instance, last Sunday’s night, in Awka, capital of Anambra State, while cops were busy resisting the onslaught of some ‘unknown gunmen’ who attacked the head office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Police B’ Division head station, in a distant gun battle, one young man was busy blaring in his WhatsApp that a popular media house has been invaded. He kept screaming as if he was reporting a live event of a violent attack he was witnessing.
The WhatsApp message went viral and all manner of calls flew in to people in Awka from everywhere to ask what was happening, compounding the already tense situation that was being reined-in by security forces in the city. Yet, what the young man screamed and yelled about, to the hearing of the whole world, never happened.
There are hundreds of such unverified messages being spread daily by people who may not necessarily mean any harm but end up putting the entire society and themselves in harm’s way just because their emotions, especially fear and bias have overwhelmed them. The land is now full of frightened folks, which do not do anybody any good.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. … It seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come,” states the 16th through 17th century British playwright, William Shakespeare in Act 2, Scene 2 of his evergreen drama, ‘Julius Caesar’.
Many theses have probed that excerpt but the more thinkers ponder it, more tropes emerge.
In contemporary Nigeria, the medieval British royal court dramatist’s concept of cowardice is farther expanded to comprise not just those who lack bravery, brawn and emboldening brain but those who are ignorant of use, abuse and social manipulations to the extent that they even join in victimising and killing themselves several times over through social communication.
The cowards of today, who “die many times” mostly lack understanding of the new millennium’s properties of media, particularly social media channels of communication and the pitfalls therein.
In fact, the circumstantial redefinition of cowardice to comprise communication-aloof persons offers clear evidence that we are in a communication age.
This shifty age of communication as armament and instrument of vast development or devastation has shown the immense power in the exchange of information. Many who are yet to realise how communication has taken control of humanity in current time still wallow in the woods and lend their daily lives to the toss and turn of the new media.
As in Nigeria, many have helped agents of death, violence, hatred, narcissism, escapism as well as all manner of vices and negativity to put the land and themselves in harm’s way.
Bellied in the current cloak of deaths, danger, dejection and despondence across country are frantic efforts of some people who know how to manipulate society through adept placement of destabilising messages in ways that will entice the undiscerning to share and give credence to the communication even if it is fake, sensationalised or totally false.
Many Nigerians now “die many times before their death” while a lot more do not die yet do not have any life at all notwithstanding their walking about the streets because of how they help to complicate things around them, ‘knowingly or unknowingly’ through their active participation in the communication loops that mess up their lives.
More than any other time, Nigerians have to be vigillant for truth and falsehood in social communication because of the unprecedented (and still growing) number of people who are adept in manipulating the minds of citizens with fake news and hate speeches for their ignoble purposes.
The way they serve their skewed information makes them irresistible because they play, dexterously on the sentiments of their targeted members of the public. If their aim is to turn one section of the country against the other, they may play up the Christians versus Moslems dichotomy or the always vexed political power tenure debate.
When their aim is to get citizens disenchanted with the state, they play up police and military brutality or fraud with magnified figures and enhancement of impunity and inept leadership, among other stereotypical factors that get Nigerians red in rage. The promoters of such messages make them very scary and extremely graphic.
It is such that corpses, pornographic images, eyewitness shots of killings, arson, gun-battles and even sacrilegious vista are not treated with the requisite ethical restraints that are crucial, as long as they push the messages to Nigerians’ faces in the most extremely frightening manner. At the end of the posts, they will urge the receiver to ‘share’. Interestingly, many undiscerning folks among us will find such messages; yell at their gory content; and still share.
The receivers they ‘shared’ to will also post to more people. So, the chain continues. Within hours, from one to two, to many receivers, the land has become beclouded with messages that harvest gloom and eventual doom. Next day the agents of ‘destabilisation through communication’ will package another doom-breeder and serve us through the same media channels.
We share again without pausing to ponder how the streams they help broadcast and help make viral cause them their pains, increase anomy and hatred in the land as well as sustain the reign of violence.
In modern world, especially in democracies, communications rule the society. Social communication is very potent handle and tool for governance and in the destabilisation of government. In the hands of a person without conscience and knowledge of the field’s ethics, it is a rabid dog that he could use to destroy the land and himself even without knowing what he is doing or has done.
But the truth is that no land with such frequency of bad news, low or no value for human life and plethora of insecurity issues develops progressively. Hardly too, does such a society’s economy grow.
No investor likes investing where there are always horrible tales and uncertainty. Even those with established businesses there may already be looking for the next available opportunity to escape least they get caught up in an insecure land. By this, we are indirectly beckoning closure of industries and fall of businesses. Job losses and a wave of oddities will follow if this trend continues. Hunger and anger will increase. Hence, rise in the rate of criminal activities, peculiar traits of abused, disorderly societies rocked by violence all through the ages, are foreseeable. We need not go that route.
That is why many of us who are either consciously or unconsciously aiding the agents of the current rot through headless dissemination of their messages should note that we are all bound to suffer under the weight of their acts and desist from the acts.
Nigerians are not known for cowardice, be it in the form of lack of bravery or in ignorance. We are definitely smarter than this current spell that is upon us.