Nigeria, Terror and the #Hashtag Generation – Ohimai Godwin Amaize

We live in dangerous times. I grew up in a Nigeria without the nightmare of terrorism. In my childhood days, everything about us as a nation was not perfect but everyday presented hope in a new Nigeria that is possible. I grew up with Muslim kids. Some of my closest confidants back in my undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan were Muslims. I still have many friends and close mentors who are Muslims. I have great respect for them. For many years, Muslims and Christians have lived together in harmony even in the heart of Northern Nigeria, which is the homestead of Islam. Yes, there have been outbreaks of violence from time to time in our nation’s history between southern Christians and northern Muslims but none of these experiences come close to what Nigeria has witnessed in recent times in the plague called Boko Haram.

I am one of those who strongly believe that the streak of terror that has been unleashed on Nigeria by the Boko Haram scourge is far more rooted in politics than in religion or any other causes copiously advanced by some commentators and critics of Government. Let nobody get it twisted. This is not about unemployment, frustration or religion. No amount of frustration, religious sentiment or disapproval with the Government of the day warrants or justifies the mindless shedding of innocent blood we have seen.

There seems to be a devious attempt by some powerful elements in high places to make Nigeria ungovernable since the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan came into power. If this assumption is correct, unfortunately, their strategy seems to be working, as the plot is to constantly use the platform of terror to create a distraction from the work that Government is doing to improve the lives of Nigerians on a daily basis. More disturbing is the fact that beyond the distraction created by the incessant terror attacks, development has been practically put to a standstill in parts of the country that have become the most hit by these terror attacks.

Nigeria is bleeding. Only the wicked can feign ignorance of the fact that we are under siege by enemies of our commonwealth and nationhood. Irrespective of where we come from, the religion we practice or our political affiliation, we must never forget that we all have a collective stake in this nation and the failure of any Government in power to advance this nation ultimately reflects our collective failure as a people. This is what makes the politics of the Nigerian opposition quite disappointing. Without doubt, in any democracy, world over, it is the duty of the opposition to make the Government in power look bad and incompetent. The basic currency of politics is the quest for political power, many times at any cost. But such quest for power must also be moderated by a consideration of the public good whether we are the reigning champions or not. This is why US politicians, Democrats and Republicans team up to move their country forward after every election, regardless of which party wins the elections. It does not mean they agree on every issue. But the way and manner the Nigerian opposition and those who do not like the style of this Government have gone about their attacks on the Government of President Goodluck Jonathan makes one wonder if they really care that Nigeria burns to ashes as long as they are the ones occupying the seat of power.

This brings me to the current trend on social media, which in many ways reflects the unhealthy state of mind of the Nigerian opposition. How we degenerated into a society without respect for divergent opinions and views may not be far from attempts to deconstruct the mystery called Boko Haram. We have a brewing catastrophe on our hands. We have successfully created a groundswell culture that thrives on hate, abuse and demonization of “the other man” all in the name of freedom of expression. The kind of hate comments we see on the Nigerian social media today make the hate comments that fuelled the Rwandan genocide pale into insignificance. So much for freedom!

Indeed, the Nigerian social media as it currently stands, is a disturbing reflection of the collapse of our social values as a people. Intelligent debates and polite disagreements have been replaced with crass abusiveness even by people we expect to know better. We want a President that speaks with the accent of Barack Obama but we are not ready to build a tolerant opposition that exudes the decorum and sportsmanship of a Mitt Romney. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

The latest fad is to demonise everyone who identifies with the ruling PDP or works for the Federal Government. I am on familiar terrain and well aware of the abuses, rejoinders and attacks that will follow this very article. For the very active agents of the opposition on social media, every pro-PDP, pro-Government or pro-Jonathan comment today is inspired by the logic of the stomach. If some of us had access to bombs, we could literally throw them at people who dare to disagree with us. And we are the ones campaigning against terror on Twitter? We say we are democrats and we practice democracy, yet we are very intolerant of dissenting views. The tyranny of the opposition on social media has created a sickening culture that feeds on how well you can abuse or ridicule the Government of the day. The easiest way to become a hero, activist or advocate of the masses today on the Nigerian social media is to create or identify with a hashtag that denigrates, bullies, opposes or ridicules the efforts of the Nigerian Government. There is nothing healthy about this trend. We are committing cultural mass suicide in the name of freedom of expression!

What is more frightening is the fact that the hashtag generation is largely a generation of young people, the emerging generation of future leaders. It is also a potentially influential generation. But a section of this generation has succumbed to a power play bigger than its imagination can grasp. I shook my head in pity as I saw the kidnap of our young girls in Chibok shamefully reduced to a hashtag that breastfeeds the political ambition and ‘street cred’ of some power mongers. And I watched in utter dismay, an unsuspecting generation of ‘hashtaggers’ falling over themselves to tweet and retweet several hashtags on the Chibok tragedy. Then in the midst of the jumble, I saw a tweet from Blossom Nnodim, which captured what had become the orgiastic hypnosis of the moment. She tweeted from her handle @blcompere: “To the horrible elements that are using the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for political relevance, a day of reckoning awaits.”

Many times, one is at a loss at what we really want. The truth is, there is nothing the PDP Government of President Goodluck Jonathan does that will receive the commendation of the opposition. Nothing. This is why young Nigerians especially must be careful not to become pawns and victims in an opposition power rhetoric so desperate to build substance and relevance out of the collapse of the PDP Government in power, not minding if Nigeria collapses with it.

The war against terrorism affects all of us, APC, PDP, young or old, rich or poor, northerner or southerner, Christian or Muslim. The solution is not the demonization of Government or public ridicule of our military who are committed to fighting this war. All Nigerian citizens must come together to support the efforts of Government in putting this menace to an end. So much is being done that cannot be made public for national security concerns. The United States with all its military intelligence and superpower spent years trying to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop. Americans did not misconstrue several botched efforts to capture the world’s most wanted man as the incompetence of their Commander-in-Chief or the United States army. They were united behind their Government and the army. Prior to the day the United States army eventually killed Osama Bin Laden, the world in general and Americans in particular were totally oblivious of details of the military operation in far away Pakistan. We watched the details on television, only when it had become a fait accompli.

Nigeria has some of the best-trained soldiers in the world. They have participated in UN military operations in some of the most dangerous terrains globally. We want to #BringBackOurGirls but we must also #SupportOurMilitary to find the girls and end the nightmare of terror. We must encourage and support our patriotic soldiers who toil day and night to protect Nigeria and avert many terror attacks that we never even get to read about in the pages of newspapers.

It was former President Bill Clinton of the United States who said; “There is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.” Nigeria belongs to all of us. I disagree that those seeking to take over Government from the outside love Nigeria more than those who are currently in Government. Such reasoning is at best, a farce.

Ohimai is Special Assistant (Media & Strategy) to the Nigerian Minister of State for Defence

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