It is 50 years and Nigeria, like every other country craving for a change in its affairs, has witnessed series of civil demonstrations in all its known forms: sit-ins, arm-in-arm protests, sloganeering placards, angry words from exiled citizens etc. etc. Civil demonstration is often the lot of autonomous territories. Thanks to technology, civil demonstrations have evolved into less physical, less bloody, and generally safer modes. With it, the world is moveable from a wheelchair.
In 2009, a horde of Iranian citizens each armed with nothing more than letters of the alphabets and internet emoticons trod the cyberspace to register their resentments against the irregularities and inhuman activities that characterized the country’s last election. That act, now famously dubbed – “Iranian Twitter Revolution”, has become a case study in the rather new field of digital activism. The enemy was both Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Iranian incumbent president (later re-(s)elected), and his machinery of state which he launched at will to counter any perceived citizen affront against his supremacy over the governing of that Middle Eastern state.
The impact of that cyber protestation, at least in its degree of commanding international attention & sympathy, is a proof of how social networking platforms are veritable routes of demonstrating civil discontentment. However, citing the Iranian example, or its Moldovan counterpart, as a success may be a tricky conclusion since the scale of both protests did not achieve their campaign goal which, in the Iranian situation, was to overturn an allegedly fraudulent election installed by Mahmoud. The Moldovan incident was an exercise in bringing people together to protest against the country’s Communist government.
Nigeria, so far, has had citable contributions to digital activism. Two examples come to mind – The “Enough is Enough” and “Light Up Nigeria” initiatives. The two campaigns later took terrestrial extensions in the form of demonstration to government front gates and pop culture integration (The “2010” song by Sound Sultan (Feat. MI) and the song “One Day” by ElDee. One question that nudges the mind at this point is whether both campaigns achieved, or is gearing towards achieving, their aim. Certainly, neither of them can be placed alongside their foreign counterparts in the degree of impact.
So what’s with all the ramblings? This writer was impressed with the momentum gathered when the two initiatives took wing. Twitter timelines streamed with #enoughisenough and with support from Facebook Groups, and a few blogs, the Nigerian cyberspace was electrified with a cause that promised to voice (and did) the frustrations of a people, and to install on the Nigerian space the new form of civil demonstrations. As mentioned earlier, the demonstrators reached government gates. How stunning! Online to offline. Hashtags to Iron gates.
It did enough and certainly wasn’t a fruitless mission. Besides being a disclaiming proof to what might be claims by some digital watchers that digital activity may never reap offline dividend, it is already an evidence that, with a more strategic preparation, the Nigerian youth can voice, and perhaps- cause a shiver in the spine of bad leadership. But here is a caveat – a campaign aimed at expressing the frustration of the entire citizenry against the affairs of the state will require more than a demonstration fronted only by internet-savvy individuals being led by pop celebrities. The coordination should have involved grassroots participation.
THAT was missing.
The grassroots housed the loudest decibels of frustrations. It should be left to imagination what that campaign would have achieved if market women and artisans who, without access to the internet, were reached through some guerrilla forms of communication.
If the reports are right, more than 50% of the Nigerian population is already armed with mobile phones, most of them data-enabled, which emphasises the point that the challenge of reaching the populace won’t be about access but the creative use of existing digital resource.
Shall we digress? That march, assuming the conveners thought in this direction, could have provided a template for more prospective digital campaign, and perhaps, for citizens’ voicing, say, in the next election.
So if we must tweet the desired change, at least on a grand scale, the strategy must be right. It must be an all-involving, well-coordinated one that brings together everyone, both online and offline, in a manner that registers our interests as one voice.
Stop. This is more than 140 characters.
Happy Tweeting. Happy Blogging. Happy New National Year.