When Will Abuja Ban Internet?

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Regardless of what anybody may say, I like Femi Adesina. I believe he is a good man. Femi, as General Editor of the Sun once interviewed me. He did a professional job. If Femi tells you he will call you, he sure will call you. If he says “good morning”, you do not need to check your watch. Since becoming Aso Rock spokesman, I have been to Femi’s home where I met his wife and children. They were exceedingly nice to me.

I know Lai Mohammed too. While he was the spokesperson of the opposition party in Nigeria, I was a great admirer of Lai Mohammed. He was crisp, sharp and always on point. He made sense. Since becoming Minister of the Federal Republic, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has hosted me many-many times in his Abuja office. In his office, I have repeatedly shared boiled corn and coconut with his staff all of whom have treated me like a dear friend. The minister once honoured me with an official visit at COSON House, accompanied by practically all the Directors in his ministry.

Please do not listen to anyone who tells you that either Femi Adesina or Lai Mohammed is a fool. They are not. That is why these days I worry about these two people I consider my friends. I watch them every day as they twist and turn and try very hard to sell goods that very few want to buy. Their principal, who gave them their job, says things that none of them would say and it becomes their call to make sense out of that which does not make much sense to sensible people.

I once had a discussion with Femi on the very changed nature of the media and how information is now received. Today, practically everyone with a smart phone is a writer and a publisher. Before now, there was one very important guy between the writer and the publisher. He was the king of the newsroom. He was called ‘Editor’. His job was to make sure that whatever is dished to the public was checked with a tooth comb and was as much as possible factual. There had to be balance in the story too to make sure that all the critical sides are heard.

Every great newspaper or news station is built on its credibility. It is the job of the editor to protect that credibility and ask the critical questions: What? Who? Where? How? Why?

There was also a time when no matter where you were, you would be heading home not to miss the 9 0’Clock news on NTA. The other important news of the day was the Radio Nigeria news at 7 am and 4 pm.

I have many friends who work at both NTA and FRCN but if the truth be told, there are many people who believe that the days of NTA and FRCN are gone. I do not know how many people still depend on these stations for reliable news which is why I wonder if the huge amount spent to maintain these behemoths which have served their purpose cannot be deployed more meaningfully elsewhere.

Fact is that very few people get their news these days from any newspaper. Very few people watch TV except Telemundo, Zee World, African Magic, HipTV, SuperSport, etc. Now, there is more news than you can ever consume on WhatsApp. For those who are stuck on TV News, the station must be sassy and seen to be independent – CNN, BBC, Aljazeera or Sky. At home, it is Channels or Arise. Everyone else is struggling.

Go to any social gathering these days and everybody is typing on his little machine, ‘snapping’ photos, posting on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp or ‘chatting’ or tweeting. Everyone is spreading information for good or for bad with all the biases that human beings have. Everybody has a camera and there are no rules and anyone can be as nasty as he wants, as raw as he chooses and as hateful as he decides to be. That is the new world and we are not going back to the old.

I am sure Femi remembers our discussion. The fulcrum of our conversation was this: Times have changed. The infrastructure for managing government information must change. That infrastructure must be designed, the people to operate it well trained and adequately resourced. This is the moment of the 24-hour news cycle when the news either breaks live or goes viral a few minutes after the event. I had said to him that the days of the odd press release sent to the newspapers may also be gone. The news manager goes where the people are: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Twitter, etc. Indeed, the language of the news has also changed.

Once on a visit to OBJ at Aso Rock Villa, I met the late great Stanley Macebuh who was then Special Assistant for something to the President. Stanley told me that there was so much he did not know that he learnt at Aso Rock. It appears as Rueben Abati once intoned that there is a certain spirit at Aso Rock that makes people associated with the place speak strange languages. I have tried but I do not understand the languages spoken lately from Aso Rock on the absolute necessity for cattle to continue to maraud across the country. I do not understand the inexplicable ban on Twitter, making nonsense of what remains of our international image. Do Femi and Lai agree with this strange Language? Did any of them coin the term, ‘dot in a circle’?

When I hear that the government banned Twitter in Nigeria because enemies of the government have deployed the platform to make Nigeria ungovernable, I am amazed. Did the government believe that it would not have enemies? Did the government not realize that there are people who would work tirelessly for it to fail? That is the way it is in every democracy. A modern government must be ready to match its adversaries with intelligence everywhere including social media. After all, the government has far more resources than anyone else.

The truth is that because most of the people in our government still live in the past, do not quite grasp the velocity of the change around them and have not adapted, the government has been badly ‘out-tweeted’, ‘out face-booked’, ‘out Instagramed’, ‘out-whatsapped’, outmaneuvered and outsmarted. In reaction, rather than look in the mirror and see the enemy in front of it, our dear government is dazed and flaying its arms, banning everything and everybody, threatening to prosecute millions of Nigerians who have not committed any offence known to our laws. Somebody is even suggesting the banning of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tik Tok, etc.

Won’t it be easier to ban the Internet altogether because without it you cannot do Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Twitter, internet banking, internet fraud and all these many stupid things enemies are using to make Nigeria ungovernable and to give our dear government many sleepless nights?!

See you next week.

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