New Media for socio-political change

Cover-political-rally-2THE new media, buoyed by the Internet technology has spawned what experts refer to as information overload. The question is: how are we to navigate our way through this overload? Daniel Levitin in his The Organised Mind avers that it is important to allow fuzzy categories, those “things that fall through the cracks –the miscellaneous folder in your filing system, the junk drawer in your kitchen” in our organisational systems and infrastructure. The social media site is a veritable junk drawer and one confronts the dilemma of disorientation in trying to make sense of it. It tasks both our imagination and attention. No wonder that Kazys Varnelis of Columbia University writing in the Frieze magazine of September 2011 re-echoes Jean Baudrillard’s observation that history would end with the close of the millennium by noting that “with events rapidly proliferating in media, we have lost the possibility of noting significant milestones and seem unable to meter our own position in time.” Nevertheless, the social media is both useful and dysfunctional. As the author notes, “social media will continue to play a vital role in changing the mind-set of our people. But social media has also produced a new group of narcissistic individuals that pride their ideas so high and wouldn’t consider other differing views.” Ideas for Socio-Political Change sprouts from this digital mesh.

Ideas for Socio-political Change deals with array of issues in the form of conversation and commentaries in the new media, especially the social hubs such as facebook, tweeters, etc. Apart from copy and paste entries, the quickness of exchange hardly permits elaborate linear engagement other than chats between two or multiple interlocutors. The pudding before us is excerpts from social media comments spanning six years authored by Wale Olaitan, a Nigerian resident in Melbourne, Australia. It all began in December of 2008 when some patriotic Nigerians including this author created the New Nigeria forum on Facebook which served for the authors and his friends a vent on the Nigerian condition. The author also exploited other new media windows for voice. These include Movement for Positive Change Nigeria and Ado-Odo Youth for Reconciliation for Peace.

Ideas for Socio-political change is organised into 14 chapters excluding introduction, closing and bibliographical annexure. The author began with a potpourri of issues. Nigeria’s image battered by the malevolence of a few who do not live fair and square and the corresponding implication for foreign direct investment (FDI) is broached. Optimism in democratic process is evinced by the author’s emphasis on informed choice of candidates in election. Other issues touched are the antinomies of the People’s Democratic Party government, a discountenance for the zoning policy as solution to power relations in Nigeria and the reported return of retired General Ibrahim Babangida to partisan politics.

In earnest, the author resents elite infamy by his disavowal of the expenditure of about N17 billion on independence celebration in 2010; the extra-judicial execution of Mohammed Yusuf, leader and founder of the Boko Haram Islamic sect. Beyond human rights violation essentiality of the act, his being alive would have today yielded intelligence on the sect and helped the Nigerian state to contain it. The author enters the controversy engendered by Chinua Achebe’s swan song, There was a Country. His intervention is most elevating by the search for a neutral narrative that goes beyond that of ethnic crusader and finds it in Adam Nossiter’s review. According to the author:

Unsurprisingly, most Igbo commentators unapologetically stood by Achebe’s account, while other tribes especially most Yoruba commentators remained steadfast in their opposition to some of the historical issues. By posting Adam Nossiter’s review, I was searching for a more balanced review of the book and especially from a man that has no link to Nigeria.

The 2012 anti-subsidy protest underlined by the hashtag, #OccupyNigeria and the related question of diktats from the Bretton Woods institutions gained the author’s attention. He ponders the insensitivity of Nigerian rulers who could remove so-called fuel subsidy on the eve of a new year. There is an implied desire for a revolution rather than reform that does not scratch the fundamentals of the Nigerian crisis.

Perhaps, the most unique contribution in the book is the author’s dissertation on security governance of Ogun State. While acknowledging the effort of Governor Amosun Ibikunle in the handling of the security of the state, he proffers concrete ideas on how to achieve effective policing of the state. Beyond the traditional policing based on random preventive patrol and criminal investigation, he recommends problem oriented policing (POP) that combines community and intelligence-led policing. More instructive is his suggestions on counterterrorism in the context of the fight against Boko Haram sect which focus on not merely taking out the leaders but eliminating the safe havens and ideological space through the creative engagement of Muslim clerics and scholars. Social media site activisms such as the #BringBackOurGirls, tributes to Nelson Mandela, Dora Akinyuli, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson and the debate on followership versus leadership are equally harnessed in this book. More importantly, is the author’s fervent campaign for Buhari and his aversion for Jonathan administration. This partisan route expectedly brought him into hot exchange with the opposites. He portrays General Buhari as Mr. Integrity and Order and sees no evil.

There are, however, a number of technical problems. The lack of attribution in the use of quotes/paraphrases of prominent authors such as Frantz Fanon is a deficit. This may be attributed to the fleeting nature of social media interactions and the junk kitchen that they create. A shortcoming of this book is that the author presents only his view in a site of multiple interlocutors without a representation of the views of others. This denies the reader a veritable platform for critical appraisal. I guess emptying the kitchen junks into a book of this nature would always be a difficult task. There is equally the problem of duplication of subjects and without any cross-reference which linear presentation would permit. Equally descinable is the sloppy stretch of comments. The instantaneous nature of social media engagement will of course deny most contributors the nicety of polished and well-thought structures. With this licentiousness, we are perhaps back to Jean Baudrillard’s end of history unable to make sense of the digital overload that confronts us.

• Dr. Akhaine, a visiting member of The Guardian Editorial Board is with the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University.

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