By Enyichukwu Enemanna
Since the commencement of primary elections in the country earlier this year, there has been heightened activities in the political environment, starting with the sale of nomination and expression of interest forms by political parties, emergence of delegates (for indirect primaries) and the election of flagbearers proper. There has been one event or the other as the country heads to a major electioneering year in 2023, expected to usher in a new leader as President Muhammadu Buhari winds down his constitutional two terms of four years by May 2023 along with some state governors.
The political parties, their candidates and supporters expectedly have continued to deploy various tools at their disposal to convince the Nigerian masses on why they are better than the opposing figure or group. Sometimes, issue-based discourses are relegated to the background while personal attacks, sheer mischief, name-calling and exchange of verbal missile become the order of the day.
Again, these are all carried out through the social media which has become the most accessible means of communication. It is a ground where all parties enjoy equal right to reach out to the rest of the citizens. However the gross abuse of the virtual space has created concern in the minds of many on whether the country will not be boxed into a wholesale voter apathy next year which may likely impact on the credibility of the polls.
The trends in recent times indicate a clear lack of tolerance to plurality of opinions, unbridled desire to unleash personal attacks, haul avalanche of insults and intimidate individuals from freely exercising their right to freedom of speech without being fiercely bullied on the social media space by a mob of overzealous supporters.
Most times open threats are freely dished out on the social media in reaction to people’s indifference or political alignment which negates citizens’ rights to association and to hold opinion.
Not long ago, the founder of The Covenant Nation (formerly the Covenant Christian Centre) Pastor Poju Oyemade was forced to take down a tweet that was interpreted to a section of social media users to mean a slanted political comment.
Supporters of the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi interpreted the post as an attempt to portray the former Anambra State Governor as unprepared for the presidential race while others perceived it to be an attempt to promote the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC Mr. Bola Tinubu.
Oyemade’s words, “Faith is not just blind belief or hoping for a miracle. Faith sees. Faith has her eyes opened and possesses the evidence upon which it builds its belief. Faith prepares long, sometimes for years just as Joseph did for the years of famine. Faith counts the cost before embarking.
“Without having real evidence upon which you are acting nor preparation for the task, recognising real obstacles that lie ahead and making concrete plans, one is just being delusional about the outcome. The enthusiasm of the youth must not be wasted on poorly planned projects.
“Noah spent months/years planning for the flood & he was operating in faith. Jesus said no man goes to battle without taking stock first nor lays the foundation of a tower without counting the cost first lest he will be mocked. Our faith is intelligent it doesn’t live in denial.”
A former presidential aide, Reno Omokri and activist, Deji Adeyanju have also at different times been bullied on the cyberspace for their opinions on issues around the country’s political development ahead of the general election.
Supporters of Mr. Tinubu are also not left out in the fray as they have used all known tools at their disposal to defend their principal’s age and his ability, as well as agility to lead the country. The picture of Tinubu a former Lagos Governor dozing off at the Emir of Gombe’s palace recently went viral, attracting fierce criticism.
While the supporters of Tinubu have said the elder statesman was only obeying nature’s call, critics have insisted that if elected president, Tinubu will be a “sleeping president” in the word of Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, the National Chairman of New Nigeria Peoples Party. This has not however gone without vile and venomous tantrums from those who believe Tinubu is too old to run.
Baring his mind on the growing trend of cyber bullying in the country, the Director International Institute of Journalism Abuja, Dr. Emman Shehu said the development is a failure to understand what democracy is all about. He said some persons have failed to understand there is a transition from military to civil rule where positions are not dictated by military fiat but freedom to choose.
“That is why there is more than one option, you have 20 options and above to choose. The individual’s choice will be determined either by the candidate or the party. That choice must be respected because what that individual has anchored his choice on may not be what your own perception is.
“So we all have the responsibility to pass this message, to make this point but unfortunately the people who are supposed make this clear are capitalizing on the situation and recruiting people, calling them influencers. I think it is a wrong use of the terms “influencers” if what they mean by influencers is to dictate and bully people to accept their positions without showing the fact,” he said.
According to Dr. Shehu, the whole idea of democracy is to persuade people to accept a position and not by coercing them, calling on supporters, candidates and political parties to respect the choice of one another.
Media organizations have a huge responsibility of ensuring that they perform the role of gate-keeping to forestall further pollution of the environment with hate and utterances capable of exacerbating the already precarious environment of insecurity, tension, economic downturn, poverty and disease.
A calm environment is a prelude to peaceful and credible election. All hands must be on deck to ensure this is achieved in 2023 and beyond.