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Double Stumble

Published by The Nation on Mon, 07 Jun 2021


By Sam OmatseyeDespite the Twitter rupture, Lai Mohammed is lucky it is not Instagram. Even his grandchildren would be erupting now in their homestead against their paterfamilias. Instagram ban would enlist even those who cannot spell Lai to burst open the quiet streets, protest with breast and bra, and express their first face of political rebellion. They will abandon photo-ops and twerking and swear in an accidental homage to liberty. Or those who only can identify Arsenal or Chelsea in a picture but can fan their embers as football fans into the political arena.I dont know much of Attorney General Abubakar Malamis family in the technology world, except that he likes to join his children in holy matrimony amidst quaffing, guffaws and grandiloquent dances on social media.But he should be ready for a million hostages if he is serious about arresting and prosecuting the hundreds of thousands who, at the time of writing on Sunday evening, have already outwitted tweets with tweeps. They have manoeuvred the ban and banded in the underground. Shall we call it the rebirth of NADECO route, except that it is even more ominous than in the days of IBB and Abacha, over whose tyrannies Buhari started his first sojourn into the brave new world called democracy'If he started Decree 4, when he howled that The press' I will tamper with that, today, he does not even need a decree to throttle Twitter. He just needs men like Lai, Abubakar and others around him who never wore a uniform. His jackboot fell on the Guardian and transmitted a climate of trembling to the whole media as we knew it.Today, the media is big, sprawling and amorphous. It has no head or tail, and it cannot be arrested. It is an eel, bold and sly, defiant and coy. Banning Twitter stops nothing. Rather, it is another chapter in infamy. Whoever thought it or suggested it knows nothing of the modern world, and belongs to the antediluvian frenzy of Rome under Nero. It is an assault on the human voice. No one, in democracies or tyrannies, has ever squashed the human voice, from the Medes and Persians to Hitler to Bokassa, or even Decree Four.History tells us this all the time, and we keep repeating our follies as humans. Hitler seduced the West with a speech saying tyranny never changed the world. It did not stop him from plunging the world and from perishing in it. The intriguing thing is that whenever, or if ever, this government unbans Twitter, no one will say thank you. There are too many arteries for voices, and many of them they have no power to stop.If the military could not stop Tell or Tempo magazines, and never had an answer to NADECO route in the brick-and-mortar days, how can they fight in a non-tactile world of the social media' Now you see me, now you dont. Even experts are saying that the next world war may take place in cyberspace, and all the guns and tanks and fighter jets can be immobilised by an algorithm from an arthritic finger or in a cellar by a pot-bellied couch potato facing a laptop beside a bottle of beer.Yet all this hoopla started over a comment about a tactile movement that they cannot touch. IPOB is not a spirit. If ethnic entrepreneur Nnamdi Kanu has eluded them, it is not Twitters fault. With all our army and police, IPOB told Igbo to stay at home, and no soldier or police officer could guarantee their safety if they defied.Some have wondered whether the call for secession is real, or whether it is a symptom. We should not kid ourselves, it is real. It may not be realistic. In the east, the IPOB has become strangely more legitimate than the government of the day. Just as we say of federal impotence in handling restructuring, non-state actors are taking over. Just last week, Tompolo held the south-south hostage when he threatened to shut down the region if Buhari does not reconstitute a board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He gave an ultimatum. For a test case, the East-West Road paralysed. Quickly, they brokered agreement with him and Akpabio said they will oblige by the end of the month.This is a dangerous trend. If non-state actors get more leverage than constituted authority, the people may now start hurtling towards an alternative society. The twitter bypass is an example. Tompolo is another. Igboho may start his own uproar in the Southwest. We should not forget that Boko Haram started when Yusuf created an alternative society for them.It is a breakdown of law. Kanu has been adept at this and turned Ohaneze Ndigbo into a dog rattling in the cage. The Southeast question has now overtaken the national imagination. The ESN has become the de facto force in the region, and the feeling is being generated that the nation is sitting beside a ticking bomb, and again we are on the verge of a civil war.It may not be that simple. Wars dont just happen. But they also happen when we dont expect. Many underestimated Hitler even after the Second World War was declared, and historians recall a phase they call the phony war, when soldiers sat idle and drowsy on the German border, their tanks asleep and nozzles quiet. Before the Nigerian Civil War, Gowon declared police action on the east. Many thought Biafra was a hoax.The conventional wisdom is that the Igbo do not want to go. Some think a referendum will put paid to the matter. How nave. Who will conduct it, who will count the votes' In a nation where rigging is mantra, IPOB will take charge of the narrative. If secession wins, IPOB will ramp up its engine of legitimacy and Nigeria will be a lost cause. In the tradition of the lost cause, IPOB has nudged up Biafra as one. But if the votes do not favour Biafra, IPOB will say it was rigged. And the howling will inject the ethnic entrepreneur with more vigour. It is a catch 22 situation.The same will happen if it were ever to happen in the Southwest. That explains why the onus is in the centre to tread carefully, and shun rhetoric that will divide us. It shows that the Biafran state of mind is neither here nor outside Igboland, and it can only be resolved by making them happy to be here. I have often told Igbo I know that even if Biafra is granted today, the next day the Nigerian embassy will run out of facilities to engage Biafrans scrambling to return to Nigeria. That is why I characterised Ojukwu as Omo Eko, who killed Biafra by trying to take Lagos instead of stay and protect the east. He was too much of a Lagos boy to coil up in an Enugu bunker. So, the Biafran state of mind is like that of its eponymous ancestor. It is schizophrenic.The tweet was in Buharis name. Unlike Trump, Buhari did not tweet it. Somebody who wanted the president to look savvy brought all this to the old man. Now, he has to own it, and handling it has been shoddy. Some have accused Twitter of double standards, including the two-faced statement from NPAN and the tepid one from the Guild of Editors. We cannot compare a Tweet from a president with those of an upstart like Kanu. The president controls enormous formal power. Trump has tweeted many things and they have been pulled down and flagged. They have had it with him and pulled down his account. Again, Twitter has descended on Kanu more than the president.The outrage was that the president did not show such outrage at the killings of people in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna as he expressed against the east. Yet it is within the nations power to stop the killings. It is like the story of Czech writer Franz Kafka in which a father with a big knife cannot cut a big loaf of bread at breakfast table while the children watch. Our weapons and army are now big for nothing.That is the message of the hour. Just as the bandits are eluding our military, the social media also is too big for any government to cow. It is a double takiti, which in Yoruba means to stumble. Ciceros words: to stumble twice over a stone is a proverbial disgrace. My hope is that, as a people, we do not become stubble in the process.Kumuyi at 80Pastor KumuyiI remember as young man, I encountered the sober cleric at his church office after a service for an interview. I was a reporter and writing a story on the rise of new-age pastors that Quality Magazine called Funky Preachers. It turned out more than an interview but an inquiry, or a mild debate over scriptures. I did not share, at that time, some of his views, and I expressed them. I made him open his Bible to confirm some of my references.I was impressed by his unflappable decorum, his solemn avuncular dignity and lack of offence that a young man in his late 20s could challenge a man who was already an ecclesiastical authority. Even though I am not his church member and do not still share some of his ideas, I consider him a holy man, a restrained man who has guarded his national intervention with poise and heavenly flavour. Happy birthday sir at 80.
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