Of Twitter, Buhari The Bully & Generation Y

BY Chris Gyang

“The man we fell in love with is of iron and steel, one ready and willing to knock sense into contumacious heads, whipping everyone into line…. A kind of bully…. What our country needs at this time is iron and steel. An alchemy of GMB (General Muhammadu Buhari) and PMB (President Muhammadu Buhari). We are in a democracy, yes, but democracy is not a byword for lawlessness. If anybody misbehaves in any part, repeat, any part, of the country, they need to be whipped into line.” – Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity (Punch newspaper, June 4, 2021).

Did President Buhari shut down Twitter in Nigeria yesterday (June 4, 2021) mainly because the social media networking giant pulled down his tweet the day before?

No.

President Buhari suspended Twitter in Nigeria because he was surprised and angry at its courage and audacity to tell him that he was wrong.

Twitter was telling Mr. President in no uncertain terms that he was wrong for posting that ill-tempered, sabre-rattling and war-mongering tweet which was, by all standards, unbecoming of the leader of a country that is reeling on the brink of collapse from the effects of the continuous shedding of the blood of innocent citizens.

In a country where the President is hailed and worshipped by his aides and hangers-on as a “bully”, it should naturally be considered the height of irresponsibility to dare such a giant made of “iron and steel”, who is never weary of “whipping everyone into line…” the way Twitter so openly did. Don’t forget that bullies hate acts of courage and passionately fear audacious people who dare to go against the grain by challenging them.

Bullies are more inclined to loving lily-livered and subservient men, the kind that have become our country’s power brokers and leading statesmen today.

How could Twitter so disparage President Buhari, the man who bestrides Nigeria like a colossus, before the eyes of the whole world? In fact, by Femi Adesina’s reckoning, the soldier, General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB), in the democrat, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), cannot countenance being disobeyed the way Twitter did and be allowed to go scot free without being “whipped into line.”

After all, since President Buhari has used his “iron and steel” will to “knock sense” into the generality of Nigerians these six years, why should Twitter not be given the same treatment? Certainly, Femi Adesina does not want Nigerians to forget in a hurry that this same Buhari that we see in civilian dress was once a fearsome Army General who seized power from the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari in 1983 and ruled with an “iron and steel” fist.

Those politicians that were handed hundreds of years’ prison terms by the military tribunal set up by the General Buhari junta would agree that, indeed, “democracy is not a byword for lawlessness” – the Buhari style.

Adesina is so enamoured by what he perceives to be the uniqueness of the GMB+PMB chemistry because he wants Nigerians to remain focused on that ‘glorious’ period between 1983 and 1985 when Buhari was military head of state. In 1984, he also imprisoned two journalists of The Guardian newspaper, Nduka Iraboh and Tunde Thompson, under the obnoxious Decree 4.

The president’s spokesman wants to emphasize that since Buhari the Army General was “willing to knock sense” into those journalists who had “misbehaved” in 1984, Buhari the civilian President is still imbued with that same “iron and steel” character that will make him effectively clamp down on Twitter and any other media outlet for that matter that dares to oppose him or cast aspersions on his person.

Interestingly, in the run-up to this clamp down on Twitter, rumours of a third term and suspension of the constitution to declare martial law had swirled around the Presidency. Then on Wednesday, the usually aloof and distracted President Buhari warned that he would soon ‘shock’ those unpatriotic elements planning to make his Nigeria ungovernable.

If this clamp down on Twitter is the prelude to this ‘shock’, then Mr. President’s opening gambit has already put his entire agenda in complete jeopardy. This is because this outrageous and reprehensible step has the following consequences, which effects are far reaching for the country:

1.            It threatens, and makes a mockery of our democracy. Democracy thrives on alternative views, ideas and places great premium on vibrant opposition. Bullies only stifle the life out of democracy because they do not allow the ventilation of the fumes generated by the sometimes-contentious interface between the various players on the field.

2.            2.Buhari’s action is threatening free speech which is a sine qua non, the life-wire, of democracy. And this is inextricably tied to the press freedom. Thomas Jefferson famously said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

3.            Suspending Twitter is akin to suspending the breath out of Nigeria’s millennials who make up more than 65% of our population. This critical demographic has found in Twitter a source of employment and leisure that the Buhari government and the older generation have failed to provide them.

By suspending Twitter, the Buhari government is simply trying to accomplish the impossible: smashing the mirror in order to hide its (administration’s) beastly reflection. This paranoid backlash is borne out of an ever-haunting sense of abject failure. It only shows the Buhari administration’s desperate quest to salvage a modicum of respect and show itself as being in control of a country over which it no more has any moral justification to lead.

But Nigerians, especially the teeming Generation Y, cannot be cowed by bullies because they are resilient, tech-savvy and have the capacity to reinvent themselves. The Buhari government’s draconian action will only strengthen and embolden the millenials’ resolve to resist this threat to their freedom of speech and endangering what is left of their hard-earned democracy.

Our millennials are not as fossilized as those bullies struggling to pull them back from the modern world down to outmoded forms of life that are, so far, proving to be the very undoing of our country.

Just as Twitter, our Generation Y is so courageous and audacious that it can weather this storm and come out even stronger, full of uncommon wisdom.

This is a wake-up call to our millennials to use their enormous store of talents, vibrancy, exuberance and competencies to make a difference in this country.

A country that has been set adrift by “bullies” whose sole purpose is using “iron and steel” fists to “knock sense into … heads, whipping everyone into line…” for daring to demand their rights.

Rights that are guaranteed for all citizens who now vehemently refuse to be governed by the whims and caprices of a cabal that thinks Nigerians should silently, complacently, sheepishly follow them into the abyss. 

The whole world is watching free speech being bullied. Who will blink first? The bully or free speech?

(GYANG is the Chairman, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI)

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