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Voices in the Web – Creating E-Platforms for Socioeconomic Discourse

By Dotun Olutoke

When I was younger, the riddles and jokes section of Kiddies magazine oozed out an aroma that satisfied my reading pleasure. Of all the riddles I read as a kid, one remains memorable to me. It goes thus:
I am something. I am a good servant but a dangerous master.
What am I?
Electricity – was the answer I got after moments of a brain-tussling exercise.


As I grow older in this information-driven age, the relevance of this riddle came to the fore when social networking platforms were used as a mobilization arena for people to  protest against the removal of fuel subsidy in the ‘wee-days’ of 2012, specifically January 2-3. What used to be a platform where people share pictures, post comments about events, and connect with friends metamorphosed into a potent tool for rallying Nigerians of different religious, political, and social inclinations.
This style adopted by people reacting against government action was one that threatened national security, crippled the economy, caused the loss of some lives but eventually forced government to revoke the policy of increasing the pump price of fuel fromN65 naira(about $0.39USD) to N140 naira($0.85USD) as the price came back down to a compromise price of N97 naira($0.59).
Social networking forums like Facebook, Twitter, 2go, YouTube and similar platforms of e-communication took center stage in the protest that  nearly destabilized the Nigerian polity so much that TELLmagazine carried an imposing headline: “Nigeria: A Revolution Postponed.” Unforgettable was the experience for me as I trekked for over 20 kilometers as vehicular movements were paralyzed and Nigerians took to the streets protesting against what people regarded as the government’s policy of hardship.
As I reflect over that experience, I cannot but acknowledge the fact that the social media if properly utilized, can be an arena where matters of national interest will be discussed, debated, and addressed amicably without the risk of the problems generated within the polity when people take to the streets protesting for better treatment in the society. But an angry population may have no alternative than to fight back when pushed to the wall like the proverbial goat.

Protesters march on Court Avenue in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Family members were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each. (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO LOCAL INTERNET; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Protesters march on Court Avenue in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Family members were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time.

On the reverse, it may have made a whole lot of difference if Nigerians had taken advantage of the social networking platform to debate the fuel-subsidy removal issue months before being pushed to the wall and the issue escalating into a full-blown crisis that attracted international attention.
As the crisis has been compromisingly laid to rest for about one and a half years, it is pertinent that productive debates and discourses be triggered via social networking media to prevent future occurrences of crisis and chaos. This is important as Nigeria is over-saturated with issues of different shades and colors begging for public attention. These issues range from an unreliable electoral system, corruption in virtually all sectors, and unemployment among youths, to a failed educational system, scientific and technological underdevelopment, and lingering security threats, all sapping the near-crippled economy.‎

In achieving this, the role of the social media is paramount, prominent, and particular. Why the social networking platform is indispensable in democratic and economic reforms is because of the central role information technology plays in this fast-paced world. Just like the Industrial Revolution changed the face of the human world at a time in history, the advent of IT with its attendant communicative resources provides a timeless platform of communication for the human race. It is therefore paramount that this advancement is channeled into a better society for all.
Recently, the Senate, while amending the 1999 Constitution in Nigeria, made a move in their legislative duties which generated a lot of heat in the polity. A section of the Constitution on the marriage age for females became a point of controversy as Nigerians of different political, social, and religious persuasions reacted against the amendment, regarding it as an abuse of womanhood and capable of endangering the girl-child.
The constitutional provision, which many Nigerians believed has the potential of encouraging underage marriage, could have passed through review without the unnecessary hiccups if the Senate and the citizenry find a common ground on the social media. In complementing efforts of several civil society groups airing their views on TV and radio, the virtual platforms of Facebook, 2go, Twitter, WhatsApp, and BBM will have been a veritable plane of debating the gender-religious sensitive issue before Senate’s assent. This is a lesson for the future!
It is no doubt in Nigeria that no problem threatens the existence of Africa’s most populous country more than the lingering security threats. Several efforts by government and the entire populace in ending the insurgency seems unproductive as the activities ofBoko Haram, the radical sect, grow in leaps and bounds by the day.
As the continued existence of Nigeria depends on a peaceful and harmonious society, it may be proper that the current spate of insecurity be addressed from a rather overlooked perspective – the social media. Peace campaigns can be organized via the social networks, increasing citizen’s awareness about the threats in a bid to further strengthen government’s efforts at ending the current wave of insecurity. In this light, individuals, corporate organizations, civil society groups are tasked with the challenge of creating videos, sharing pictures and posting comments that are laden with messages of peace, love and tranquility. While the fun goes on in the virtual world, solutions are being generated on eradicating the plague.
Without disguise, Nigeria is a country of enormous societal malaise which is not limited to a failed educational system, an unemployed population, a crisis-saturated polity, and a failed leadership configuration. The mother of these societal problems undoubtedly is corruption. This plague had culminated in socioeconomic underdevelopment and regrettably plunged Nigeria into the abyss of backwardness among nations.
As this multifaceted economic impediment resides within the polity, a sustainable solution also must come from within. Now that the face of communication is changing in the world, approaches to tackling corruption should also follow suit. In this regard, up-to-date news and information about the progress made in the anti-corruption battle should be made available to the people on social media and opinions, comments, suggestions and views on possible means of tackling corruption will spiral into a continuum of discourse that will provide a watershed of solutions.
In any country, the potentials of social media as a platform for economic and democratic discourse cannot be undermined or undervalued. Social networking platforms like Nairaland, Nigeria Village Square and Nigerian Best Forum are invaluable platforms for debating social, economic and political issues to create a better society in Nigeria.
The electronic platform, though not without its own demerits, should be explored and put to judicious use as according to Steve Ballmer, the number one benefit of Information Technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.

Editors Note:
This article was an award winning entry in an International blog competition,CIPE,held in 2013,when the author was an undergraduate student of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU),Ile-Ife,Osun State,Nigeria.

Expect more regular op-ed from him.


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