Ever since the young Mr Zuckerberg started his now ubiquitous social networking site, Facebook, people got a long-desired platform to express themselves and connect with people of like minds. It became more than just a site where people post photos and status updates. People could then write notes, taking the load of their minds in the form of writing. Yours truly, for example, was one such user that fully utilized this opportunity. My writing started on Facebook, where I expressed my passions for Nigerian unity and make sure that it is the only thing I ever write about till this day on the site. But more than that, people could create groups around their interests: gardening, music, old schools’ associations or political interests. By nature, I am most drawn to groups which are focused on political issues in Nigeria that I am most concerned with.
However, of recent, I have become very disenchanted with a lot of these groups. Ever since Facebook tweaked their settings such that someone could add you to a group without seeking your permission, I have been seeing myself in more groups than before. My problem is not with the fact that I am in groups I never intended to be in. My problem is that most of these groups are just blowing hot air and expending energy while accomplishing nothing. It is a good thing that young Nigerians are highly politically-conscious, and desire to be part of the change in this country. But merely creating a group on a social networking site, no matter how active, is not all that it takes.
To start with, online activism, like all activism, should be based on what the activists are most passionate about. There should be a central theme to their activism, even if it is a set of issues. The fact of the matter is that they cannot solve all problems. But focusing on one problem or a set of problems connected by a central theme would make them achieve more success. However, a lot of these groups seem clueless about what they are trying to achieve. I remember meeting a young man who started an online group and kept pressuring us to join. When asked what his central theme was, he began rambling about how there was no rule of law in Nigeria, how there is so much endemic poverty, and so on and so forth. In other words, he was practically talking about forming another government, but governing via Facebook. He lacked focus.
Additionally, online activism by itself in Nigeria cannot be all that it will take to achieve the desired goal. Rather, it should be part of a larger strategy to get the work done. Online activism has the power to get the information out and spread in a matter of clicks, retweets and statuses. However, there has to be an offline strategy. Take for instance the on-going ABSU gang-rape saga. A one-month news was revived by a blogger, Linda Ikeji who got her hands on the video. From there, it went viral on Twitter and then, albeit, slower, Facebook. However, the success so far in finding the rapists and getting help for the girl is coming from the work offline, in which individual people reached out to government officials and people of influence. What the internet did was to raise the consciousness of the people with regards to the news.
I also remember the Arab Spring Revolutions early this year. In as much as the video of Mohammed Bouazizi burning himself being posted online was the tipping point for the anger of Tunisians, it was their protests offline that led to the toppling of the dictatorship. Ditto for Egyptians. Twitter and Facebook was the tool to mobilized hundreds of thousands to protests, but if they had merely stayed behind their PCs and on their phones without stepping out, Mubarak would have still been in power.
I remember when I found myself in a certain Facebook group. When I asked the creator of the group what the group was about, he responded, ‘entrenching democratic values in the continent of Africa’. I was at a loss for words. Entrenching democratic values in Africa? And this is someone that has no plan at all on how to accomplish that, but believing that merely creating a Facebook group would do the work.
Lastly, what I have observed from most of these online groups is that they are more interested in handing out titles and positions rather than putting their heads down and getting to work. Activism or work in general should be more about getting results than banal titles. It is a pity that the Nigerian bureaucratic problems of government have permeated even to our own generation. I believe that they should forget who has what position, have only an accepted team leader, more by virtue of influence rather than title, and then set about working.
Activist groups such as Enough Is Enough are an excellent example of how they blend online and offline strategies to focus on their passions. They have been successfully galvanizing Nigerian youth online and raising their awareness on issues. But even more, they have been holding town hall meetings with young Nigerians in which issues are discussed, and even went as far as holding a presidential debate in which young Nigerians were the interviewers, which was a success.
Activism is neither a day’s job nor a walk in the park. It should be defined mainly by 3 things: passion for what you want to get done, focus and strategy. If that strategy includes you being online, let it be so. But by no means should it be what your entire strategy depends on. There is only so much internet activism can do in this country. Apply your time and energy in the right places and no matter how tough the job is, something in due course got to give.
I pray that I will see more success stories of young Nigerians rising to fight for change in Nigeria, either as a whole or in their own part, in each and every sphere of life.