For January: I Am Still Here
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
January 2012. Strange month. I have been quiet on this blog. But I am still here. I never really left. I said a lot elsewhere but people were looking for me in the same places where my sometimes discordant, often cantankerous rant fills the marketplace. It is just that January 2012 was a strange month. There was the removal of the fuel subsidy on (New Year’s Day, no less) by President Goodluck Jonathan, the president of our Nigeria. As we all now know, #OccupyNigeria was immediately born and it proceeded to occupy our consciousness. That was some conflagration, albeit brief. It was as if Nigerians had finally woken up to the monumental fraud that passes for democracy in Nigeria. And man, they fought back ferociously. It is fair to say that despite the outcome, Nigeria will not be the same again ever after the Harmattan that was Operation #OccupyNigeria.
The days of January were incredibly exciting and frightening. The role of the Internet and the social media in fueling and organizing the rage on the ground was fascinating. News and information travelled all over the world at lightning speed, gunned by the multiplier effect of dissemination on Facebook and Twitter. Nigeria’s leaders looked like obese sheep caught in the headlights of an oncoming train wreck. This has to be the most incompetent and corrupt regime ever in the history of Nigeria. In retrospect, it makes sense now that brute force was the only tool that this government had to crush the uprising.
In the mayhem, something magical happened. A new word came upon the scene and this time people felt it – accountability. All it took to get the attention of powerful ministers in Nigeria was one hundred and forty characters on twitter. It was amazing. Many Nigerians found themselves tweeting multiple times per hour as information filtered in through what seemed to be infinite sources. For once, a few words on Twitter could get Aso Rock’s beleaguered spokesman Reuben Abati to reach for his decrepit tools of damage control. He was no match for e-journalists like Omoyele Sowore (Sahara Reporters) and the warriors of Twitter and Facebook. Nothing was more hilarious than watching President Jonathan read a speech that we had already read on Sahara Reporters (I swear everybody in Aso Rock secretly works for Sahara Reporters – including the president!). We saw many Nigerian writers of note and stature mixing it up with their readers on Twitter and Facebook and supporting the struggle with the force of their words. In this fight, we learned that there are new and infinitely rewarding ways of connecting with each other.
There was a dark side to this new empowerment. The power of free expression and random access organization was also a double-edged sword as it soon became clear that the filtering and quality control mechanisms of traditional (read analog) communications tools were missing. It did not seem to matter; disenfranchised Nigerian youths found a liberating outlet for their angst and frustration against a regime of thugs and thieves that had united to deny them basic rights like a decent education, and a future to look forward to. And as I look in the e-eyes of all my friends on Twitter and Facebook, I get the sense that this struggle continues – in the name of all the blood of our young people that was spilled by the thugs of Aso Rock.
New leaders are born every day and many of them are avatars we will never feel or see. Let me just say that even the help in Aso Rock know the name Tolu Ogunlesi. Every re-tweet of his to his thousands of followers ensured that #OccupyNigeria activists were not going to retreat an inch from their position. Today, the word is even more powerful and dangerous that it ever has been in the history of the world. And the writer has a moral obligation to weigh the impact of his or her words on the world. As we saw in January, words can now spread like wild e-fire and send chills down the spines of even the worst dictators – or pour ice water on the raging fires of change as happened in the end when Nigeria’s organized labor pulled out of the battle.
The Internet continues to shape our world relentlessly. In the age of the Internet, new paradigms become tired clichés in nanoseconds. Facebook is becoming the new Microsoft with energetic and more visionary upstarts yapping at her knees. For the writer and the reader, life is good. It is now possible to review an entire book on Twitter or Facebook and get even more of an audience than from a newspaper. So, I am on Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Messenger, the BlackBerry Messenger, etc. And I have this blog. I have a lot to tell you. I wrote a lot while worrying about the young warriors of January. I have a lot to tell you because I read lots of books (the book is dying by the way, but the book will outlive me and I intend to be around for another 100 years). There are other things on my mind that I would like to share. But first I have to type them into Cecelia my computer from the foolscap paper I wrote them in with my biro. And yes, I said this first on Twitter and Facebook: The two best books of fiction I read last year were Twitter and Facebook. They were witty, insightful and free. I heartily recommend them. Don’t go away. I am still here. Don’t go away.