Aisha Buhari: Social media mockery and vengeance

The role of the social media in the 21st century cannot be over-emphasised, considering the number of young populations that engage themselves on these platforms.The number of smartphone users in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country, is predicted to grow to more than 140 million by 2025. Currently, estimates from different sources put the number of smartphone users in Nigeria at roughly 25 and 40 million. The exact number of users is hard to pin down. However, data shows a strong growth outlook for the Nigerian smartphone market with user numbers to at least triple within the next five to six years.

The social media’s influence on elections was evident in the early 2000. The first African-American black President, Barack Obama, harnessed social media in his first presidential campaign to rally a majority of voters and win the 2008 election. Around 74% of internet users sought election news online during Obama’s first campaign, representing 55% of the entire adult population at the time, according to Pew Research Center. Savvy leaders have often leveraged new media to influence politics. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s adoption of the radio and John F. Kennedy’s use of television bridged communication gaps between politicians and the public to great political success.

In 2014, when Muhammadu Buhari started campaigning, again, to become Nigeria’s president, he opened accounts on Twitter and Facebook to supposedly ‘engage the populace’ using tech communication as an easiest platform to communicate directly to the Nigerian youths on his plan for Nigeria. On December 22, to be precise, his first tweet read “Good afternoon my friends! This will now be my official Twitter handle to communicate with you,-GMB. This marks the beginning of regrouping and mobilisation of young Nigerians to take the message of change to the rural dwellers particularly those of voting age.” Since then, social media has taken over the means of sending messages. It is not surprising that Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Peter Obi, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and other presidential candidates focus more on the internet than physical outreach.

The restoration of democratic structures by General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1999 brought back to live the lost voices of Nigerians under the military doctorial regimes. This is because the citizens have the freedom of expression under the Nigerian constitution. However, the rights to expression and freedom of speech has it limitations in the same constitution and this is where many conflicts arise. Over the years, a reasonable number of the citizens have found themselves into these conflicts leading to the arrest, detention and prosecution of many, particularly those of younger ages.

Publisher of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, once said that in every civilised society, especially a democratic one, an individual’s freedom to express an opinion to others is fundamental. However, serious damage or injury would occur if the freedom to express one’s view is allowed to run loose without any restraint or check. Legal injuries are not limited to physical injuries. They also include emotional, economic and reputation. There is no doubt that the right to freedom of expression, like most other rights guaranteed in the constitution, is not absolute. 

The inability of the government of Nigeria to make sound laws that apply stiff sanctions on owners and ensure absolute regulation of the content creators has rewarded the country with many unresolved conflicts including the promotion of divisions along ethnic, religious, regional and political lines. Nigeria seems to be more of a united entity bound in oeace and freedom in action because in our daily interactions such divisive weapons are silent.

It is unfortunate that, the social media is becoming a tool of campaign against the unity of Nigeria as only on the internet that a disunited country is more pronounced.

Recall that the sanctions on Twitter platform in Nigeria was one of the most criticised but necessary steps taken by the Buhari government to save the country from an eminent collapse. Though, critics of Twitter ban viewed the decision as targeted at a section of Nigerians, there is wide belief that the provisions of the defamation law over the years have been used as a tool of oppression by the government. It is for this reason that anyone would suspect it is the ‘fear of criticism’. Be it as it may, lack of punishment for defamation, hate speech and fake news are some of the many reasons for increasing character assassination of some Nigerians including first lady Aisha Muhammadu Buhari. “Su nama anci kudin talakawa anti kiba” labeled against her are mockery and using wrong previous perceptions to justify another wrong doing spell doom for us as Nigerians.

 The question is, are these charges legitimate? Can a content creator be accused of defamation, and in what context?’ On this matter, Mr Richard Akinnola, executive director, Media Law Centre, explained that some West African countries, including Nigeria, received the British common law including the law of defamation. He said that “defamation is both a civil and criminal liability. While individuals and entities can file civil suits for defamation, there are also provisions for criminal defamation in our statute books. In the case of Ghana, the state had repealed the provision of criminal defamation, unlike Nigeria, where it is still part of our laws. This is why many are of the opinion that as far as democracy is concerned, the defamation law has not been favourable to the media. They believe it is unethical and illegal to arrest a content creators over civil issues. 

Defamation is defined in Section 373 of the Criminal Code as a matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by injury to his or her reputation. Such manner may be expressed in spoken words or in words legibly marked on any substance whatever or by any sign or object signifying such matter otherwise than by words and maybe expressed either directly or by insinuation or irony.

Immediately after the independence of Nigeria (1961), the Federal Government of Nigeria passed the Federal Defamation Act. Under the Act, both kibel and slander are actionable in law. Broadcast defamation is slander when addressed to the ears, and libel is if read from a script. In recent times, many social media influencers and journalists have been arrested and detained 

over alleged defamation across the country.

Ahmed Olamilekan, a blogger and publisher of Eagles Foresight, was arrested for publishing a story on former governor of Ogun state Dapo Abiodun’s alleged criminal records in the United States, Mr Ikenna Ezenekwe, the publisher of online news platform 247uReports, was arrested by security operatives over a report filed by Mr Primus Odili, former chief of staff to the immediate past governor of Anambra state Mr Willie Obiano over an alleged defamatory article and Agba Jalingo, publisher of Cross River Watch newspaper was arrested and detained over defamation and cyberattack on Elizabeth Frank Ayade, sister-in-law of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River state.

Apart from the above mentioned, Jaafar Jaafar the publisher of an online newspaper Daily Nigerian is off to UK for releasing video contents of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state. Two TikTok comedians were arrested and arraigned in court for defamation on Ganduje. Publisher of an online news platform wikkitimes Haruna Muhammad was a victim of similar incidents and most recently an alleged arrest of Aminu Adamu , 400 Level student of Federal University Dutse in Jigawa state after tweeting a defamatory comment against the Aisha Buhari. All these narrations are for the purpose of history and scrutining. But most importantly, “How can this be discarded from the Nigerian social Media space?

The Nigerian youths need to understand the provisions of the laws regarding defamation; the freedom of speech and the limitations of our rights of expression in relation to the tenets of democracy where such provisions emanated. Unless and until everyone’s rights are respected and protected, these ugly narratives will continue to widen bitterly in the course of time. The habit of believing on everything we read on the social media must be discarded. Social media is an opportunity to traverse the world from our comfort rooms, market, reconnect and advertise our contents instead spending time and energy on name calling and name swinging in reward of arrest, harassment and intimidation.

The First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the mother of the nation of over 200m Nigerians, Aminu Adamu is one of your many sons. As an upright, bold, compassionate and comrade mother you have spoken openly even against some of the incoherent policies of government, a freedom fighter who has stood for the downtrodden and the hopeless Nigerian youth and women. You have been a pillar to the young generation. Your relationship with the youth constituency has been cordial and  fruitful. Few months to elections, having fought for us you still need your children who are critical stakeholders in choosing the next President of Nigeria.

You have demonstrated high capacity to the youths in nany of your engagements. You are the first to bring the youth into the sphere of politics at the national level when you Inaugurated Youths and Women Presidential Campaign Council in 2019. She is not fighting the millions of the Nigerian youths as many are insinuating on the internet but rather seeking justice for her person.

I am confident that you will act and listen to the plea of the Nigerian youths and women especially his aged parents to forgive his attitude.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via [email protected].

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