Nigerians went to the poll on February 25 to elect a new President for the country, but the outcome of the exercise, rather than unite the nation, has further divided it. Our fault lines are glaring for us all to see. Ethnicity and religious sentiments still remain the bane of our society. Even before the first ballot was cast, the fragile unity and peace that bound us together was threatened.
The nature and tone of the campaign by the three leading presidential candidates, ably aided by their followers, showed that tribal consideration was uppermost in the minds of many. It wasn’t competence, or the ability to get the job done that appealed to the good judgement of the generality of Nigerians, mainly youths, and the most notorious proponents being the supporters of Peter Obi, Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, commonly known as the Obidients. You are either with them, or they brand you a traitor, or part of the cabal terrorizing the country and milking it dry.
While politics is said to be a game of numbers where you try to get more people on your side by the strength of your arguments, threats, and bullying became the tools that the Obedients employed – and effectively too – on social media. Even after the elections was won and lost, many of the Obidients are still in the political battle mode.
Although the losers in the election approached the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal whose ruling was delivered last week Wednesday, the outcome of the ruling has further inflamed passions and is almost pushing the nation off the edge of the cliff. Both Atiku Abubakar, Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi, have rejected the tribunal’s verdict and are heading for the Apex Court in the land. While I have no issue with their decision – it is the right and proper thing to do – I am however concerned about the tone of supporters of losers of the election on social media platforms in Nigeria. It sends bad signals, which warrants right-thinking Nigerians to call for caution.
When Nigeria fought a bitter civil war between 1967 and 1970, there was no social media then. The population of the country was less than 60 million. The economy was still relatively strong; with the Naira then at par, if not stronger than the USD. Yet, over 1 million souls perished in the war. Many died of starvation. Those who survived the needless war still live with the scars and tales of horror till date. Have those strong dissenting voices against the unity of Nigeria as a result of unfavourable election results to them sat down to imagine what would happen if another civil war breaks out in the country today? It will most likely consume the country. I do not pray to witness another civil war in my lifetime.
Apart from the war threat, there have been subtle calls on the military to stage a coup and truncate the fragile democracy in the country. The calls have been so loud that the military had to issue a statement warning politicians to desist from making such calls and pleading with soldiers to remain loyal to their oath and the Commander-in-chief. Military coups in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Gabon are the impetus needed for those hungry for power to begin subtle calls for a scuttle. I pray that it won’t get to that.
Apart from that, friendships that have been built over the years have been destroyed on the altar of partisan politics. Families have been split along ethnic and regional lines. We have never had it so bad. Even during the 30-month civil war, Nigeria was not this divided. The reasons why we went to war and the consequences seem lost on us all.
Again, majority of those who are making use of social media to harass, intimidate, and bully others who hold contrary political views are youths in their 20s and 30s, who were not born when the civil war took place and they do not know what their parents went through during the period. Additionally, many of them are not students of history, who have not really taken the time to sit down to read about what went down during the Civil War. If they had, they would not sit in the comfort of their homes, armed with cheap data and phones, and be writing what could jeopardize the peace and unity of the country.
Now, one of them has ‘written’ himself into trouble as he has been arrested by the Police for libelous publication against former Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN.
Chike Ibezim, an entrepreneur and a blogger, was recently picked up by the police following a petition by Fashola to the Inspector General of Police. Ibezim alleged that Fashola’s Abuja residence was being guarded by the military as he busied himself drafting the Presidential Election tribunal’s verdict that was delivered by the justices last week. The story, which was published in the Reportera, a news platform established by Nnamdi Ibezim, the older brother of Chike, got Fashola so angry that he petitioned the IGP, calling for the arrest and prosecution of the writer. But after Chike was arrested and detained, his brother accused the police of arrest by proxy. Muyiwa Adejobi, the Force spokesperson, has come out to say that Chike has a case to answer over alleged ‘malicious publication, cyberbullying, and other related offences, and that he would soon have his day in court.
But the travails of Chike Ibezim seem not to have deterred many of our internet warriors from chastising our Judiciary following the election petition judgement, as they have gone overboard to even threaten the Justices that sat in the presidential election petition tribunal. One Chidi, a supporter of the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, opened the floodgate when he shared a picture of the lead Justice of the PEPC, Haruna Tsammani with his two children on social media, warning him against compromising his integrity on the election petitions before him. The Obidient, who goes by Harry of Milan (@SantaChidi) on Twitter, shared the picture with a stern warning that if the Panel of Justices should compromise themselves in the judgment, Tsammani would regret it.
His message reads, “Hello Justice Haruna Tsammani! I know people will say this is blackmail or whitemail or LGTV mail, I don’t give a flying hoot. This is to let you and every judge on the PEPT Panel know that if you get compromised, lemme reserve my thoughts. “DON’T LET THE DEVIL USE YOU AGAINST YOURSELF cos the implosion go loud.” Justice Haruna Tsammani led the panel of five Justices of PEPTC with Moses Ugo, Bolaji-Yusuf, Justice Stephen Adah, and Abbah Mohammed.
But the threat was not enough to stop the justices from doing their job. In fact, Justice Bolaji Yusuf in her own judgment, mentioned the threat on social media with a warning to those behind the threat to desist as it won’t deter them from doing their job.
Few days before the judgment was delivered, it was the turn of Justice Mary Odili, a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to, in the words of her assaulter, receive her own ‘wotowoto’ when they descended on her for daring to air her view on the state of the nation.
While speaking at the colloquium and book launch of Chief J.K. Gadzama on his 25 years as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Justice Odili had warned against fanning the embers of hatred, bigotry, and tribalism without restraint following the 2023 presidential election, saying it could consume everyone.
This is what she said that angered the Obidients on social media: “This colloquium and book launch of Chief J.K. Gadzama upon the attainment of 25 years as a senior advocate of Nigeria is an epochal achievement. It is no doubt appropriate that the theme is ‘the Nigeria of our dreams, a call to the patriots’, is very apt and timely. I say so in light of the prevailing situation in Nigeria as a result of the 2023 general elections which has generated a lot of storms necessitating the conversation we are about to indulge in as there seems to be a move to draw the nation into chaos or conflagration. This may be brought about by some individuals and groups who fan the embers of hatred, bigotry, and tribalism and fail to see the possible outcomes of utterances without caution that are being thrown around. It is human to feel cheated or having the short end of the stick but one who is not declared a winner at any of the electoral contests, such a notion, however grieved, does not justify bringing the roof down – the roof of our nation,” she said.
According to her, an aggrieved person may not be spared as the commotion would be like “an unguided missile that could land anywhere and upon anyone.’’ But her admonition fell on deaf ears as she was tagged a traitor, and threats thrown her way.
Again, rather than taking a dispassionate look at the judgment of the tribunal, accusations have been flying on social media that the justices were bribed and that the judgment, this time around, was written by Tinubu’s lawyers. But until two or three of these social media warriors are arrested, prosecuted, and jailed, the trend is likely to continue. They don’t give a hoot whether the nation ends up in smoke as they have little or nothing to lose. Many of them hide their real identity, while some are even outside the shores of the country.
It is time for Peter Obi to denounce this headless mob campaigning for him on social media if he has nothing to do with them. They have inadvertently turned his brand to what many, who ordinarily would love to associate with, away from his politics and his group. Atiku and Obi lost the presidential election the day Obi resigned from the PDP to join the Labour Party. If they had teamed up to face President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the story would have been different today. But the unbridled ambition of both men did them in. They should look inward and find how they can work together, instead of their supporters threatening and bullying others on social media platforms. It is when we have a country that Atiku and Obi can run for office. The peace and unity of Nigeria should come first.
See you next week.