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CYBERBULLYING AND 2023 ELECTIONS

By Fada Timothy Etsenamhe

Nigeria’s Cyberspace is littered with avalanche of malicious utterances and statements now referred to as ‘vawulence’ geared to ridicule, pass false information and tarnish the image and integrity of politicians vying for elective positons, especially the three most medialized presidential candidates in the coming 2023 general elections.

Boisterous momentum spiraling to hive confusion and chaos on the increase on social media; Nigerians might just concentrate on frivolities, character assassination, intimidation of candidates and their followers and don’t focus on issues bedeviling the nation; and like a pack of cards, the golden opportunity that we have been afforded to change the trajectory of bad leadership will be crumbled on the altar of frivolities and absurdities.

Cyberbullying is the use of cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter to harass, threaten or intimidate someone or a group of people. Freedom and anonymity which are some of the features of the web give room for cyberbullies and trolls to thrive.  It is important to distinguish between cyberbullying and internet trolling even though this distinction is irrelevant to the sufferers of these unethical internet behaviours. 

According to Micah McDunigan, trolls are visitors who leave inflammatory comments in public comment sections, who whether they comment on blog posts or online news sites, only seek to grab the attention of other visitors and disrupt discussion that would otherwise be about the page’s content. In some cases trolls do this by posting comments that are hateful, racist, sexiest, profane and to gaslight. Their aim is to seek attention; they want to shift attention from the author’s content and conversation about the content onto themselves. They want responses to their inflammatory comments from the original author as well as other commentators. 

Besides, cyberbullies target individuals, rather than post generally inflammatory statements, they post vicious things about a single person with a goal of shaming or intimidation. This could take the form of mean-spirited messages and write-ups, private pictures or videos of the target; they could post these information publicly or send such privately to their target as a form of taunting. Cyberbullies only goal is to demean and hurt their preys. They aren’t concerned about attention, so they don’t want attention for themselves, but negative attention on their victims. All they want is to cause distress for their victims.

Nigeria’s cyberspace today is replete with political bullies and trolls, social networking platforms like Facebook and twitter have become places where back to back insults and blackmailing of political opponents take place on daily basis. The 2023 elections seem to come with the vibe the 2015 elections brought- the now ruling party, APC, meant business, it cyberbullied PDP out of government. The erstwhile president, Goodluck Jonathan, bore the brunt of the mindless cyberbullying orchestrated by the Buharists. Many people still remember the harrowing experience of watching on social media, some entities carrying a poorly made coffin with the inscription of the name of the then president Goodluck Jonathan. This kind of cyberbullying is satanic and it is cyberbully taken too far.

Fast forward to today, the same energy is spewing up, but this time, not only on a single candidate like it was in 2015, but on all three major contenders for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, seems to be the most bullied. He is being disparaged and washed off by other candidates and their supporters. Clichés like ‘Obi- China’, ‘Obi- liar’ and ‘Obi-tuary’, are being used to ridicule his capacity to run for the office of the president.

The article by Sam Omatseye titled ‘’Obi-tuary’’ readily comes to mind when we talk about cyberbullying vis-a- vis the 2023 general elections. That piece, despite its beautiful words and the writer’s display of literary prowess, leaves nothing to be desired at a moment when Nigeria is on the grip of the grave and torn apart by ethnocentrism. Apart from been demeaning and appearing to ‘de-market’ Peter Obi, ‘’Obi-tuary’’ was a political piece that prejudiced the South-Eastern people.

It is needless to say that those who were conversant with the going-ons during the protests that led to the eviction of Goodluck Jonathan from office remember the role Sam played. According a popular journalist and a twitter sensation, David Hundeyin, opined in a recent interview on Arise TV that during one of the riots that vilified Goodluck Jonathan, Sam was spotted hanging a goat on his neck with the inscription – ‘’this is Jonathan’’. Ironically, Omatseye, is crying for help now because of the venom of the ‘Obidients’- the supporters of Peter Obi, who believe they are fighting for a new Nigeria, those the likes of Sam Omatseye taught how to cyberbully opponents to get into power.

The ‘Obidients’ have been variously described as traducers, accusers, IPOB and all kinds of derogatory appellations. However, many people who belong to this new political movement believe they are victims of the oppositions. According to Felix Sunday Yusuf, ‘Obidients’ are only defending the diatribes and tantrums hewn at their movement and candidate of choice for the presidential election. According to him, for the ‘Obidients,’ this is a bitter pill to swallow. What they are simplying doing is giving ‘vawulence’ for ‘vawulence.’  Indeed, the Obidients are serving it hot hot, as we say in Nigeria palace, to anyone who dares to cast aspersion on Peter Obi.

The candidates of APC and PDP are not exempt either. They have been called thieves and old cargos suffering from one ailment or another who should go and take proper care of their health. In one instance Atiku’s picture showing him off, clad in a weird short nicker with discordant skin colours, depicting him to be in romance with bleaching creams, was posted on most social media platforms and all kinds of degrading things were said about him. Tinubu seems to be getting the social media bully heat so hot too. He is being described as a chinch, (someone’s father oh), old and not fit to be the president that a nation, plagued with a plethora of problems like Nigeria, can administer effectively.

Only recently some members of the Seadogs Confraternity after their convention in Lagos, did a procession to end their session and were heard singing a melodious song with the lyrics: ‘’Emi lokan, emi lokan, papa wey no well, e dey shout emi lokan; hand dey shake, leg dey shake, papa wey no well, e dey shout emi lokan.’’ This song has become a sort of soundbite for all who are opposed to the candidature of Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed it has been a pandemic of cyberbullying as Nigeria begins her journey to the 2023 general elections.

It is obvious that many political parties and their supporters are not ready to change the status quo that has characterized the Nigeria political arena – over concentration on frivolous issues. These issues inform the toxicity we find today, where political opponents denigrate one another to the detriment of ironing out real issues that would change the anguishing realities that Nigerians live in nowadays. Electioneering campaigns in Nigeria are frost with baseless issues amounting to insult and defamation of character and sometimes, assassination.

Our universities have been closed down for over six months now; electricity is scares ; the cost of food items has skyrocketed; petrol products are on all-time high; the naira is daily beingbattered against the dollar; terrorists and bandits have found Nigeria to be a safe haven and the spate of insecurity has geometrically increased; as never before, there are serious secession agitations in the South- West and South- East; our debt- to – GDP Ratio keeps soaring high and there are indications of financial panic in domestic and international markets already; we cannot be oblivious of the politico-religious divide that is brewing; yet politicians are not concerned about these issues. What we see them do is hire spokesmen who have fiery tongues that speak lies like Abrie Krueger.

Nigeria political elites do not have political ideologies and their followers are like football fans who are moved not for any intrinsic ideology but for funfair, mere admiration and at best the winning abilities of the football clubs. That is why we see a lot of shenanigans within the various parties like cross-carpeting and internal rivalry within parties, especially when the parties’ pendulum is not swinging to favour some sets of people in the parties. Politics in Nigeria has been to serve the whims and caprices of politicians, their families and cronies. All they think about is grabbing power and arrogating such power for self-aggrandizement. They are willing to do anything to get into power; they are willing to systematically impoverish the masses in order to subject them to perpetual poverty in order to make them beggars. 

Obviously this is the case today, the masses are willing to kill themselves for politicians over meagre sum. This attitude is so entrenched in Nigeria politics that if you are not a moneybag you are sure to loose election  because  you cannot afford to bride and buy votes during elections. The primary elections in the buildup of the forthcoming 2023 elections buttress this assertion – elections that were dollarized. In fact, there is a story of a delegate who came from one of the parties’ primary election and began to take up constituency projects.  An altruistic delegate indeed! 

 As a people, we must re-orientate our collective physic about national interest and development. This would set standards and political ideologies that would form formidable political parties. When this is achieved, our campaigns would be issues-based and not another opportunity to insult and defame opponents. When those vying for political positions arm themselves with ideas of transforming Nigeria from the dungeon of hopelessness she is sunk in and share these ideas, there would be no rooms for cheap propaganda that would mislead the electorates to vote in leaders who are inept. 

The social media fights must stop! There should be discussions based on the real issues affecting Nigeria and proffering solutions to them. Young people who find themselves wasting time on social media for cheap political popularity, who troll and bully opponents, those who enjoy the banters and say nothing about the negative implications of cyberbullying must shift from being bystanders to be being Upstanders.  To do this, according to Monika Lewinsky, is to  stand up for someone online, report a bullying situation, or reach out to a target of bullying after the act to let him or her know that someone witnessed what happened and he or she is there for help or support. We can each support and vote our preferred candidates by not throwing tantrums and engaging in endless diatribes on social media.

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