Joseph Udofia: The Gap Between Digital Activism and Reality

In recent times, bars of digital activism have been raised higher. In is not unusual to see tweets written by Nigerians from the comfort of their rooms, bothering on germane issues and what have you. Protests are initiated online as civil society groups identify a lapse in governance and pull supporters through various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These supporters are expected, together with the initiators, to mount pressure and create national and international awareness on anti-people governmental policies, in a bid to put an end to such policies.

However, a huge gap is easily identified between digital activism and reality. It all started with the Occupy Nigeria protest, trending on the hashtag #OccupyNigeria. Social media activists tweeted details of locations and other necessary information about protests, cajoling thousands of their followers to come out en masse. Millions of people throng out of their houses, occupying major parks to express their grievances over the hike in pump price of petrol.

Unfortunately, some of these activists served as mere “conductors”—directing protesters without being a part of the protest. Their excuse is simple: They have spread the message which is more important.
Soon after, Nigerians displayed how myopic and unenlightened they are when the ill-fated “Child-not-bride” campaign started. Many put up display pictures condemning the Senate for “passing into law” a bill ratifying under-age marriage when this was far from the truth. The short-lived e-protest got international attention, but the Senate never gave a hoot about it, and till date have done nothing to the controversial Section 29, subsection 4c of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This clearly is a pointer to the fact that activists, rather than educate the citizens cum protesters on the underlying reason behind their action, pounce on the level of illiteracy to pull the crowd, just to get the job done.

Most recently, #OurNass- a hashtag used to create awareness about the outrageous salaries of our lawmakers, trended in Nigeria. Sequel to this, a protest was organized to State Houses of Assembly nationwide, with little or no impact, depending on your viewpoint. In the Lagos State House of Assembly for instance, protesters endured the scorching heat of the sun and were given little attention by the lawmakers.
The efficacy of protest should be reviewed by organizers as many of these protests in my opinion, yield little or no success, except if the yardstick for measuring success is awareness. The failure of a protest would undermine people’s availability for another one. Thus, to ensure a high level of success, digital activists should create platforms to educate the masses on the underlying reasons before embarking on any protest.

In civilized climes, major roads and industries are brought to their knees as this is the only way to get the government’s attention. Trend at no one on twitter, the Nigerian Government will only be moved when it directly feels the impact of the protest. It’s high time digital activists came to terms with reality and not just organize protests but carefully educate the populace and plan the course of action of a protest, and be physically present during such protests, as this will be a drive for protesters. Only then, would protests make maximum impact.

Joseph is a passionate Nigerian contributing his quota to national development via creative writing. ff on twitter @joeycynosure

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