By Louis Odion
Unwittingly, President Buhari exposed a fortnight ago the dingy side of the digital divide he inhabits on the eve of the nation’s Independence Day anniversary. The occasion was the presentation of picture book in Abuja. Responding to perspectives offered by a youthful panel of arts entrepreneurs on how to maximize the potential of the creative industry in a digital age, PMB’s prognosis was, at best, analogue.
The Federal Ministry of Information, he argued, should devote more resources to expand existing radio infrastructure because, according to him, they offer a broader platform to reach more Nigerians.
Before you begin to wonder the theoretical basis of that presidential conclusion, here was his simple thesis: “Today, those who have television may not have light. As for newspapers, anything above N100, most people cannot buy because that means a lot from the salary they may be earning. But people will always listen to radio to get information because it is free.”
With a president unabashedly revealing such bias, I bet all any smart Information Minister needs to do to have his budget for 2017 doubled is simply pad (that treacherous word again!) his draft with all manner of proposals relating to radio, radio and radio.
But I dare say PMB could not possibly be speaking of contemporary Nigeria documented to boast a greater young population who are not only quite restless in the social media but are at home with all the accoutrements of the new info tech age. While the nation’s population is put at over 180m as at 2016, those under-15 account for 45 percent of that figure. Those between the age bracket of 15 and 24 approximate 19.3 percent. Roughly put, Nigerians under 30 account for close to 70 percent of our national population.
As against the Mungo Park-bequeathed transistor radio Buhari seems to be romanticising, the young Nigerian netizens are addicted to Facebook, WhatsApp, Face Time, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc in their everyday conversation. (In fact, the president’s daughter, Zara, is a popular figure on Twitter and Instagram.) Really, the new buzz word of the day is the revolutionary 4G LTE (long term evolution) technology currently being aggressively launched across the country by Glo.
By the way, Glo, a wholly indigenous telco led by Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr. , accounts for a substantial chunk of the active 150 million phone lines in the bourgeoning telecom market and has so carved a niche for itself that it is now commonly addressed as the “Grandmaster of Data”. (Alongside the likes of Dangote, Glo is also flying the Nigerian flag proudly across the African continent, regardless of the stifling climate at home.) So robust, the ICT sub-sector, of which the GSM telephony is biggest player, accounts for a colossal 8 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2014.
So, in this light, to be most charitable, PMB’s radio postulation can be entertained as perhaps only true of Nigeria of the early 60s with a population of 45.2m. He must be speaking nostalgically of the disappearing traditional society where town-crier beats gong about to draw communal attention. Today, anyone still clinging to that memory will be classified outdated. For such reading is now representative of the lifestyle of only a small sample of the populace. And the curators of this fading culture would be found largely in Buhari’s own section of the country.
In their own youthful days, PMB’s generation doubtless made an art of writing and exchanging rose-scented mail by post. But texting and pinging are the new forms of expression among young Nigerians of today.
The concept of dictionary and research are also changing. Those days, people literally wrestled with the “big words” and crammed them up from the hard copy. Today, the average young Nigerian would rather take the short-cut by simply consulting google on the go. And with more giga bite now coming for less sum, the electronic channel becomes even more convenient and affordable for researchers.
Gone also are the days the state could monopolize the airwaves. Thanks to You Tube, non-state actors have turned the cyber space to no man’s land.
This point needs be stressed with a view to not only liberating PMB from the iron captivity of archaic understanding of trend but also assisting him to better appreciate the demographics of the nation he is supposed to be leading. That should, in turn, help in framing clearer messages as well as devising better communication strategies to effectively engage various segments of the population. Without appreciating this nitty gritty, policy-makers will continue to act in vain. Without understanding the language of the dominant segment of the population, how then can a leader possibly hope to inspire such folks to action.
If in doubt, PMB is humbly advised to upgrade to the Glo 4G tech and will surely find countless solutions to everyday challenges through a surfeit of APPs on offer. By simply deploying appropriate APP, for instance, the president would not have to re-enact the hilarious antiquity witnessed pictorially by the nation at large sometime last year as he meticulously undertook a count of his vast herd in his Daura ranch before manually keeping the records in an exercise book with a BIC pen.
Henceforth, a software will seamlessly keep such and update electronically on his cell-phone. And when hopefully the government-built grazing reserve (cattle ranch?) comes on stream, with a giant screen enabled by 4G tech, PMB can conveniently monitor the progress of his prized cows from the privacy of his bedroom in Aso Rock, real time.
Henceforth, whichever corner of the universe the president finds himself in hot pursuit of either FDI (foreign direct investment) or loot hidden by past political leaders, the real-life effect 4G tech brings will enable him have a video-conference via a multi-media screen with the Federal Executive Council and engage each minister more intimately as though he were physically occupying the iconic leather swivel chair overlooking the main chamber inside Aso Rock.
In medicine, 4G means our local surgeons are better placed to create a virtual theatre by simply co-opting other experts on the other side of the Atlantic and share critical knowledge and experience via a giant screen.
Not wanting to be left behind, this writer patiently waited on the queue in Lagos few days ago to have his primary work tools – i-Pad and i-Phone – upgraded to 4G tech on the Glo network. The experience was simply amazing. One had missed the second edition of Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump debate in the early hours of last Monday (Nigerian time). But one only needed to activate google search hours later and the abridged version popped up with lightning speed and the picture was of high definition and the sound of digital clarity.
Momentarily, I forgot we are in a recession.
Judges as bureau de change?
There can be no disputing the fact that the Department of State Security (DSS) would have done better had it exhibited a little more civility last weekend in the way and manner it chose to apprehend seven top judges across the country over alleged sleaze.
So, the firefight that has since engulfed the public space and the social media from those seeking to obfuscate the real issue while magnifying DSS’ perceived indiscretion would then seem needless. Countless instances have, by the way, already been cited in other jurisdictions (including the United States) where security agencies had similarly resorted to extra-ordinary tactics in taking into custody not just top judges but also serving lawmakers and wealthy tycoons in the administration of justice.
Beyond the hoopla over the “Gestapo” or “Nazi-like” arrests, the more difficult question many are however still shy to address is the reported discovery in raw cash running into hundreds of thousands of dollars and other foreign currencies in the closets of some of the judges.
One of them allegedly warehoused a whopping $319,475. Another had his pockets bulging with $171,779,00. While the one shielded from arrest by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State was allegedly sleeping on a colossal $2m at home.
It is as if their lordships had secured license from the Central Bank to run bureau de change. But other than interpreting the law, what else could they have been selling to come by such tidy amount at home? Could they be usurping the duty of the court registrar or the keeper of exhibits tendered by the prosecution?
This staggering haul is beside several “Ghana-Must-Go” bags stuffed with naira notes in tens of million also uncovered.
The particulars provided by the DSS are indeed too salacious. To take custody of a bribe, for instance, one of the lordships was said to have sneaked incognito into a departmental store offshore, his wrinkled face most probably hooded with a hat. Another travelled to faraway Dubai to count his own illicit dollars. When handed a report painstakingly detailing his own perfidy, another judge reportedly stopped midway and started rolling on the floor like a baby, begging the DSS boss for mercy.
Just like the case of Mrs. Patience Jonathan (a.k.a Mama Peace) which blew open last month, some of the accused were said to have opened quietly bank accounts in the names of their family members unknown to them, while they (judges) remained the sole signatories to such. Their real identities were eventually given away by the the new game-changer, BBN (Bank Verification Number). To imagine that these same individuals were the ones who, as a duty, sat in judgement magisterially over others who commit perhaps even lesser transgression and wielded mightily the power over life and death over others.
In more ethically sensitive societies, revelations of this murky gravity would be enough to trigger national outrage, if not revolt. But in Nigeria, we seem to have grown from being un-shockable as observed decades ago to being complicit with cold passivity. Little wonder then the storm being contrived now over the mere ceremony of arrest rather than address the substance of the offense.
The stifling of our collective sense of outrage explains the growing epidemic of judges giving conflicting judgements without anyone showing any shame any more. It explains why the court, rather than the ballot box, is increasingly becoming the ultimate decider of who assumes political power, hence the commoditization of judgement in the country.
The other day, it was the story of a senior lawyer wiring cash to a judge sitting over his case. When questioned, he explained it was only a “humanitarian gesture” to the recipient to cushion the expenses of a pending burial ceremony.
To be sure, there surely still exist today men and women of unimpeachable character and high integrity in both the Nigerian bar and bench. The apprehension and possible trial of the few bag eggs should therefore not be seen as an attack on the judiciary, but as a mission to redeem the polluted bar and the tainted bench.
Truth be told, the seven arrested and the eight said to be under the DSS radar cannot be said to be the only bad ones. But the first sure step to ending the culture of impunity is certainly not setting the whole community ablaze, but simply finding a scape-goat. As can be seen, the parade of suspects so far cuts across ethno-religious divides; meaning sleaze is not native to any particular location, nor is it genetic to a certain faith. The more reason all patriots should see the monster as a common enemy.
Therefore, yours sincerely totally align himself with the position of the likes of Professor Akin Oyebode, Femi Falana, SAN, and Jiti Ogunye that the good lawyers and the upright judges should see the arrest of the suspects as a mission of redemption.
Just the way no reasonable society will entrust its young ones to quack teachers, no nation can afford to harbour for too long a judiciary defined by men and women of easy virtue, too eager to offer justice to the highest bidder. The judiciary is said to be the last hope of the common man. If that fails, where shall the poor, the weak turn?