By the time 2014 will be over, #BringBackOurGirls will no doubt become the hashtag of the year 2014. Last year, it was the hashtag and video documentary of #Kony2012 which was developed to draw the attention of the world to the war crimes committed by Joseph Kony, the Ugandan war leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. In fact, the video garnered over 100 million views in less than a month. However, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has been nothing short of tremendous. It wasn’t a documentary awareness campaign, it was to bring the vile abduction of about 250 girls (depending on who you listen to) in Chibok, Borno State who are between ages 15 -18 into the fore-front of global discussions and it has gone viral. With international media like CNN, Al’Jazeera, The Economist, New York Times all weighting in on this issue, the attention of the whole world has put the Presidency, the Nigerian Military and our Politicians in the dock of public opinion. In my iPunch article on Youth Slacktivism on April 15, I had mentioned that for slacktivism to work especially when it comes to the Nigerian polity, the streets had to be an essential component of our tweets. To the uninitiated, slacktivism is a combined word from slacker and activism. It was coined to deride those who offer online support to causes in order to feel sane or at least assuage their feelings for or against a certain cause without actually doing something constructive for it. Examples of “slacktivism” include; likes, tweeting and re-tweets for a cause, signing on-line petitions, change of profile pictures, articles and pictures. As against normal efforts, online slacktivism drove this campaign from the tweets into the streets.
It has captured the attention of religious leaders like the Pope Francis and even Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, a top religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia praying and condemning the actions of the insurgents. Political leaders like President Barack Obama and David Cameron are weighing in by promising tactical military and logistic support. Entertainment celebrities were not left out, making is already look like a ‘feel among’ roll call of some sort including P. Diddy, The Rock, Usher, Genevive, Tiwa Savage, Tonto Dike, Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashia, Seun Kuti, Genevive, Anne Hathaway Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Christiane Amanpour. Like every success having many relatives, it is already gathering controversies as people leverage the hashtag to garner suport for their own funding or personal reputation. It is therefore important that we ensure the focus of the online and offline campaign are not lost in a maze of the cacophony of memes, jokes, fun and viral media content that accompany any successful campaign – these girls must be found, rescued and alive.
Focus on the ball, not the scoreboard
Can tweets, likes, posts and selfies serve as a catalyst for social change? It already is. Critics of online campaigns will also tell you there is a high tendency to shift focus from the important issues of the campaign into the minor issues which serve as a distraction to the entire process. The aim of the hashtags, tweets and picture memes is not to bring the girls back, but it is aimed at ensuring that we generate enough buzz that it will not be ignored. We should therefore not get lost in the maze of buzz to the detriment of not only the children, but to everyone of us who is in danger if something constructive is not done urgently.
Football matches are not won by focusing on the score borad, it is won by focusing on the ball and the post. It is not just about how many people took pictures, tweeted and it is the rescuing of those girls and the quest for good governance, it is the quest that the primary purpose of governance is the security and welfare of the citizens. The ultimate goal is not even to get the international media to remind the Federal Government of its duties and responsibilities, it is to remind the citizens that the sovereign power to elect their leaders rests with them, it is also to remind them that they also have the power to press the ‘undo’ button when certain decisions and policies are not favourable to them.
The vicious activities of Boko Haram did not start today. It has caused countless pain and loss of lives and properties, leaving in its trail the devastation of a section of the nation and threatens to spread to the rest of us. The countless number of villages burnt, people killed including the previous devastation of some students in Yobe State. It however took the mindless act of kidnapping school girls stirred the conscience of the world.
Have Nigerians changed?
Critics of online activism say it does a lot more on noise than power. After the hue and cry over the #KONY2012 campaign, Joseph Kony is still at large. Just as citizens moved out enmass during the #OccupyNigeria protest it was easily quelled by a balance of the military’s ‘show of force’ and the alleged compromise of the labour leaders, but has citizen mobilization changed in Nigeria?
The fact remained that it took the international heavy weights to hone in on the issue before our government saw the need to be accountable to Nigerians on the progress and activities taken to ensure that there is peace in the North. Though there are offers and arrival of foreign support for our soldiers from USA, China, Britain, Canada, France and Israel, the future of Nigeria still rests with us the citizens.
Long after these hashtags cease to make the top trending hashtags, will we still pay attention to government’s efforts, policies and programmes? Will Nigerians maintain eternal vigilance when the next trending issue attempts to overtakes this one? Will we leave politics and governance to politicians which is an issue that brought us here? As the #OccupyNigeria and #BringBackOurGirls protest have all shown, if our tweets will make any difference at all, it must reach the streets, it must create avenues to effect changes.
The nation is at its most crucial moments since the civil war and it will take a courageous leadership or the involvement of Nigeria’s tech savvy youthful population to salvage and reverse the ugly trend of talking about our potential for greatness as the nation sinks gradually in the quicksand of insecurity, bad governance and poverty.
Are we ready?