The increasing need for change in the country has manifested in all facets of our society, and the just concluded general elections was a testament to this change, marred by instance’s of irregularities, political participation has largely taken the shape of “sheep following” or “herd following.” With the internet being a major tool for driving the evolution of youth political participation in Nigeria politics, so have the vices that come with it.
As Oluwasola Festus Obisesan puts it,
“Youths, through the use of social media, have not only evolved from an identity of stable consumers of news and political narratives but have also become sources of news feeds and trendy agenda framers concerning leadership, accountability, and good governance within the polity.”
Misinformation 🚩 https://t.co/zlRiWWQMlu
— Attah Jesse (@JesseAOA) February 9, 2023
This evolution and enthusiasm for political participation have witnessed an ugly trend of cyberbullying and propaganda, driven by identity politics, which continues to shape the perception and opinions of many Nigerians.
With less and less objectivity, we continue to witness less democratic attitudes amongst partisans but more sensationalism with an ounce of conspiracy theory bandwagoning.
Why is political fanaticism growing in popularity now?
To begin with, the pre-election session witnessed an unusual and highly charged political atmosphere, with much anticipation of a new dawn in Nigerian politics. Among other things, the process was marred by various forms of armed violence, allegations of state-sponsored stifling of opposition activities, and cyberbullying.
As we all know, technology was one of many key factors that grow the populations involvement in the 2023 electioneering process, with the introduction of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the accreditation process, which also doubles down as a means for the transmission of results to the Independent Electoral Election Commission (INEC) Result Viewing Portal (IREV). Yet, the fact that agreed-upon transmission processes were not followed or were suspended midway during the election, breached the trust of many Nigerians at a critical time of the process, and hence increased suspicions of malpractice and other forms assumptions within the political environment already overridden by all sorts of political and election propaganda.
The country’s current situation is exacerbated by reduced expectations of the trustworthiness of INEC procedures and perceived complicity of the country’s judiciary, in that, seeking redress may be met by irregularities in the courts’ due to allegations of political pressure to influence the process.
There is also a dangerous rise in radical political fanaticism against the backdrop of increased ethnic violence, cyberbullying, propaganda (misinformation and disinformation campaigns), and the possibility of deteriorating human rights, which will dramatically impact the nation’s polity, hence, putting the president-elect and his new democratic cabinet in a predicament of governing a fractured nation with multifaceted political concerns.
What is political fanaticism?
In Nigeria, political fanaticism has largely been described as “sheep following” or “herd following,” in which adherents lack any sense of personal opinions that could form the basis of a critique in checking the actions of government or political leaders but rather agree with whatever decisions are made regardless of the outcome, good or bad.
This is generally observed when party supporters push a candidate as the final answer to a country’s multifarious issues, such as the ones faced in Nigeria, while others (read: candidates) are eventually viewed as inept and incorrect. Characteristics of fanaticism among partisans frequently includes the incapacity to seek or consider alternate points of view but try to push values on others, often resulting in physical and verbal harassment of persons.
Political fanaticism may frequently rise to varying degrees of political radicalism, and in a society kept together by fragile peace and a high proclivity for violence, especially when played out along Nigeria’s fault lines of tribe and religion, it creates mediums that lead to political extremism.
Political extremism is common among groups that proclaim unrealistic expectations in order to attain political aspirations without crafting well-thought-out democratic plans. This has frequently resulted in groups picking up arms and embracing terrorism as a mode of operation for coercing governments into forced discussions, which has resulted in a protracted conflict in Nigeria in circumstances when governments have refused to succumb to such groups.
Is online political fanaticism new in Nigeria?
2022/23 will not be the first time we observe a rise in cyberbullying, in relation to political party support. Intriguingly, harmful internet engagement in Nigerian elections may be traced back to 2014, the pre-election year preceding the 2015 General Elections.
During this period, intense internet clashes erupted between the then-ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC). Yet, it is worth noting that there were some opportunities to establish the groundwork for healthy (read: issue-based) constructive criticism.
For instance, upon registration of the APC on July 31, 2013, the PDP’s congratulatory message described the party’s emergence as “very healthy for our democracy.” This again was conveyed in a congratulatory message after the election of its National Executives on June 14, 2014. The message read in part, “Ensure an issue-based opposition that will purposefully and constructively engage and challenge the PDP with decency and maturity as prescribed by democratic tenets and principles.”
However, during the campaigning period for the 2015 General Elections, these expectations significantly fell short of expectations and were instead championed by the rhetoric of division over national interest, adopting varying forms of propagandistic prowess. The two main parties’ antecedents in terms of online propaganda and its incubation of an army of trolls will continue to be a benchmark of how campaigns will run, which has continued to usher in violence, hate speech, and the exploitation of Nigerian fault lines all for the sake of partisan interest over national interest, as depicted in 2019 and worse in 2022/23.
As the popular saying goes, “If you can’t beat them. Join them”
Overtime we have seen political fanaticism only get dangerous, making the political environment extremely toxic to the point where certain actors accommodate attacks particularly when it aligns with certain political bias.
Remember the Abuja Train assault, in which Doctor Chinelo Megafu was shot? During her trauma, she sent out a tweet asking for prayers, as is customary in our social media age.
I’m in the train . I have been shot please pray for me.
— Chinelo (@nelo_x) March 28, 2022
As a flood of users flocked to her rescue, offering survival tips, some opposition partisans grabbed the chance to criticize the Nigerian government on its failures in the area of human security, while others, especially partisans linked with the incumbent party, viewed it as an opportunity to refute the situation without knowing what was actually going on all in a bid to defend the government.
You’re shot and you can still tweet, which part of the body were you shot? Chinelo why have you loved lies this much?
— Ogunlana Oluwaseyi. (@ChAAley10) March 28, 2022
Days later, Nigerians will discover how Dr. Chinelo lay on the train floor bleeding from her gunshot wound, and in an attempt to seek some goodwill in her final moments, she sought prayer from a larger audience of Nigerians.
This ugly trend of insensitive statements continue to be made even on the most sensitive issues.
Glory be to God, next ?
— Chikaodinaka Ike (@ChikaodinakaIk6) April 3, 2023
Since the campaign session in 2022 until now, the Labour Party (LP) adherents known as “OBIdents” have been observed to be the most vocal opposition group online, with multiple instances and allegations of partisan cyberbullying.
According to an LP supporter who requested anonymity, in his defence, he claims that, “OBIdients are not bullies; we are simply expressing our displeasure to people who refuse to advance the country because of their selfish political interest. If you complain about the difficulty in the country you will be labelled as all sort of things, they will gaslight you in the name of pro-Nigeria, but it’s a lie, they only care about themselves and what they are selfishly benefiting. OBidents represent Nigerians who have endured hardship under the same APC for eight years. If we keep quiet for these people, they will run us over; if you want to speak English and act all proper, they will confuse you and keep you silent. So if they’re angry, we’ll be even angrier, if they scream, we’ll scream even louder, basically anything dem try to do, we’ll do better and outdo them. All we want is for our country to change.”
To present a glimpse of this online political fanatics, HumAngle in an SNS report by Abdullahi Murtala a researcher and reporter in partnership with the African Academy for Open Source Investigations (AAOSI), which investigated cyber bullying on a politician seeking a federal legislative position; showcased the use of a “network of Twitter accounts acting as dedicated trolls, supportive networks, and ambulance chasers, taking advantage of the spreading viral nature of comments to extend the range of their posts in an organised fashion” to harass, bully, and spread disinformation.
According to the report,
“The objective is to use the trend to get visibility and enhance reach; that way, many more people will see the message. But it also increases the general virality of the conversation or the intensity of the attack.”
“The investigation shows the potentially dangerous tradecraft of hired guns employed by political actors to spread disinformation and shape public perception of candidates.”
Regardless of their legitimately for fanatic attitudes in pursuing their political beliefs, adherents such as OBIdents, Batist, Atikulated, or even Kwankwasiyya all have one thing in common, and that is that many of them are simply knee-jerks, chauvinists, sheeple, yes-men, and ideologues, to use a few terms, who demonstrate blind allegiance to a side, party, or person while limiting any sense of constructive reasoning that would naturally help individuals understand that regardless of the choice of candidate, Nigerian citizens are the biggest beneficiaries of any administration that ascends to power, in the sense that these individuals being voted in will take decisions and pass laws that affect Nigerian citizens.
What solutions exist?
For starters, election integrity is very essential in promoting healthy participation in the democratic process of voting, particularly when instances of voter suppression, fraud, and impartiality are adequately and transparently addressed.
As with the judiciary, a professional, effective, and efficient police system is required. Deterrence will be provided by a police force that is free of political bias and ensures public safety, as well as a justice system that ready to ensure accountability. In the absence or lack of trust in both institutions, people simply take the law into their own hands, providing impunity for a free for all.
Furthermore, political education continues to be a focal point in helping Nigerians understand their roles in the political process, which will clearly lead to critical thinking and political reawakening, and allow citizens to hold elected officials accountable through due processes, counter propaganda campaigns through better judgement, and actively engage maturely in democratic processes when they are made more inclusive and equitable, which acts as a deterrent to violence.
To achieve greater political maturity and correctness, we must address our fixation on wealth and affluence as prerequisites for becoming a politician in Nigeria, which is linked to, among other things, opulent lifestyles that do not reflect in the lives and affairs of their constituents.
The average Nigerian must also understand that regardless of whatever administration is in power, good or bad, society’s elites will always find a way to stay relevant in order to reap financial and political benefits.
Fanaticism is cancerous to our country Nigeria and, if not addressed and contained, ushers in a wave of utopian political beliefs which harbour the potential for unrest this post-election session.
In as much as we wish well for nation and thrown our support behind several politicians, it’s important we know that we ourselves a duty to hold these individuals accountable. We need our politicians to labour and sweat for our votes; canvassing for votes should not be a walk in the park.
The finest leaders in our society are those who gain their trust through hard work, demonstrating strong leadership traits such as perseverance, integrity, productive creativity, honesty, and a profound sense of humanity and humility. Nigeria does not require a god-like figure; rather, it requires a Nigerian capable of bringing a bit of sanity and actual leadership to our country, driving patriotism and national coherence in dealing with our economic, security, and social challenges.
Hence, when people are not more concerned with ensuring that leaders are tamed to serve the people but rather revere individuals to god status, such instances open the door to unaccountability and impunity, which form the bedrock for disregard for human rights and are one of the main characteristics of repressive governments.