Bulwark Intelligence




Background 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

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