Why A Nigerian Debate Is Dangerous
If you're observant, you'd have noticed that hardly does any debate or divergence of opinions between Nigerians occur on social media or in the blogosphere these days without it turning into a tug of torrent abuses and personality assassination.
Too many times, the comments on internet news sites and threads on forums veer away from being constructive, intellectual and solution-oriented debates into festivals of insults and blame-sharing exercises. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, head on to Sahara Reporters or Nairaland and see for yourself. And even many other Nigerian internet media at that.
Few days ago, a reader (whose Facebook profile says he's a General Manager at a firm) commented on a news item about General Al-Mustapha on The Vanguard. He said Al-Mustapha deserves to be free, having wasted away in custody for more than a decade. Then another reader dropped a sledge hammer on his skull: 'Gutagi, first of all I want to know who made you a manager of a company, before you open your stinking mouth and say a killer is a free man. It means you need to examined your brain. Mad man.'
In the first week of this year, a friend wrote a reflection on the effects of the fuel subsidy removal one year after and published it on Sahara Reporters. As usual, the comments were divergent: some critical, others complimentary. One thing most of them shared in common was unwarranted insults and curses. For instance, one comment was, 'You're an enemy of GEJ, stop writing foolish, amoebic, anti-progress, purposeless and subject matter-less articles.'
My friend told me he was unhappy about it. My response shocked him more. 'I was expecting this,' I told him. 'If you don't want your personality dragged into the mud and smeared, you don't express your views to Nigerian netizens.' I'm not spiteful of Nigerians. I'm one of them. But the ugly trend has become so commonplace and consistent that it has lost its ability to appall us.
We also read comments on pieces published on Aljazeera, New York Times and BBC. Many issues generate divergent views there too, but submissions are mostly intellectual responses, made with respect - or at least tolerance - for others' views. As it turns out, others' opinions can be respected or condoned elsewhere. Not in Nigeria. We are too intolerant, too arrogant to appreciate dissenting views.
If you post frequently on Facebook also, you know too well what I'm talking about. If you don't, go check the Facebook page of public figures like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and see how uncouth and disappointing the comments on most posts are. Is this how we hope to foster national integration? Is this how we hope to live by our motto of 'Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress'?
This ugly trend is the rule rather than the exception on issues having the slightest connection with religion or ethnicity. The gory pictures left by the debates on Late Prof. Achebe's There Was A Country and the proposed amendment by the Senate of section 29(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution are still vivid in our minds. But granted that religion and ethnicity in Nigeria are potent kegs of gunpowder at which one should never attempt a shot, it's disheartening that even debates on issues that damnify us in common like fuel subsidy removal, poverty and unemployment also most often degenerate into verbal feuds.
I think part of the problem is that the internet allows for discussants to appear faceless. So we abuse this to mean we can be rude to and blackmail anyone and get away with it. We respond to submissions by even professors and respected community leaders that we dare not stand before and look in the face, with phrases like 'You're an idiot!' 'You don't belong to this century!' 'You're a shameless old bitch' simply because we're covered by the screen of our PC or mobile device. This is unfortunate. It's not a way to live.
God knows best why He created us to be different. Cultures and worldviews are bound to clash, leaving us shocked - sometimes disillusioned to the marrow. But that's part of the beauty of heterogeneity, the very basis of human beings. God forbid that we should all always look alike, think the same and hold the same views. The world would be all too boring and monotonous. And when two people always agree on issues, one of them isn't important.
Begging issues and attacking persons is just disgusting and uncivilized. Almost everyone has been guilty of this, however little. The Internet has done us a great good - affording everyone a fair opportunity to be heard anywhere as much as a Harvard Professor. We should appreciate this and learn: that we can disagree and still be friends. Insulting others does no one any good. It only injures the feelings of others and attracts counter attacks. Worst still, the points being passed across, however noble, would end up in the thin air as no one likes to listen to insolent people.
This is a big challenge for us all. Our strength as a nation is in appreciating and maximizing our diversity - harnessing our different potentials, values and resources to improve the lots of all. We can choose to efface the menace now and engender mutual respect and national integration - or choose to make it our culture and be consumed by what the ugly consequences will be.
*Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin is a freelance writer, writing coach and the author of the free eBook, 'Your Right To Write'. Find him on Twitter @Oxygenmat.