The Rebellious 'Children' Of the Internet
To many non-Nigerians, when a sentence contains the words 'Nigeria' and 'Internet', such a sentence will hardly be complete without a word like 'fraud' or 'scam'. But beyond the fraudulent use of internet by some Nigerians that has earned the country such unenviable perception, there is another set of Nigerians that have found in this information superhighway a veritable platform for discussing everything discussable.
The last five years has witnessed the popularization of online discussion forums, social networking sites, online citizen journalism, massive blogging and other web-based activities. Issues are brought up for discussions as they occur. Past issues that did not enjoy the benefit of far reaching debate when they were hot are now being exhumed for renewed discussion. Some aspects of pre-internet era Nigerian history like the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates, the role of our nationalists in the struggle for independence, the Biafra war, the Babangida years etc are now being refreshed and thoroughly debated in these online media. On daily basis, history is being revisited, sometimes revised.
But when the advent of internet takes Centre stage in global discussions, Nigeria has something to be proud of. Its citizen is among the 'fathers' of this technology (internet) that has enabled these interactive activities! To every literate Nigerian, Philip Emeagwali is a known name and face. He is widely believed, until recently at least, to be the greatest scientist from Nigeria and indeed one of Africa's greatest men ever. And if anyone thinks it is only Nigerians that think of Philip Emeagwali that high, he is flatly wrong. No less a personality than Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, has described him as a shining star from Nigeria. But today, the internet he claims to be a 'father' of is now his greatest albatross. His 'children', the users of his 'invention', have turned against him.
Since Sahara Reporters broke the story of his allegedly fraudulent claims a couple of weeks ago - even though it was no news to some people, including this writer - the Nigerian cyberspace has been awash with discussions - some, unfortunately, to indecent level - on the claims of this hitherto widely respected Scientist. The Sahara Reporters story elicited a lot of comments. Few people did not find the revelations as news, many expressed shock. Yet some see SR's story as complete hogwash and an attempt to bring down a Nigerian that is doing well.
On Nairaland.com, Nigeria's largest online discussion forum, the story also elicited fierce debate. Opinions were almost divided equally between forum members who were convinced by facts brought forward by SR that Philip Emeagwali fraudulently exaggerated his achievements, and claim to being a 'father' of the internet. Pitiably, like many other issues, ethnic rivalry soon replaced decent discussions and the issue was reduced to Igbo Versus Yoruba 'e-war'.
Not less than two popular writers on Nigerian Village Square, one of Nigeria's most popular discussion sites, have lent their voices to the debate. Like in other places, their contributions also stirred raging debate among the 'children' of Philip Emeagwali's internet. Some dismissed Emeagwali as a liar of uncommon sophistication, some others refused to believe the articles have no 'bad belle' undertone.
Titled 'The lies of Philip Emeagwali', Musikilu Mojeed, the high flying reporter with NEXT newspaper, did another expose on the claims of the scientist in the Sunday November 7, 2010 edition of the paper, and with NEXT's comment-enabled website itself being one of the hotbeds of online discussions, the story also threw up debates among online readers.
Earlier, Businessday columnist, Iheduru Dike, had also written on the falsity of Philips Emeagwali's claims. Another columnist with NEXT, Jibrin Ibrahim, also discussed the subject in his column.
All of these discussions generated wide comments, more than even discussions on 2011 elections. On Nairaland.com, in few days of opening the topic, more than 600 comments have been registered. On Nigeria Village Square, the most recent article on the subject, less than 24 hours after being posted, has 48 comments , more than the number generated by Presidential aspirant Bukola Saraki's interview posted on the same website in the same period. On Sahara Reporters, the comments were even more. The NEXT stories were no exception. Raging comments followed all the articles.
Philip Emeagwali is at the moment the most discussed Nigerian on the internet, not as complements for his 'wizardry' in being one of the inventors of this technology that enabled these discussions in the first place, but to puncture his claim to fathership of the tool. The discussion is spreading with unprecedented voracity. More and more voices are being lent to the talk. But despite all the rebellion from the users of this internet he has contributed to inventing, the man has remained unruffled. But for how long will his silence be golden? Now that the Nigerian 'children' of the internet have turned against the 'father' of the internet, whether Philip Emeagwali will survive this onslaught remains to be seen.