16 November 2014

THE WALL BETWEEN US | Guest Post for International Day for Tolerance

"As the United Nations observes International Day for Tolerance, Viola Okolie lends her voice and calls attention to something we may be so quick to discard because it has become the norm - social media intolerance. Social media is a tool for change; if you are fighting on or through it, you'd better ask yourself, "Am I really fighting for change or simply fighting?"- Editor's Note

Image Credit: Blogofmanly 
As Nigerians prepare for the general elections billed to hold on the 14th of February 2015 where they are expected to elect a new group of politicians to steer the country in the right developmental direction, there is palpable tension in the air. If Valentine's day seems like an odd day to head to the polls, perhaps in choosing that day, the elections' umpire - The Independent National Electoral Commission - hopes to piggyback on the average Nigerian's sentimental nature and the worldwide recognition of that date as “Lovers' Day”, to conduct a hitch free election. Hopefully, the euphoria of all the Valentine's Day dinners and roses, cakes and dates would spill over into the next day and the day after and the day after...

Following the last general elections held in 2011, the streets flowed red with the blood of at least 800 Nigerians. Their crimes: being in the wrong place at the right time; being of the wrong religion or tribe; being in the right place at the wrong time - oh, and an unpopular Presidential candidate in the worst hit areas of the post-election violence, had won the polls.(http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/05/16/nigeria-post-election-violence-killed-800)

Barring any upsets at the party primaries of the two main political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) represented by the party logo of an umbrella and currently the ruling party; and the opposing All Progressives' Congress (APC) whose party logo is a broom; the 2015 polls would once again present to Nigerians, the main players in the last general elections, as contenders for the Premier seat in the land - retired General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) wielding the broom for the APC in an attempt to sweep out the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), holding on tightly to the umbrella and hoping it would offer him protection from any nasty surprises at the polls. Nigerians on social media are not smiling.
Image Credit: Alarabiya
Navigating Social Media in recent days has become an exercise in political dexterity, intellectual acrobatics and oratorical quick-stepping. Otherwise known as "talk your own, I talk my own". To the uninitiated, this simply means that everybody is talking at the same time, while nobody is listening. We wake up every morning, pray (or not), brush our teeth (or not), take a quick shower (or not), position ourselves behind our weapon of choice (read: laptops, mobile phones, tablets and devices that enable social media interaction) and begin to hurl invectives, accusations and propaganda across the invisible divide that we have erected between ourselves in mindless support of our pet politicians;

"You are a fool"

"You are an eRat"

"You incestuous unwashed street beggar"

"You are a cyber rodent"

"You are a hireling operating for the cost of a bowl of rice".

And before we know it, we begin to tear down walls we had carefully built over the years. Friendships are broken in the twinkling of an eye, relationships are marred at the application of a well chosen word, threats are hurled, promises are made and that handy social media tool, the “block button”, is frequently employed. Now you see the person you were engaged in a word duel with, now you don't. For him or her, you simply cease to exist. Killed off in an internet instant, with the click of a button.
Image Credit: Roundpluse
It makes one wonder, if the run up to the elections are this "bloody", what would the days after the elections be like? With insurgents terrorizing the North Eastern part of the country, dealing their own brand of religious intolerance, surely the "elite" who operate on Social Media would show themselves more tolerant of conflicting ideologies? Would it be too much to ask of Nigerian netizens, who are indicative of the temperaments of the larger society, to respect each other's rights to an opinion?

There is a country prior to the elections, there will be a country during the elections - surely post 2015 general elections, it would not be said of Nigeria: "There Was A Country".

Image Credit: Viola Okolie
Viola Ifeyinwa Okolie holds a B. A (Ed) in Theatre and Performing Arts with a Masters Degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy. She currently runs VeeBrownies Consulting Limited, a Business Development Consultancy Service where she engages in Start Up Consultancy - providing financial, administrative and business advice for start ups and entrepreneurs. Viola is passionate about causes dear to her heart, a keen and articulate social activist and a self described "tentative story teller".

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