The Politics Of Silence

Government Policy and Suppression Of Information

by William Moore

The Politics Of Silence

“If they can silence you, then there is no need to kill you.”

George Orwell knew this, and he even wrote a book about it. But this isn’t England in the novel “1984”, this is Nigeria in reality, 2019.

The very ethos of the democratic process is that every citizen has a right to participate, and this certainly goes beyond just voting. Participation is about being a constant part of the process, and this includes being a part of the conversation. How can you participate when your voice has been silenced?

The tricks of current and even past governments when it comes to voter suppression are not hidden. It is evident in how the process of getting a PVC (Permanent Voter’s Card) is a nightmare for the working class, most of whom have day jobs to attend to. You see it in the ban of vehicular movements on the day of the elections, forcing citizens to go on pilgrimage to the polling stations where historically, safety has not been guaranteed. We see it more recently in INEC’s preparation (or lack thereof), causing a shift in the election date on (literally) the very day when the event was to hold.

These are rather systemic methods that rarely target any one individual, compared to what has recently reared its head in the form of social media censorship. If memory serves those that care about free speech and expression right, it can be recalled that the push to police social media with the threat of arrest and persecution is nothing new. In 2018, following a meeting with the President and service chiefs among other individuals, it was reported that the military were to keep tabs on the social media updates of “notable” Nigerians. Not potential terrorists, not suspects of criminal activity—notable Nigerians. The arrest of the Elombah brothers by the Inspector General of Police is another example of frequent attempts at censorship without due process, as would be expected if an actual crime was being committed. Those in power allow this practice to flourish, citing reasons like “fighting against fake news”, “defamation” and other such veiled problems to mask the true intention of what power always attempts to do to truth – to bury it.

More recently, following the run-up to the 2019 presidential election, no less than twelve Twitter accounts were suspended for reasons I can only guess to be churning out pro-Atiku content. These accounts belong largely to social media influencers whose jobs involve decimating content on their social platforms for whoever is paying their bills. Last I checked, this is not a criminal offence. If we are going to ban such, then why not just ban all election-related forms of campaign? After all, by their nature, each of these campaigns only serves to convince the voters that a certain candidate is right for the position.

The ‘silenced’ Twitter accounts are as follows:

Bhadoosky

Jokunle

Shawnife

Lazy Writa

Official Bmax

Ano Nomso

Rouvafe

Abdulaxis

Head Masta

Uche Kush

Switchme

Enekem

Today, the social media influencers have taken the hit, their right to conduct their business and express themselves trampled on without consequence or investigation. Tomorrow, no one can predict who will be silenced next. As Nigeria continues to become more and more interconnected with the rest of the world, it is understandable why our power structures dread the power of social media technology. After all, revolutions have started from a single Twitter thread. So rather than adjusting their practices to deliver promises to citizens, they have resorted to censorship instead.

As a holder of the office that is citizenship, there cannot be a threat more deserving of our resistance than that of the freedom to feel, speak, and be heard. It is the last missile in our arsenal against forces of autocracy, even when masked to be otherwise. It is territory we must not relinquish.   

P.S One also has to wonder if Twitter knows about this and what they are doing about it, if anything at all.