By EMEKA EJERE

Since it entered into Nigeria, conversation-loving Nigeria has cultivated a very deep and almost inseparable relationship with social media such that today, despite occasional flickers of embarrassment from notably the political establishment, the fad has now become a ubiquitous presence: social media is here to stay!

Riding on the wave of the infusion of countrywide GSM technology in the last decade, which has now been further boosted with an estimated 113 million Nigerians being internet users, further, checks revealed that as many as 30 million of the users may now be active on social media. And they come with varying levels of patronage.

Of the lot, and according to a survey of Social Media Statistics in Nigeria conducted between April 2019 and April 2020, Facebook had a market share of 46.98%, Twitter 30.4%, Instagram 11.43%, Pinterest 8.53%, YouTube, 2.25% and LinkedIn 0.2%.

At the other end of the spectrum is WhatsApp, the mobile conversations platform that has equally made substantial inroads into the hearts and keypads of many Nigerians.

No killing the beetle

There have indeed been several attempts to curtail and restrain the use of social media platforms in the country. But, everyone has been viewed with suspicion and resisted by Nigerians who believe that schemes like the controversial Social Media Bill are indeed only a smokescreen to foist a climate of non-accountability and dictatorship over the whole population. While the thinking of the authorities is that the plan to overhaul the nation’s internet laws will help combat the incidence of fake news, many would rather see it as a veritable threat to the prevalence of a climate of free and open speech.

Curiously, the present leaders of Nigeria did benefit massively from the work of ‘social media warriors’ in making their way to the positions that they presently occupy. Then the political opposition, they saw the merit in using the platforms to wage a spirited campaign against the then Goodluck Jonathan presidency. And they succeeded. Mr Jonathan was eased off and they came on board.

Since coming into power, however, they have since come to grips with the reality that the innately critical passion of the social media crowd can only be assuaged by one thing: stellar performance in government. And sadly, they have not had much to offer in that regard.

A visit to Cyberia on almost any day to day sums up this point. It is a veritable battlefield with tens of thousands of mainly young people, locked in and discussing different levels of failings within government and by government functionaries across the land. It is a massive minefield of disclosures, criticism and advocacy.

One frequent player on the social media turf is the blogger, Tajudeen Hamzat. For him, his first platform of choice is twitter and he says that one of the core attractions of twitter for him is its currency.

‘I go there above other reasons to be abreast of the daily trends. From it, I gain currency about what is happening around me and in the world. It is a lightning rod of current and contemporary news for me.’

This issue of currency has indeed come to be a point of challenge for the established mainstream media which now finds itself having to work around more creative and enduring story angles to ensure that the ‘new news’ social media denizens have not stolen the fire from off their heads!

Speaking with Business Hallmark, another regular player on social media, Ranti Adedoyin said that her preferred medium was equally twitter and that part of the reason for her choice was the fact that the platform afforded her veritable opportunity to be immersed in a world of global communication, where she then has access to perspectives of a diverse hue.

For her also, part of the tick is it is allowing for an even broader diversity of respondents:

‘In twitter, I get to meet and share experiences with the layman, the leaders, the elite and the experts. They all weigh in. Even some others come in with tweets that tend to simply bring comic relief. No matter how outrageous the subject is, there is a sense in which you still can be enriched in the process, she explains.’

The difference in her view with the mobile messaging platform, Whatsapp, which she equally patronises, has to do with range:

‘Whatsapp allows you to share with a closed circle. It is more like a family mode. It is more controlled and homely.’

Hamzat, on his part, points us to another advantage of Whatsapp that may be at the root of why it has been gaining such immense traction in a Nigerian space where over half of the population is branded as living below the poverty range:

‘It is easy to access and consumes fewer megabytes. More so, family and friends can be easily reached through packages like WhatsApp video calls.’

On the utility value of the social media platforms, Adedoyin says they have come to register as media for helping to shape society even if not necessarily fixing the problems.

‘They serve a watchdog role and help people speak up in instances where errors have been made or where they or other members of society may have been unfairly treated,’ she notes.

She lists some of the relatively recent cases that have provoked responses as the Funke Akindele COVID-19 party and the incidence of the victimized immigration ladies who had been punished on account of their having taken part in a ‘social media challenge.’ Others she notes were cases of injustice at different levels and even rape.

Hamzat equally agrees that social media has indeed been most helpful in calling attention to societal ills and says that in his view it may have even done more than that:

‘Social media can be used to solve problems because it is peopled principally by the youth who are the silent and vocal majority in the country. It has come to be a medium of exposure and indeed some people now watch their backs to not feature there for the wrong reasons and be exposed for what they truly are. A recent exposure service was the case of Pastor Fatoyinbo of the COZA ministry where social media platforms were lavishly used to call out the pastor. Though it did not result in the conviction of the pastor in court, a lot of attention was thrown on the overall issue of rape through it.’

On whether there could be a possibility of social media fatigue going forward, Adedoyin thinks there is little chance of this happening:

‘I don’t think it will happen. People like to express themselves and the platforms have indeed come up as being spot on for the purpose.

‘Take Nigeria for example, people have been grumbling about bad governance. They will not stop. They may end their statements with ‘I am tired of this country’ but they will still complain.’

Hamzat agrees:

‘People will never be tired of complaining even when there has occurred a change in government as they had desired. And sometimes these complaints get some action to be taken for example, in the case of the Adamawa Senator who had been called out for molesting a lady. Overall, however, Nigerian governments continue to prefer to not take up the issues that broadly affect the system.

And what is the future for the social media space in the light of new and increasing developments?

Adedoyin is upbeat:

‘It will get even busier. Covid-19 and the attendant lockdown season have taught us that technology cannot be trifled with. Within this period, there has been an upsurge of online meetings, online training, online selling, etc. We will need to do more and more with technology going forward and social media in my view has a most assured place in all of this.’