Online Platforms and the Dangerous Quest for a Carte Blanc

By: Gabriel Onoja
There is something worse than crying more than the bereaved. On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as the President of the United States, a crowd anti-Trump protesters got unruly and clashed with Trump’s supporters and police in Washington DC. The police pepper sprayed the protesters and added chemical spray as deterrence. This happened in the famed “land of freedom’ on the eve of one of the most significant waypoint in US democracy – the inauguration of a new president. The protesters, knowing the are in breach of the law, had nothing to say to the police that were simply doing their job of maintaining law and order.
At about the same time in Nigeria, the news was making the rounds about the Nigeria Police arresting the publisher of online newspaper, Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi and its judicial correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu. Both were taken in on the strength of a petition about Premium Times libelous publication against the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Tukur Buratai. According to a police officer quoted in one of the frenzied reports in the wake of the arrests, criminal libel is not being ruled out, which would potentially transform what the journalists are dealing with from a civil to a criminal case.
The news site later crowed in one of its headlines that “Nigerian Police bow to pressure, release detained PREMIUM TIMES journalists,” which offers an insight into the kind of belligerent attitude that is prevalent in the publication and among its cohort. The new normal is for these outfits to begin their work from the point of view of being the enemy of establishment as opposed to acknowledging their role as a component that is essential for the nation’s survival.
Of course, news of the arrest triggered social media chatter on scale that was sufficient to drown out news about police in the US pepper spraying anti-Trump protesters. By the way, the same crowd that was condemning the arrest of the journalists were the bulk, being ignorant of American dynamics, never believed that Donald Trump will win the election. The anger expressed by these newfound online activists was therefore misdirected in the most part being the product misinformation that has been deliberately or unconsciously orchestrated by Premium Times in the few years of its existence.
A sad reality of dealing with mass hysteria of half informed people online is the spiral of silence that sets in for those with alternate view of events. According to www.masscommtheory.com, “Originally proposed by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974, Spiral of silence is the term meant to refer to the tendency of people to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority view on a subject.”
Wrong was thus bestowed the toga of right simply because the baying mob would lynch anyone that as much as offer an alternative view to their fixation on vilifying those they have labelled “enemy of democracy. Yet, this prejudiced stance is as damaging as it is misleading since it overlooks the failings of Premium Times to whose rescue they so promptly rushed.
The cyber Nazis are right on one account though. There is an emergency dictatorship. Interestingly and contrary to the impression being created, the dictator is neither the police nor the Nigerian Army, who in this case are the victims of online trolls. The dictatorship is the horde of online sites, led by Premium Times with its wrongly informed supporters and other platforms in similar fashion that place themselves above the laws of the land, conventions and even common sense.
Only a resolute dictator like Premium Times would gloss over the grievous allegations the Army made against it by trying to exploit the court of public opinion to turn the tables. The military severally accused it of sabotaging the war on terror by running propaganda materials for Boko Haram, using its platform as a cover to publish information about troops movement and working in collaboration with foreign interests to unravel Nigeria. Even if these accusations were false, which they have not been proven to be, the newspaper should have in line with the standard it seeks to impose on others explain its version of the story not resort to abusing its platform to wage war on the nation’s vital institutions. This too is dictatorship.
It is a sick behavior that has led to the death of troops betrayed by Premium Time’s treachery. The blood of civilians that died following from the publication’s romance with Boko Haram drips from the hands of the newspaper writers.
Because people are not connecting the dots, they are not seeing worrisome patterns. Amnesty International is one of the foreign entities that several groups had accused of having hidden agenda in Nigeria with further claims that it uses pliant media platforms for the execution of such destabilization projects. It is notable that Amnesty International was among those that tweeted condemnation of the arrests before it had time to know the facts of the matter, this suggest collusion on a scale that may be detrimental to collective interest of Nigerians.
Others that demanded blanket immunity for Premium Times to embark on wholesale impunity are the celebrity activists, persons’ with ambiguous credentials whose only claim to relevance is the large following of unenlightened educate oafs that will curse their own parents when doing so is considered western, modern and funky. They live daily with the delusion which is, they can make enough noise on social media then it becomes law.
Someone must wake the online community up to the reality that the loudest and most vicious persons of the about 7 million Tweets or 16 million Facebook profiles do not constitute a majority in a country with an estimated population of 186 million.  The idea that they can ask for and get a carte blanc is therefore not only ridiculous but also dangerous. If they can force the police to become zombie-like or push the military into docility who will protect the country  when the meltdown they are inviting comes?
Furthermore, if everyone were to abuse their constitutionally recognized professional tools against their neighbors in line with what Premium Times has started which is now being advocated, soldiers would have killed all the police in Nigeria, police killed all the motorists and all journalists sent to prison by judges and lawyers who themselves would have succumb to killed medications that doctors and nurses would administer.
No. The rest of us, sane Nigerians, cannot continue to indulge Premium Times with a carte blanc. Its dictatorship is a danger to our democracy and it must be stopped now that it is still possible.
Onoja a public affairs analyst  writes from Jos, Plateau State.


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