Who can say that Nigeria is not contributing to knowledge, global politics and the determination of world order? Not if it has just exploded a major myth of the 21st century which claims so much powers for the social media. Arab Spring, we are told, was a twitter structured revolt and so on and so forth. In Nigeria, the technological fix to everything turned up negative. Neither twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp nor any other combination of social media platforms could do any magic. It leaves the question: did the ‘revolution’ fail the social media or the social media fail the ‘revolution’?
The study of the role of technology in human affairs has been a major controversy in recent years. A resurgent form of materialists launched an argument lately challenging orthodox materialists, (Karl Marx and co who push the position that the most crucial aspect of social life is economic). Put crudely, what the ‘dissident’ intellectuals are saying is that it is no more acceptable to deny agency to such things as storm, the aeroplane, earthquakes and so on. An aeroplane could crash and kill a president just as a Tsunami could sweep away an entire community. So, why should we not study these materials as if they are human beings? In other words, they do not agree that much of what materials do to social life are eventually traceable to human agency. The debate they have brought about is still raging but materiality as a school or lens on social reality is now a comfortable perspective. In fact, it has made so much progress in the study of social reality.
The social media has been the most formidable material ‘agents’ in recent history. So formidable they have turned the world nearly upside down. It has come with emancipation for many but it has also come with its own contradictions. One of the benefits is how so usable the technology involved are. The handset, for instance, is such that almost anybody can afford at least a certain type. Almost anybody can also manipulate at least a certain type. The intrusive nature of the messages completely makes the channel or the technology more decisive than the message. Even those sleeping can be accessed at anytime of the day.
That makes the social media a near autonomous force for tormenting any state power anywhere in the world, even those that invested so much in controlling it. In a country such as Nigeria, the social media was a key basis for jittery over a threat of a revolution. Hence, the puzzle that, at the end of the day, the social media did not manifestly compensate for whatever mobilisational and logistics deficiencies that attended the staging of the ‘revolution’. Was it a case of the social media failing the ‘revolution’ or the other way round?
It is still too early. Nobody has carried out any research to be in a position to say what exactly happened. No commonsensical analysis would be adequate. We need to know the most key reason(s); the secondary reasons or the way the dynamics were interfacing in such a manner that social media could not bear out the materiality thesis in this instance. Could it be the much touted Nigerian exceptionalism and if so, is it a national strength or weakness?
In those days, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA) would have led the country into the discussion. Now, it has not been heard for a long time. It is most likely it is so koboless in a country which has decided that common sense and rule of the thumb is adequate for national survival. In such a clime, it is criminal to be too interested in research or ideas. There is nothing to suggest that any other national think tanks – NIPSS, IPCR, NCC, NBC – will take this up.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, it would not be surprising if some more research-minded actors to surface from somewhere else with the expertise and the funding for such a research to be conducted. That would not be such an outrageous thing in itself. The world is one huge village now but a nation must still be able to research itself.