Although I have told the story before, I do not think of anything better which speaks to a time like this. In March 1993, the then two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) had their national conventions to elect their presidential candidates. While the NRC members went to Port Harcourt to pick their flag bearer, it was to Jos that the SDP members went. As a Senior Staff Writer with African Concord magazine, I was one of the people detailed to cover the Jos convention where our Chairman, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, was a contender.
In the editorial meeting held shortly before we left Lagos, it was decided that we should delay the production of our magazine’s edition for the following week so we could run the story of the convention that would take place at the weekend. While such may have been easier today given advancement in printing technology, it was not a good business decision then. At that period, the cover stories of every magazine had to be ready for press by Wednesday night for the copies to be on the streets by the next Monday and here we were, contemplating reporting an event that would only be concluded by Sunday, may be even Monday. But what followed was more unsettling: It was decided that the cover design be produced that same day, six clear days before the exercise, with the photograph of Abiola on the bromide and the headline, “How Abiola Won”.
Given my understanding of the political dynamics at the time, there were three main contenders in SDP. Aside Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, there was also Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, even though the general calculation was that it would be a straight contest between Abiola (who enjoyed a broad national appeal with a heavy war chest) and Kingibe (who had the support of 12 of the 14 SDP Governors). After the meeting, I went to the editor to tell him of my misgivings about what we had just decided and the conversation went like this: “Sir, I know Abiola is our candidate but it is better we err on the side of caution. I think we should put the photographs of both Abiola and Kingibe and use the headline, ‘How the Battle Was Lost and Won’.”
Shaking his head, the editor retorted, “I am putting only Abiola’s photograph on the cover page”.
“What if he loses?” I asked and then he dropped the bombshell: “In the event that happens, the photograph of Abiola will still remain on the cover. We will merely change the headline to read, ‘How Abiola Was Rigged Out!’”
What the foregoing story depicts very clearly is not only the extraneous factors that sometimes impinge on reportage of events but also the fact that in Nigeria, there is already a mindset about elections that makes acceptance of defeat unfashionable. It is essentially for that reason that we must commend the defeated Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. Immediately the votes were in last Sunday morning and Mr. Ayodele Peter Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner, Fayemi called to congratulate his opponent. For sure, Fayemi had a thousand and one reasons to complain about the process that led to his defeat but he is also an honest man who could come to terms with the fact that, all factors considered, he lost the ballot.
In his book, “Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation”, Scott Farris traced the history of the concession-speech in American politics and how it has helped to strengthen the democratic process. The essence of his thesis is that the way losers take their defeat is almost as important as how winners accept their victory. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, losers never accept defeat, and that includes electoral no-hopers who may not have secured the votes of members of their immediate families in contests they probably should not even have taken part in.
I am aware that pundits have begun to posture about “why Fayemi lost to Fayose” and you read all kinds, from the ridiculous to the outlandish. It is not unexpected at a time like this. But few would deny that Fayemi was a good governor for Ekiti State and he can always be proud of his achievements. Those of us that are associated with him are even more proud that he is not a desperate man that would be associated with violence in the bid to retain power. And when he lost, he chose the road less travelled in our climes by doing the four critical things that have helped to define democratic ethos in civilised societies: he accepted defeat, he congratulated the winner, he looked forward to a future that still holds much promise and finally, he called for the unity of his people. Those were acts of statesmanship that can only be demonstrated by men of honour and integrity and we don’t have many of them in our polity today.
Nobody should be under any illusion that it is easy to lose an election and it may be necessary here to situate what Fayemi did within the context of Ekiti State so we can understand its significance. At a local government election campaign ten years ago in Oye-Ekiti, (on March 22, 2004 to be specific), then Governor Fayose boasted: “Nobody can snatch power from me the way I snatched it from (Otunba Niyi) Adebayo because I am not only in government I am in power and I am ready to guard the power jealously.” Of course, Fayose went on to win virtually all the seats in that dubious local government election in Ekiti State for his party’s (PDP) candidates at the time.
The point here is that if Fayemi had also gone into last weekend gubernatorial election in Ekiti with such do-or-die predisposition, the state cannot be peaceful today because as the incumbent, there are several things he could do if he is also desperate to hold on to power. It is therefore my hope that Fayose has learnt the hard lessons from his first misadventure as Governor when the issue was not about his performance (which was fairly good) but rather about his character.
However, that Fayose enjoys the support of a vast majority of Ekiti electorate is not in doubt and fortunately, his comportment shows that he is now a changed man. In his first interview after victory, he displayed a maturity not common with his past: “My charge to every politician is to target the poor people. They will not ask you for contracts, all they want is to have their lives improved. So the strategy is, when you are voted to power, don’t forget that four years is a short time. This is Ayo Fayose who is older and wiser and ready to work with everybody. They said I am an HND holder and that Ekiti is a state of professors. You do not need to be a professor to know that someone is hungry. You do not need to be a doctor to know that somebody needs support. It is innate for you to show love and kindness towards people…”
While there will be another day to interrogate the new Fayose who deserves to be congratulated on his victory (and I congratulate him), my column today belongs to Fayemi, essentially because I have particularly been fascinated by the rituals of gracious concession in defeat. It all dates back to 1860 in the United States when the defeated candidate of the Democratic Party, Mr. Stephen Douglas urged the slave states to accept the victory of his Republican opponent, Mr. Abraham Lincoln after a very divisive election. However, the idea of messaging the winner did not commence until 1896 when William Jennings Bryan sent a telegram to William McKinley that, “We have extended the issue to the American people and their will is law”.
Interestingly, it is not only in Nigeria that you have bad losers, there have been many in American politics too and at all levels, including the presidency. In 1964, for instance, Barry Goldwater who was defeated by a very wide margin by President Lyndon Johnson waited until the day after the election to concede. And in the “concession” speech, Goldwater was petty enough to remind Johnson that the popular votes were not as many as the one that elected his predecessor, the late John F. Kennedy (to whom Johnson was VP) four years earlier!
Yet, the only way our democracy can grow is if people begin to understand that for every electoral contest, there must be a winner as well as a loser. According to statistics from the chair of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, “arising from the 2007 general elections alone, there were 1,299 election petitions challenging official results out of a total of 1,496 elective offices contested, yielding an astounding 86.5 percent…”
While there is nothing wrong in challenging a flawed election, it makes little or no sense to rush to court after every defeat. That is why I will enjoin the All Progressives Party (APC) not to take the legal option, reportedly being contemplated about the Ekiti State election. The glaring lapses can, and indeed should, be identified, codified and reported to the relevant authorities. But nothing will be served by a court action that seeks to challenge the election of a man whose opponent had already conceded defeat.
While I have stated earlier that I will interrogate the Fayose phenomenon another day, the Ekiti election has brought to fore other issues. One, the APC doesn’t come out of this election looking good and there are serious question marks about the BolaTinubu factor, with all its inherent contradictions and what it portends for the 2015 general elections, in the light of the opposition’s ethno-religious permutations for the presidency. Two, by all accounts, the performance of INEC was a significant improvement on what Nigerians have become accustomed to. Is this a one-off achievement or is it sustainable? What will happen when INEC has to deploy country-wide in one day without the advantage of massing assets on one location? Three, the role of the security agencies calls for critical appraisal with the pertinent question being: how do we deploy security for elections without making it look like they are there to intimidate the people?
These and many others are issues to ponder on. But as I said, today belongs to Kayode Fayemi who, in defeat, has behaved like the quintessential Yoruba Omoluabi. He deserves our applause and respect.
Why Social Media is Not For Me!
Yesterday, the Taiwo Obe-led “EverythingJournalism” group, a cyber hangout for serious media professionals and consumers of media messages, in association with its adjunct, “The Journalism Clinic”, organised a “Summit on Functional Social Networking” in Abuja.
Targeted at journalists, bloggers, students of journalism/mass communication as well as media executives and everyone concerned about the future of journalism in Nigeria, especially in the context of the internet, there were several people in attendance. The audience was not just attentive but also very engaging in what turned out to be an interesting conversation about journalism in our country, in the digital age.
Moderated by respected veteran journalist, Mr. Richard Ikiebe and with tested industry hands like Dapo Olorunyomi, Lekan Otufodurin and Azubuike Ishiekwene as speakers, I was also invited to come and share with the audience why I am not active on the social media circuit. Since this is a question many readers have also been asking me for years, I believe my brief remark at yesterday’s session, albeit slightly edited, addresses the issue:
Every day, I receive hundreds of emails with headlines like the following:
“Lawrence Anini would like to connect with you on LinkedIn”
“Sani Abacha has invited you to join Facebook”
“Do you know that Malabu Oil deal, Osama Bin Laden and 99 others are also on Twitter?”
When I got an invitation to speak this morning on why I am a social media alien, it occurred to me that all the people who have tried unsuccessfully to ‘friend’ me have finally decided on their revenge. From Myspace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to LinkedIn to Badoo and the others, if you find an Olusegun Adeniyi, it is not me because I have never been on any social media platform. Never!
Many have asked me why and I usually shrug such question away but I will explain in a few words this morning.
I am happy Yemi Adamolekun (the brilliant young lady who runs ‘Enough is Enough Nigeria’) is here as she will remember that at a recent event where I spoke, I made allusion to why I don’t belong to the Twitter generation as I take comfort in the words of Leha Elisabeth that with user-generated content platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., people can easily get caught up in cultivating their own image that at the end of the day we stand the risk of surrendering our future to “a generation where everyone acts like the star of their own reality show.”
However, that really does not explain why I stay away from social media which I must admit has become a potent tool in the age of information. There are two reasons why I am out. The first one is general while the second is specific. As to the general one, it all started from a realization that I was spending considerable time reading and replying emails and text messages. So I saw no point in further complicating my life. I have always believed that if anybody needed to reach me, he would get my email (which is readily available for readers of THISDAY newspaper) and send me a direct mail to which I would reply and I am very good at that.
Now to the specific: I saw very early the pitfalls in engaging people you may not even know in virtual discussions.
As far back as year 2001, because my email address was on my backpage column in THISDAY, I began to receive several group mails. There was hardly any listserv cobbled together by Nigerians of my generation that would not include my email address. And even when I rarely participated in their discussions, I followed most of the threads.
Today, I receive no fewer than a thousand mails everyday most of them as a result of these groups and several cross-postings. And my email address is on virtually all the blogs created by Nigerians in the Diaspora. So every morning my first assignment is usually to delete these ‘junk’ mails and it has become an enjoyable routine. I even get to read most of what people post of their Facebook pages because some ‘friends’ have also made it their business to cut and paste such things, so in a way I operate on the margin of social media.
But right from year 2001, I saw the danger in virtual friendship from what transpired on some of these listserv. Many of these internet friends would begin by eulogizing one another, just on account of some posts on which they agree until a day when someone writes something they do not agree with. The disagreement could even begin in an innocent manner but one word out of turn and it would degenerate into serious verbal wars and hate speeches, sometimes even threats of violence. On most of these Nigerian listserv, especially by those in the Diaspora, the discussion often begins with a mundane issue, then the names of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello are thrown into the mix and before you know it, they would begin to exchange abuses and curses!
It was about this time that Facebook was launched and then the Paris Hilton of this world started telling us what they ate for breakfast, where they went in the afternoon and who they were sleeping with at night. And I asked myself: why should that be my business? I saw what people were doing on Facebook, and I decided I was not going to join. And I never did. But since then there have been several other platforms that have left me behind. I bet readers will ask how I survived as a presidential spokesman without being on the social media. I was clever enough to surround myself with brilliant professionals who were active on the social media: Bolaji Adebiyi, Ken Wiwa (Jnr) and Yakubu Musa.
For sure, the social media is good and because of the pressure from several friends, I have been tempted to join Twitter. I have been considering the offer in the last six months and will decide one way or another before the end of the year! But then, my brother, Garba Shehu, former president of the Guild of Editors, says I am only living in denial given that people can, and do read, my columns on social media platforms.
I have been told a million times that as a writer, I cannot do without social media and while I concede that I may be denying myself the opportunity for more readership (or to deploy the appropriate term, followership), I also know that I do not have the temperament to be explaining why I wrote certain things to people who may already have their own prejudices. Once I write my column based on my convictions and understanding of issues, I don’t look back and I don’t even read the comments posted below anything I write. Those who have issues with my position would write me directly and I do receive several of such mails every day. Some of them I reply. But I have no business with those who judge others by their own standards and our country is replete with many of them.
By way of conclusion, while I usually consider myself odd, maybe even local, for turning my back on social media in an age in which every vulcanizer and bricklayer in town is on Facebook, Instagram and the likes, I am comforted by the fact that there are also millions of people like me, including celebrities who are also not on any social media platform. I have selected what an international supermodel and two movie superstars said to justify to myself that I may not be too odd afterall.
Kate Moss: “Now, with Instagram and everything, everyone’s so on their phones that even when I’m in a restaurant someone will come up and ask to get a picture with me. I’m like ‘No’. There are no boundaries anymore.”
Scarlett Johansson: “I don’t know how I feel about this idea of, ‘Now, I’m eating dinner, and I want everyone to know that I’m having dinner at this time,’ or, ‘I just mailed a letter and dropped off my kids.’”
Jennifer Aniston: “I’m really computer illiterate. When I see people on their BlackBerrys, working them like some girls work a hairdryer, I’m just stunned.”
For me, these are good companies as I continue in my blissful ignorance. Interestingly, I was invited to the school of my ten-year old son recently to speak to his Class (Primary Six) on “The Essence of Social Media”, probably because the organisers did not do their homework well to know I don’t belong. I went nonetheless and really enjoyed interacting with the smart kids.
In the course of my interaction with them, I asked if anyone was on social media and the hands of half the class were up, including that of my son. I asked him which platforms he was on and he said Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp. Now wait for this: He said he has 21 followers on Twitter! We are talking of a ten-year-old boy. Is that not crazy?
Now, let me conclude with a joke that depicts the reality of the present generation. It is about raising a family in cyberspace based on a conversation between a girl and her daddy:
Girl: “Dad, I’m in love with a boy who is far away from me. I am in UK and he lives in Nigeria. We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, had long chats on Whatsapp, he proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two months of relationship through Viber. I need your blessings and good wishes daddy.”
Dad: “Wow! You have my blessing to get married on Twitter, and I believe you can have fun on Tango. You can even buy your kids on E-bay and send them to school through Gmail. And if you are fed up with your children and husband, you have the option of selling them on Amazon!”
While the social media remains a very interesting world for the initiated, I am not yet ready to belong to that world.
By Olusegun Adeniyi
This article was first published in ThisDay on Thursday, June 26, 2014.
Last modified: June 26, 2014