Living with the Erosion of Honest Public Discourse in Nigeria

A LOT CAN BE GLEANED in terms of general knowledge simply by being exposed to a base of diverse opinion, to which people must always avail themselves, especially in a multicultural society of opinionated citizens as Nigeria. Therefore, for the sake of knowledge through diversity of opinion, Nigerians cannot, and must not, always be in agreement with every other Nigerian when it comes to discussing their socio-political or economic realities, whether on or off social media.

Yet we owe ourselves the responsibility to choose wisely when it comes to the kinds of persons with whom we must engage in any discourse pertaining to these things, especially as it affects government administration in the country - because, whether we believe it or not, there will always be that fellow Nigerian out there, unfortunately, who will never see a good point in anything, either because his thought process has been poisoned by the jaundice of bias or because he is simply another mischievous commentator on a mission to do the bidding of his lackey or paymaster.

Unfortunately, such Nigerians are of all stripes, from the implacable bigot who simply disagrees with his perceived adversary on the basis of his ethnicity or religious belief, to the seemingly enlightened commentator of privileged constitution, who uses his elocution and intellectual sophistication to bamboozle and ultimately poison the minds of the feeble-minded among his audiences. That the latter is fairly exposed and moderately enlightened also doesn’t exempt him from the aforementioned disease of ethnic or religious bigotry; he is equally susceptible to all manner of sickening biases, too.

Thanks to its weak leadership, both in vision and in overall integrity, which unleashed all manner of characters into the main arena of Nigeria’s public exchange, the last administration under President Goodluck E. Jonathan heralded an unusual spike in blatantly dishonest public discourse, as well as a brazen rejection of intellectual integrity. Crude opinionators took over the stage of public commentary, backed by their more sophisticated counterparts, and unleashed their vices everywhere. Honest conversation on most topics took flight as the society became awash with loose cash from the commonwealth, released by those in power to be spent on forcing a false narrative about the government’s so-called successes into citizen consciousness - efforts that failed for the most part, anyway.

But the aftershocks of that era remain. As a new administration under President Muhammadu Buhari struggles to turn things around less than a year into power, imperfectly so, every decision taken by the government has been met with similar mischief and bias in public commentary from the same pool of dubious opinionators, including some which border on outright obtuse reasoning. A case in the point is the Facebook commentator whose grouse with the government was that, of the investments made in different locations in Nigeria as part of recent agreements made with China on President Buhari’s recent visit to the country, none, allegedly, was sited in the south-eastern region of Nigeria.

Of course lost on this commentator is the singular fact that the biggest aspects of the agreements helps the heavily business-minded southeast region than any other region in the country, as businesses get to benefit immensely from the currency swap agreement that would make it easier to trade with China, Nigeria’s largest trading partner and source of goods, without having to deal with the suffocating problem of scarce foreign exchange. It is easy to see that such commentator, probably of primordial ethnic mindset, primarily went in looking for the failures, if any, in that agreement.

In such environment, more sensible citizens would be wiser to choose their battles carefully and avoid getting sucked into a vortex of fruitless exchange with people who cannot be helped to see things any different from their long-held opinions, whether genuine or mischievous as the case may be.

Again, it pays to know that these disbelieving folks come in all forms, from the one in the habit of posting endless streams of incongruous religious invocation on his Facebook page while purporting to be a champion for the cheated and the oppressed, to the jester who uses the power of his humor as smokescreen to sell his bias, as well as the ethnic jingoist for whom everything must be seen through the same prism of hateful ethnic bias.

It pays to be wary of the presence of such people and their devices, and avoid them as much as one can in our public discourse. Engaging them is not only the most unproductive thing that one may indulge in; it also poses the risk of infecting the one who indulges them with their hopelessly sardonic outlook to life, if the said sardonic outlook were genuine at all in the first instance.