Here is why.
Following the tragic events of the Nyanya bomb blast, many took to social media to share gory images and promote hate speech. Many inflammatory comments, posts and tweets centred on past prejudices. Tolerance flew through the window as those who still hold on to parochial, religious, ethnic and political sentiments attacked others with contrary leanings.
The political class has brazenly demonstrated a zero tolerance for themselves and has instead sought to stoke the embers of discord among Nigerians. All camps have so far failed to seize the moment to help redefine and reshape our focus as a nation.
For far too long, we have allowed us to dance to these destructive drumbeats. Enough is enough of the “Us versus Them”, and “Lets pull them down at all cost using every opportunity” mentality.
In times of crisis, leaders are born. You and I need to stand up and speak out for peace. In our words and actions on social media (and in real life), let us refuse to be held down by our present travails. We cannot afford to be immobilized by fear and a sense of hopelessness about our collective tomorrow. We can choose not be defined by our national challenges. Let us not be defined by our differences. If death will not unite us, what will!
On the 25th of September 2013, I wrote an article in this column titled, #WeAreOne - How Kenya Harnessed Social Media to Unite Against & Fight Terror in #Westgate”.
The response of Kenya’s politicians and Kenyans can serve as a lesson for us.
Spontaneous Community Mobilization
As the heinous attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi unfolded, a nation that is otherwise as divided as Nigeria came together. From the inception of the attack, there was a collective resolve among the Kikuyus, Kambas, Luos, and other ethnic nationalities to stay united. Nowhere was it more evident than on social media. Citizens were mobilizing themselves online to provide offline support. By the second day of the siege, a giant blood donation exercise involving thousands of donors across major Kenyan cities had taken place. This was largely coordinated online. It involved ordinary Kenyans, the political elites and the diplomatic community.
Within the first 72 hours, Kenyans had donated over 50 Million Kenyan Shillings (about N100 Million; $572,866) via mobile payments. Makeshift shelters were erected and manned by ordinary Kenyans using their own resources. Volunteers, the injured and relatives of victims were fed and cared for even in the midst of all the uncertainty. Private and public healthcare professionals rushed to the hospitals where the injured had been taken to – volunteering their life savings skills.
Using their social media pages, many organizations mobilized their employees and customers to provide tangible support for the rescue efforts. Many heroic tales still exist out of that tragedy. As someone who was in Nairobi during this period, no words can sufficiently describe the sense of oneness, empathy and collective loss the nation felt.
Tweet after tweet, post after post, the political leadership and the nation united behind President Uhuru Kenyatta. Coming weeks after a major fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), this was an acid test for a President who was still in the early months of his government. President Kenyatta may have been down but he was not out. In the midst of these travails, his political opponents rallied around him. I was amazed to see formidable opponents like the former Prime Minister and 2014 presidential candidate of the Coalition For Reform and Democracy (CORD) party, Raila Odinga stand by his side as President Kenyatta addressed the nation 2 days into the siege.
There were conciliatory statements (at least for that period). That is true statesmanship.
President Kenyatta demonstrated humility and servant leadership. If they were Nigerians, President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga would be Igbo and Yoruba respectively. Imagine Tinubu and Buhari accompanying President Jonathan for on the spot assessments, visits to the injured or when addressing the nation. That will be a defining moment in Nigeria’s political history. How many more citizens need to die before we empathize and reach out across the political, religious, ethnic and social divide? We need less posturing and more statesmanship!
It is instructive to note that President Kenyatta was already actively using his Twitter and Facebook accounts to directly engage the Kenyan people. Through his very active official Presidential website (www.president.go.ke), Facebook page and Twitter handle, he was able to reach out to Kenyans - in his own voice. He owned both his message and his integrated communications channels. At no time were multiple voices speaking on his behalf and through other channels other than his. His digital channels led first.
Relevant public officials involved in different aspects of managing the crisis were personally involved in engaging citizens using their official digital media channels. There is no better time than now for the top echelon of the Nigerian military, the Directorate of State Security, the National Security Adviser, the Inspector General of Police, etc to follow their Kenyan counterparts.
As Nigerians lay dead and dying, it is no more fashionable to just share gory photos and eye witness accounts on social media and wait for others to take charge. When next there is a crisis, civil society organizations and citizen volunteers should use social media to mobilize tangible and constructive support towards victims, hospitals and other support centres. With new media, we can crowd source intelligence gathering, search and rescue operations and work the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and security agencies. These institutions can benchmark the very successful iVolunteer programme of the Kenyan Red Cross to increase the level of citizen participation.
The siege is not over yet. “You don’t start digging a well when you are thirsty”. It is time to unite. This generation cannot afford to fail Nigeria for “#WeAreOne”!!!
P.S: This article was published in the 23rd of April 2014 edition of the Punch Newspapers.
See some Kenyan Government agencies, personalities and some corporate organizations that actively used Twitter for rescue and support operations during the Westgate Mall siege:
State House, Kenya
Williams Ruto - Deputy President, Kenya
Francis Kimemia -Secretary to the Cabinet of Kenya
Joseph Ole Lenku - Cabinet Secretary - Interior and Coordination of National Government
Ambassador Amina Mohammed - Kenya's Foreign Secretary- Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Trade
Abbas Gullet - Secretary General, Kenya Red Cross
Jane Waikenda -Director, Department of Immigration Services