This government has a long time to change the opinion of social media users; as Howard Wilson said in 1964, “a week is a long time in politics.”
Harold Wilson will be remembered for winning four general elections; it is remarkable for a man to convince the demanding British electorate that he is the right person to lead them four times. It is even more remarkable that he achieved that in two separate periods; 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. He remains the most recent British prime minister to have served non-consecutive terms.
Two of the elections were won by the narrowest of margins. In 1964, Labour won the election by one seat; while in 1976, they had fewer votes than the Conservative Party, but luckily won more seats and Wilson returned as prime minister when Edward Heath was unable to form a coalition government with the Liberals. One of the most defining characteristics of Harold Wilson was his desire to be a man of the people. He spoke with a Yorkshire accent and supported his hometown football club, Huddersfiled Town. In 1965, he nominated The Beatles for the MBE, a move that showed he was in touch with the younger generation.
It is easy to draw similarities between Howard Wilson and Goodluck Jonathan. President Jonathan won the Presidential Election by connecting with the average Nigerian. His wife spoke faltering English blended with an accented dose of pidgin; while the elitist minority thumped their noses, she connected with the majority of Nigerians who never watched an episode of ‘Mind Your Language’.
To align with the younger generation, he courted social media effectively. Tolu Ogunlesi, in his 2011 article, Have You Liked Goodluck Jonathan, said: “Goodluck Jonathan is therefore a breath of fresh air. He will also go down in history as the first Nigerian leader to embrace social networking as a tool of governance. Jonathan is our Facebook President. As I write this he is the most popular Nigerian on Facebook. Only two weeks after joining he has amassed more than 120,000 followers.”
A year later, the president described in that article is barely recognizable. He has moved from the most popular Nigerian on Facebook to the most insulted on the Internet, if his aides are to be believed. Social media is now the scourge of the government, one that must be curtailed before it becomes a festering sore.
I will not waste time on comments made by the General David Mark. Anyone credited with statements like “telephones are not for the poor” and “a sergeant in the army is better than a graduate” does not deserve attention. The comments ascribed to the special adviser to the President on Special Duties and Social Development, Mrs. Sarah Pane, are more interesting.
Mrs. Pane said that the negative use of the social media by Nigerian youths is impacting negatively on the country’s image and that the Nigerian president has become the most insulted in the world.
It is interesting to see how the perception of the president and his administration has changed in the last 18 months. A year ago, the popular micro blog, Twitter, was a beehive of engagement. Ministers took time out to participate in several interactive “tweet-meet” sessions. The president hired Joe Trippi, the self acclaimed American presidential campaign strategist, to run his Internet based engagement.
The early results were encouraging, and a special assistant on New Media was appointed, a vice president poached from Joe Trippi’s firm, to focus on this budding followership.
Today, most of the government officials on Twitter are objects of ridicule or mob attacks. The response from government was predictable; attack the symptom and ignore the disease. The sound bites from government officials suggest if social media is controlled, there will be no medium to embarrass the government. The actual solution is always less obvious to government. It is surely more effective to deliver election promises, run a transparent administration, and make your critics redundant.
I am not one of those 120,000 Facebook users that like the Goodluck Jonathan page, but I will gladly do so between now and 2015 if the results of his government suggest we have moved from a transaction led government to one focused on sustainable development. This government has a long time to change the opinion of social media users; as Howard Wilson said in 1964, “a week is a long time in politics.”
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