Last week, an audio recording threatened to break the internet. It should not have because, seriously, that sound is very clearly ‘Laurel’ not ‘Yanny’. But then, who could dictate for people what they hear with their own ears? Like the dress sensation of February 2015, the debate was a welcome breather from depressing politics to wonder at and appreciate diversity of perspectives, the variations in reality as we view it.
When we are not experimenting with our subjective tastes, however, we need objective standards. Standards are how we make sense of society and create models that can be built on for progress. That is why we want assurance that every work of poetry we read has passed through a thorough editor; we want to clearly differentiate between when some guy is being deep, woke and inventive with words and a disturbing spell of bad grammar.
Also last week, there was a viral video of Ibrahim Idris, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, giving a speech at an event in Kano. It may have been a trend to evoke humorous and relaxing curiosity a la Laurel if it had been someone nicer, or more positively popular. It is easy to see why the part where he stuttered between ‘transmission’ and ‘confusion’ caught fire with the merciless army online: Benue, the Senate, SARS brutality, and the feeling that President Buhari’s administration can’t just stop being a rolling exposition in incompetence. The EFCC chairman – another policeman, another Ibrahim – added more fire to the ‘incompetence’ by his double whammy of wearing a pro-Buhari pin on his suit while showing inability to differentiate between “institutionalizing” the fight against corruption and erecting a physical structure in an interview. It has drawn minds back to the oga-at-the-top days which also involved a man in uniform.
But the three events are, if we are judging with apolitical filters, clearly not identical. The IGP having a bad spell trying to transmit the content of a speech to his audience, for whatever reason, is not the same as an officer not knowing his organization’s website, or another blatantly hero-worshipping when he should be an unbiased umpire. Suggestions by some in the medical community the IGP’s fit could have been a case of dyslexia have been challenged, and perhaps rightly because there are other videos attesting to Mr Idris ability to speak clearly. It could have been the wind, a poorly written speech, or the unfortunate reaction of a man in no state of mind to read at the time.
And the IGP did finish his speech ably as full versions of the clip showed.
Whatever it was that cause the fit of interruption should not amount to a grade on his competence, neither will it add to reasons why he should be fired. That just sets up a precedent for assessment nobody really wants, with the ethnic undertones that will certainly accompany it. On the contrary, what the video presents is a caution on how technologies, when output is unclear, can sow doubts in our interpretation of reality and evidence, potentially undermining good arguments when they really need to be made.
More apps emerge by the day with which to add or remove everything from parts or whole conversations, tweak voices, remove images from a real video and change what people do in a video. If you think about it, we are really media consumers at the mercy of video editors and whizzes of Photoshop, a reality that must be in our minds going into the 2019 elections, not to the extent that we become default cynics but for alertness to take second looks before passing judgments. Not every banner saying ‘Akara and Bread here’ will have come from the accused party.
In the interim, the judgments passed on the IGP by the Senate upon his refusal to appear before them is arguably a bigger fish to fry. Why has the respected lawyer, Femi Falana, agreed that the Senate is empowered by the constitution to summon anybody but denied that Mr Idris is bound to honour their invitation?
Are the images of shoe-shining empowerment from Borno state real? The state’s commissioner for Higher Education, who sponsored the distribution of buckets, has defended it as reflecting the “peculiar needs” of his people of Gwoza. As with anything that goes viral, there are camps for and against the value of the empowerment drive. Those who see no harm define “empowerment” as a phenomenon subjective to the needs of those to be empowered, while the mass of modern society, who know no longer regard shoe-shining as a competence or capability that must be outsourced, strongly object.
Can we really be having a conversation about progress in modern Nigeria when the best hope of 5000 young men to escape poverty has been reduced to hawking buckets ‘fully equipped’ with tools only good enough for bettering soles that are actually leaving meaningful prints in the sands of time?