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Monday, 23 September 2013

How Not To Be A Nigerian, By Ifeanyi Uddin


Ifeanyi Uddin
Monday, last week, I “unfollowed” an erstwhile “follower” on my Twitter account. It was the first time I had ever done this, although I had previously “unfriended” a Facebook “friend.”
The latter’s post were of a prurient nature, and whereas I do have an appetite for unusually interesting material, I was convinced that this particular person’s posts were inconsistent with my under-aged children’s continued access to my Facebook account. There was evidently a functional reason for the Facebook action.
And the Twitter “unfollow”? At heart, I find social media exchanges incestuous for the most part. You are “followed” by those who largely agree with your views. You end up violently disagreeing with those who do not. And because the culture of engagement here is still at crèche levels, every disagreement deteriorates into an exchange of invectives. Havens form that do not push the frontiers of the known (or the knowable) further than at their inception. Pity then, that the processes of “unfollowing” and “unfriending” (by winnowing disagreeable views) further aggravate this state. It was therefore after deep reflection that I trod this path down in the mouth. But first, a background account.
A couple of weeks back I was with colleagues at one of these interminably long meetings at work. After fiddling to no end with her phone, this female coworker invited me to lend her my device because she could not access the Internet on her phone. I did not think twice of it before handing it on. And that was all. So long as she returned the device. She did. My sense when she did return it, was that the connection on my device had served her no better (and may be even worse) than that on her phone.
Later that day (back home, after work) I received a couple of notifications of retweets of my earlier tweets. Not just were these earlier tweets strange. I could not remember ever tweeting them. It turned out that my colleague/friend/Twitter account follower had (in the small interlude during the meeting, when she asked for my device) accessed my Twitter account, and from there, retweeted a couple of her own tweets. Only then did the “retweet is no endorsement” caveat on most Twitter accounts make sense.
I felt worse than being mis-represented. My space and person had been wantonly despoiled. An acquaintance had defrauded her way into my most private places. Had appropriated my thoughts (felt worse than if she had conned me of money). I was not sure who was the more culpable. Me, for trusting her so blindly? Or her, for taking me for a mug? I did act to remedy whatever damage this series of events may have caused. Promptly and most explicitly, I disowned the tweets in very strong terms.
Next day, she essayed an act of contrition. And I thought to remind her that the biggest problem with Nigeria is our failure to recognise others’ inalienable rights, especially to their private spaces. It is the reason why the church next door to me thinks that its parishioners redemption (as they make joyful noises on to their lord) is inconsistent with me having a good night’s rest. This also explains why a state governor will privatise (to the detriment of the “people”) funds meant for schools, roads, and healthcare services in his state. In the teeth of these, her weightiest contribution was to describe my rejoinders to her fraud as “hypocritical”! At that time, I was unsure how she had reasoned this conclusion out.
My 9-year old twins (whom I told this tale) loved the weight of that adjective, and how easily it rolls off the tongue. So since hearing of this incident, I occasionally am asked: “Dad, don’t you think you are being hypocritical?” I can understand that kids might find it a hard slog to wrap their heads round one, pretty long word that tries to describe the practice of “feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not”. But for a colleague at work, it was simply unimaginable that she would use words so completely out of context!
That was before Monday, last week. The whole point of her Twitter activity, that day, was to rail at Nigerians’ complete disrespect for “private spaces”! Only then did it dawn on me that Nigeria has no problems! Nigerians do. And none bigger than this disquieting capacity to say one thing, to mean something entirely different, and to act in violation of both the ordinary meaning of the sequence of words used, and their intended meaning.
We clearly cannot help the country forward, until we each help ourselves. And as an ongoing part of this necessary process of atonement, I “unfollowed” this vile character!
Mr. Uddin, a financial analyst and economic historian, writes a regular column for PREMIUM TIMES from Lagos
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