Blurb Hashtags: Social Media, Politics and Ethnicity in Nigeria peers into the socio-political atmosphere of Africa’s most vibrant online politico-social ecosystem. Through this collection of essays, a product of the ethnographic immersion of the author in Nigeria’s social media milieu – the aspirations, hopes, angst, frustrations and intentions of Nigerian tweeps about politics, ethnicity, free speech, hate speech and political participation can be better understood.
Editing As this is a pre-publication version, we will not comment on the editing.*
What worked? Hashtags is a collection of essays divided into three parts. These essays are previously published journalistic pieces by Nwachukwu which are his personal observations, research and extrapolations of the effect and influence of social media in the socio-political space in Nigeria. Although Nwachukwu’s thoughts are insightful, Hashtags suffers from the poorly concealed bias he holds against active ‘combatants’ and ‘influencers’ in the Nigerian Twittersphere. The book also serves as a historical record of what happened in the socio-political space in Nigeria between 2011 and 2018.
Part 1 on Ethnic Hate Speech has four essays:
Nwachukwu gives the reader a background to the pre-existing ethnic divide among Nigerians and how different governments have worked to fuel or curb this occurrence. For instance, he acknowledges the role of President Muhammadu Buhari in creating more division with his 97%/5% rhetoric.
He proposes a pragmatic solution to the problem of ethnicity being used as a weapon by politicians. A strict rotation of the presidency by all six geopolitical zones in the country instead of pretending that our political parties have ideologies to differentiate them. This rotational presidency is already in place though it is North then South, not the six geo-political zones so we don’t think the proposed solution adds much to this neither has it stopped the polarisation of Nigeria.
This part also talks about how writers came together to raise a voice denouncing ethnic drivel peddled by the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. One wonders about the utility of this action especially if juxtaposed with Nwachukwu’s position in part 2 of this book where he advocates a media blackout on reporting Boko Haram attacks.
Part 2 on Politics and Social Media and the Nigerian Politico-Twitterati has sixteen essays:
This second part of the book delves more into the culture and heart of the Nigerian online community. Reviewing and reminiscing over the wins, losses and downright outrageous moments online, where hashtags are weapons but also used to save. Social media was used to dispel the unfounded rumours and fears about Ebola.
Nwachukwu discusses the Baga Massacre vs Charlie Hebdo attack, the similarity in tragedy but different responses by the world at large. One would assume this is because the other tragedy happened in France which gives it an edge (what a terrible thing to say) over Nigeria, while also considering that the #Bringbackourgirls campaign witnessed a huge outrage and uproar. Perhaps, the world was tired of our shit.
It was interesting to see Nwachukwu’s thoughts evolve and develop over time. One such incident was an earlier advocated position on total media blackouts on Boko Haram then his outrage at a lack of coverage over Boko Haram killings in Baga compared with the headline-grabbing terror-porn reportage of the West (Paris, #IAmCharlieHebdo).
Nwachukwu reflected on the role social media played in the build-up to the 2015 general election. Although mentioned in passing, one would expect him to write a bit more about how #OccupyNigeria was pivotal in shaping opinion about the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The main takeaway from this section is the #TrollCabal as an innovative tool to counter the toxicity in the social media space, specifically, twitter. This is an example of social media users appropriating and redefining words. They redefined trolls as defenders of civil, dispassionate discourse, and a ‘fencist’ as a citizen actively engaged in the democratic/electoral process but who chooses not to engage in blind, attritional shouting matches online. Troll cabal is a laudable initiative but one must take stock and ponder on its effectiveness years later.
Part 3 on Online Free Speech has 5 essays.
This part deals with the suppression of free speech by governments using different guises including fighting cybercrime. 3 of the essays were about suppression of free speech in Ethiopia and Nwachukwu’s role (along with others) in using social media to advocate for the release of detained journalists.
Overall, Hashtags is a well written even if academic piece. We have reservations about its appeal to the demography it is about. Perhaps, Nwachukwu is writing for a different audience.
The reader comes away with a better understanding of the Nigerian social media space. The book is insightful and informative, but it is good to note that it is written from the personal observations of the author.
What didn’t work?
Mo There’s a factual error in the book. Buhari won by 2.5 million votes not over 3 million votes.
The last three essays on the suppression of free speech in Ethiopia seemed out of place considering the title and subject matter of the book.
The author’s position on free speech vs hate speech is unclear. The problem with any attempt to ring-fence freedoms with responsibility is that it is a necessarily subjective exercise. Away from blatant falsehood, how is ‘offence’ measured? Perhaps even worse, is that it represents a curtailment of unregulated free speech – which is the raison d’etre of social media.
How does one, like the EU recently did, legislate against free expression based on the perceived offence it might cause? The US Supreme Court refuses to recognize or restrict hate speech arguing that freedom of expression includes the right to express that which one hates.
And this is what social media conversations should represent: the ability to freely express all opinions, and put them through the crucible of public debate that exist on social media platforms.
Number of pages 178.
Publisher Prima, an imprint of Narrative Landscape Press.
You can read more about Hashtags here.
* Many thanks to Nwachukwu for sending us a pre-publication copy of Hashtags in exchange for an honest review.
 The Indigenous People of Biafra is a separatist organisation led by Nnamdi Kanu which wants a number of South-East states in Nigeria to secede from Nigeria.