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Odinkalu: Social media fuels violence, yet deepens democracy

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SOCIAL  media is driving up violence and other vices in the country, and one of its major problem is “influence without responsibility,” says the former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu.

“I know some people who have almost been driven to suicide because of bullying that goes on online,” Odinkalu said on Wednesday in his keynote address at the opening of the New Media, Citizens and Governance (NMCG) conference in Abuja.

While admitting that social media can be a platform for transparency, he said it can also be a platform for falsification.

“People now open up to 100 handles to abuse you continuously,”Odinkalu said, adding that abuse and name-calling on social media mean that the one being abused is doing what is right.

“You must never give up on your convictions because people are abusing you. Abusing and calling you names is okay, it means you are doing something useful. Focus on what’s right.

He advised his audience never to be afraid of disagreeing with the sycophants who do nothing but hail their principals. 

He, however, remarked that the new media has played a tremendous role in entrenching democratic culture in Nigeria, particularly praising the role the new media has played in ensuring dissemination of information and demystifying the aura around power.

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“The power of new media has made it easy to access the innermost corners of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Places like the Presidential Villa where people are being barred from taking pictures already exist in Google Maps,” Odinkalu said.

Speaking during the session titled “Are Elections Won on the Timeline?”, Demola Olarewaju, a digital media expert and member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), considered digital tools as crucial to the success of Nigeria’s democracy, saying “by leveraging the tools of the internet, we can confront rigging and limit its impact on our elections.”

Sesugh Akume of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) said the Nigerian people can further use the social media to “counter the APC-PDP dichotomy that has dominated political discourse in Nigeria. If active Nigerians decide to expand the discussion beyond APC and PDP, they can easily do these with social media.”

Supported by Facebook, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate & Palladium, the NMCG is a biennial event that was last held in 2016.

The 2-day conference is hosted by Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Paradigm Initiative and BudgIT to discuss the theme, “Government, New Media, and Civic Spaces.”

Tope Ogundipe, the Director of Programs at Paradigm Initiative, said the organisers were pleased with the turnout on the first day of the conference and hope “the conversations will help provide clarity to the issues raised here while also energising citizens to take their role in the democratic process more seriously.”

 

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