Nigeria: Sending messages of love in a time of hate
500 m0re people have been massacred in fresh outbreaks of violence in three villages near Jos last Sunday. The murderers came in the middle of the night killing mainly women and children. This is the second attack since January when a about 200 people were killed in what appears to be a well organised killing spree helped along by text messaging. At least 145 messages in all were identified, some examples below.
“War, war, war. Stand up … and defend yourselves. Kill before they kill you. Slaughter before they slaughter you. Dump them in a pit before they dump you.
“Brother, please act in any way you can. Alert other brethren.”
Another urged Christians to shun food sold by Muslim hawkers alleging it could be poisoned, while another claimed political leaders were planning to cut water supplies with the intent to dehydrate and weaken members of one faith.
According to the iAfrica report some Facebookers were also taking religious / tribal positions on the violence as in this particular discussion. One other example is a blog called Persecution Blog: A Blog about the persecution of Christians worldwide. The name itself is provocative – imagine if it was a blog against the persecution of Muslims – and the post predictable. However given the warning at the end of the quote below, I would be more concerned if it was a Nigerian blog rather than a global one.
“Dogo Nahawa is a Christian community,” the Christian leaders said in a statement. “Eyewitnesses say the Hausa Fulani Muslim militants were chanting ‘Allah Akbar,’ broke into houses, cutting human beings, including children and women with their knives and cutlasses.”
Soon after the militants besieged Dogo Nahawa, the Christian leaders said, at 1:30 a.m. they contacted the military, which is in charge of security in the state.
“But we were shocked to find out that the soldiers did not react until about 3:30 a.m., after the Muslim attackers had finished their job and left,” they stated. “We are tired of these genocides on our Christian brothers and state here that we will not let this go unchallenged.”
My own reading of Facebook and Nigerian blogs does not support religious sectarianism. On the contrary, the anger at the attacks is directed at the Government or rather lack of government and the role of the security forces in enabling the violence rather than preventing it. Nonetheless the question remains how can Nigeria address the spreading of hate and violence through text messaging and social networks?
This is not the first time text messages have been used to fuel violence. In the post election violence in Kenya text messages of hate were being circulated as explained in this excerpt from SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa.
On 1 January 2008, Kenyans started to receive frightening text messages that urged readers to express their frustrations with the election outcome by attacking other ethnic groups. One such message reads, ‘Fellow Kenyans, the Kikuyus have stolen our children’s future … we must deal with them in a way they understand … violence.’ In reaction, another reads ‘No more innocent Kikuyu blood will be shed. We will slaughter them right here in the capital city. For justice, compile a list of Luos you know … we will give you numbers to text this information.’
The initial reaction of the Kenyan government was to shut down SMS on the Safaricom network. However the directior of the network suggested rather than closing down, they would send out messages of peace to all nine million subscribers. In addition to this 1,700 subscribers who “allegedly” sent out messages of hate were identified and their names sent to the Kenyan government. Though there is no law as such for the prosecution of these people, there is nothing to prevent a law criminalising the use of SMS and social networks for inciting hate and violence.
There is power in a handset and $5 of airtime to help spread chaos but the above example in Kenya shows that there are ways to counter the negative use of text messaging by sending out positive messages and the government needs to take responsibility for making this possible. Unfortunately I dont believe the imagination of Nigerian leaders will stretch this far. As I write hundreds of armed police and soldiers are being deployed in the region. Sending security forces to protect civilians is laudable but given the brutal record of Nigerian security forces they could well add to the violence rather than curtail it.