#EndSARS with its slogan of Soro Soke, a Yoruba phrase which literally translates as “Speak louder” has opened up new vistas for political communication in Nigeria. Figuratively, Soro Soke means “Don’t be silent” or “Don’t sit on the fence.” During the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria especially those that took place in Lagos, young protesters were shouting “Speak louder!” to press home demands for putting an end to all forms of police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan has now become a loud anthem for an erstwhile docile populace which had lost its voice no thanks to the impunity of the ruthless political class.
In the context of political communication which can be viewed “as the connection concerning politics and citizens and the interaction modes that connect these groups to each other,” the relationship between the electorates and public office holders has been that of a master and his slave. Evidence from literature suggests that the slave-master relationship is a consequence of colonial rule. As a people battered by colonial hangovers, successive leaders in Africa did not break from the top-bottom model of communication which saw the masses as a cancer that should either be removed or managed.
This transmission model of communication afforded neocolonialists the chance to treat the people like those who are meant to be seen and not heard. Once they are elected into public offices, they destroy the ladder that brought them to power by cutting any form of communication with the voting masses. Sadly too, our budding democracy lacks the potency to recall political office holders. This has emboldened them to fire and hire and ill-treat the people. What is more, they communicate with the public through threats. In some cases, those who are bold to ask for accountability are summarily condemned or killed.
Aside from being a product of imperial colonialism, the current regime of neo-colonialism is hatched by the militarization of our political process and psyche. The long years of military intervention in our polity debuted a culture of impunity which does not welcome feedback. Any attempt at giving negative feedback during elections is met with vote buying, massive rigging and fire-power resulting in ballot-snatching so as to declare a win for the powers that be. With a poor, illiterate and docile citizenry, there is little or nothing anyone can do except resorting to God through prayer or karma.
The recycling of politicians from local government to state and the national assembly has created a pattern of oppression. Those who loot the public treasury to remain in power make alliances amongst themselves and exchange their children in marriage for political convenience. They build strong walls and remain incommunicado. The poor are left to lick their wounds by sharing banters that do them no good. In this scenario, participatory communication becomes an expensive commodity. If at all they communicate with the rural populace, it is through proxies or third parties.
In a previous article titled “Nigeria: A Nation of Looters and Hoodlums?” I argued that: “Before us, youths that were considered lazy by the political class suddenly woke up from their slumber to sustain a peaceful protest for two weeks. How did we get here? Well, as Millennials, and Generation Z and Y, they saw the Arab spring. Also, no thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US, the technology-driven youths now know the power of the Smartphone. Make no mistake about it, the television also creates an unbeatable globalization which trains them on how to how their leaders accountable.”
Those youths read from literature and their parents tell them how those handling the reins of power today enjoyed free education and medical care among good things of life. From the 1980s downwards, they were told that they are leaders of tomorrow. However, not even the “Not too Young to Run Bill” can guarantee them a place on the table. With no such thing as a negotiating table and the deteriorating nature of our polity in terms of lack of clear vision and mission for our jobless youths, “Soro Soke” became an inviting chorus to call the attention of the world to the #5for5 demands.
These demands include, “Immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families, setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct (within 10days), in line with police act, psychological evaluation and retaining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed and increase Police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.”
As noted earlier, if we scan these demands on Political communication which has to do with the creation and exchange of ideas or opinions between citizens, public officials, political institutions and other related entities such as the media, we would realize that there has been little or no feedback mechanism between those who govern and the governed. Unfortunately, the media which is supposed to ensure smooth communication and accountability by public office holders has not lived up to expectation.
Going forward, those in authority ought to know that there is no need to play the ostrich. It is time to create a clear platform for engaging with the youth. This could be achieved through virtual town-hall meetings or social media handles. This would help the government to roll out its plans for the youth and for the young people to air their grievances too. The energy that is being channelled in trying to gag either the press or the populace by limiting social media-use portends a grave danger for democratic values. In the interim, Soro Soke would define the future of Political Communication in Nigeria.
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.