• Friday, March 01, 2024
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When President Buhari tweets, I follow back


In October 2010, I attended a Europa League football match at the City of Manchester Stadium (now known as the Etihad Stadium) between Manchester City and Polish side Lech Poznan. This was a City side that had the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Nigel De Jong, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Patrick Vieira. Poznan were complete no-hopers in comparison and everyone knew it.

On the pitch, the little-known Polish team did well to keep the score down to just 3-1, though that may have had more to do with City conserving energy instead of going flat out. City expectedly had by far greater territorial advantage and possession, making the game look at times like a half-court press. Yet to my left in the away corner, the Poznan fans never stopped having a party all night long. More interesting was what they were doing.

Instead of watching the game and getting depressed by how comprehensively outplayed their team was, or even trying to motivate their team to give them something, they were doing something I had never seen before. All 2,000+ Poznan fans had their arms linked, backs turned to the pitch, screaming and jumping up and down all game long. It became such a spectacle that soon even some City fans started doing it when the game petered out as a contest toward the end.

Nearly 10 years after that insignificant Europa League group match game in 2010, the ‘Poznan’ is now a staple of the Manchester City fan base and has taken root across England. Why is this? And why did I think of this little anecdote when writing this column?

Buhari’s government is the pitch – Nigerians have lost interest

The thing that made a simple and distinctly silly-looking spectacle like the ‘Poznan’ so infectious and adoptable was that it gave the fans a power that they did not have before. Previously, the performance of their team on the pitch inevitably determined the level of their spirits. These Polish fans however, proved that no matter how badly your team is getting beaten on the pitch, you can reclaim your own happiness by turning your back to them and having your own private stadium party.

Every single one of Mr President’s tweets gets 3 or 4 thousand replies saying nothing but the following 3 letters: “I.F.B.” The acronym “IFB” means “I Follow Back,” but clearly 3,000 people do not suddenly and spontaneously decide to carry out social media etiquette under a tweet by a head of state.

The ‘Poznan’ was part protest, part statement of personal independence, part riotous party. The seductiveness of being able to reclaim small bits of your happiness from an abusive relationship with a football team is very similar to a curious new online movement many young Nigerians are now a part of. You can see this movement in many corners of the Nigerian internet, but none is more common than in the replies to tweets from President Muhammadu Buhari’s official Twitter handle.

As against the expected wall of argument and recriminations everytime he posts something, something curious is happening. Every single one of Mr President’s tweets gets 3 or 4 thousand replies saying nothing but the following 3 letters: “I.F.B.” The acronym “IFB” means “I Follow Back,” but clearly 3,000 people do not suddenly and spontaneously decide to carry out social media etiquette under a tweet by a head of state. It turns out that in the weird and wonderful manner of internet culture, young Nigerians have synthesized a new way of expressing their anger and lack of interest in whatever the president has to say.

Like the Poznan fans on that bitterly cold October evening, social media-savvy Nigerian youth have decided to metaphorically turn their back on Buhari in a pointedly visible and passive-aggressive manner. As one of the “IFB” posters told me, “Buhari’s government is completely useless to us, so at least let us get something useful from him by gaining followers under his tweets.”

It’s funny at first but then…

At first this delightfully mutinous mass action was nothing short of hilarious in my eyes. After a few weeks however, having seen the movement get stronger without a single shred of acknowledgment from the president or his media team, it now seems sad and dangerous to me. It is not dangerous because there is any risk of youth anger spilling over into physical action – the very medium of this ‘protest’ tells an entire story on its own. It is however dangerous precisely because of how passive it is.

The real problem that Mr Buhari and his co-travellers seem blissfully unaware of is that when citizens no longer care enough to fight; when young Nigerians genuinely from the bottom of their hearts do not care about or have a shred of belief in Nigeria, the very frayed fabric of national existence suffers critical damage. While Buhari carries on with his imperial demeanour, making asinine references to “able bodied young people” who should apparently engage themselves in subsistence farming, young Nigerians are completely detached from anything he has to say.

Without men with guns to enforce the arbitrary existence of his government, he is now only “president” in any meaningful way, of probably his immediate family. Young Nigerians have not only turned their metaphorical backs to him, but they are actively exploring ways to render his presence or influence in their lives as minimal as possible. I wrote in this column two weeks ago about the growing phenomenon of Nigerian ‘crypto maximalists’ – people who keep their savings almost exclusively in cryptocurrency, where it is outside the reach of Buhari and his woefully compromised CBN governor.

Data from SBM Intelligence shows that no fewer than 23 different ethnic vigilante groups now exists across Nigeria, created or emboldened by Buhari’s unprecedented failure at securing the lives of Nigerians. The president meanwhile, is not aware. He lives in a walled-off reality inside Aso Rock where he is shielded from any kind of responsibility or accountability, and he is treated like a hero simply for existing and breathing air. If this status quo continues where on-street reality and government policy continue to diverge like the multiple naira exchange rates, this story will inevitably only end one way. Not even ‘docile’ young Nigerians have the ability to remain passive forever.

For the record, despite their footballing inferiority, Poznan won the return match in Poland 3-1.