The debate was on Pelu’s page. He had put up a post by Ruona which argues that “Until Nigerians who are working honestly and are COMPETENT, thoroughbred PROFESSIONALS make themselves more visible, and exhibit the same “arrogance” in showcasing their talents (brains, art and thought)… The only role models your children will have is LoudBingo.”
That appeared a stretch to me initially. And Femi argued, somewhat convincingly to me, that Nigerian professionals are overwhelmed by the enormity of their living conditions and are broken, that to have such an expectation of them or make such a demand on them is an indication of “lack of empathy, emotional intelligence and intellectual girth.”
He didn’t think one or two outliers here and there should be taken as representation, because “even professionals are dying of hunger, are being attacked by the Nigerian Police and are being brutalised by the social, political and infrastructural violence in the land…. So it is all about the hustle. So when hushpuppi files out freebies on instagram, both professionals and unprofessionals are hoping to get a bite. ”
Easy to see where Femi is coming from. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to ask myself if Ruona is not right to a larger extent. I began to ask myself if indeed, the ‘professionals’ who are able to stay afloat, in the face of the ‘infrastructural violence should not do more, even if not in upstaging Hushpuppism or becoming role models, but in being more visible with their presence and voices on the social spaces.
I think, as with many other things, the professionals, have been slow at embracing the social media. While for some, the reluctance comes from the tradition which sees social media as self-promotion, derided among the club of professionals as cheap, tacky and unprofessional. For the intellectuals, public engagement is not warmly embraced, reason for that wide gap between town and gown.
I would argue that a lot to do with that is on account of some sort of snobbery or what some might refer to as ‘superiority complex’. Many intellectuals have confined themselves to the rarefied clime of peer-reviewed journals where many a great idea have remained buried. Public intellection is almost regarded as debasing the art or is the trade? Those who engage in it are seen as either craving for attention, cheapening the quality of their scholarship for acclaim or trading it for fame. They are regarded by the traditional academic community as pop-intellectuals. But also, many of the professionals and intellectuals are simply not ‘literate’ in social media and have simply given up rather than give it a start.
Given where we are – an intersection between a confused yesterday and a confusing tomorrow, can we afford a situation where those who should be upfront as thought-leaders resign themselves to barking their thoughts at the Television in their living rooms, the newspapers in hands or their mobile devices while the social spaces are in the hands of the hushpuppis, busy shaping the face of tomorrow. It ought not to be so.
We must remember that nature abhors vacuum. No matter what you know, if you do not put it out there or share it, which is what the concept of socialising via digital platforms is all about, no-one gets to know you know it. That is why those who understand how this works keep putting things out, even if they do not own these things in reality. The idea is to keep framing minds in a direction they desire as the minds must be fed and vacuum is not an option. The world, the spaces, keep yearning for content. If the professionals do not put out content, the hushpuppis will fill this space, as they have done.
Now, this is not to take into consideration that to each audience, its own content. This is not to discountenance the fact that the soft is often of more interest to more people than the hard. But the fact remains that there is an audience for the hard not sufficiently catered for. More importantly, there is way to soften the hard to make it more accessible. That is where we ought to do more and can do more.
I remember how the initial Nollywood quality of production was seen by professionals in TV and Film production. While those of us in TV then felt the VHS was of such inferior quality that it could not be put to professional use, others, who probably didn’t know better, felt it was not necessarily about the format but the story and they began to shoot. They were proved right, with time, that there was an audience eagerly waiting for content. While the ‘professionals’ were watching and criticising, the ‘non-professionals’ were making ‘progress’ creating or taking over the market. Technology will soon come to aid them and democratise further the ‘decent’ process of film-making. As it is, the first movers had moved fast, and that only aided them further. The tide would eventually turn in a different direction, but it does not invalidate the point that seizing the moment with whatever you have is often more beneficial than waiting for perfect timing or tools.
The social media space opened up and the Journalists, Writers, Artists, Photographers, etc were the last to wake up to what the platform can do for their trades. Take Journalism, while those with years of experience in news gathering and dissemination watched, Linda Ikeji blogged her way to the top. Well, her kind of content night not be the stuff that would appeal to the ‘regular’ Journalist. But there was a ‘vibrant’ soft sector in the media which was actively in her kind of business, but neither broke out in that direction early enough, nor reacted early enough. What she was doing or still doing could be better packaged and I think ‘Bella Naija’ came to occupy that space.
The point I make is that if the ‘professionals’ do not step up, step in or take the space, some other people will, of necessity do. If the quality thought-leaders do not step up to generate and share content, the hushpuppis will dominate the space. Of course, I am not saying that there is a way to permanently displace the obscenity and vulgarity that some platforms exemplify, but my point is that there is at least a remnant that yearns for quality. Can you imagine not having a Joe Abba on Twitter? See how much he has done in terms of education on governance and public institutions. Good to see Abubakar Suleiman stepping out from the private sector. We need to see more of such quality minds with rich pedigree stepping up to occupy the spaces.
I think credit is due to Pius Adesanmi for the great work he did as a public intellectual, bringing his sharp mind and powerful pen to mould minds, enriching the civic space. I am convinced that his ultimate legacy, in this regard, is that he inspired many more bright minds. who might have been reluctant to publicly engage with issues and break their shells of silence. This space is richer for that. But we need more of that.
I know that some of our intellectuals believe that the quality of engagement is beneath them. Some find the level of civility bothersome. But it is what it is. The space comes with all sorts. But we can only best teach civility by putting into practice in an environment such as this, where some mistake anonymity or distance as licence to be uncivil. We can best succeed at making the space more civil by showing the example, as people are always watching and taking notes.
We cannot afford to give up and yield the space to the Hushpuppis, in all of the different variants. We can only hush the puppis by stepping up and feeling the spaces with what can inspire the change we want to see. To fold our hands on the basis that we have been overwhelmed would amount to letting tomorrow slip away, while we watch. Perhaps, the realisation that this is an obligation that we must take up is one reason why some of us are still here.
Years back, a Mother asked me to point in the direction of a young man on this platform whom a teenager could follow for inspiration or direction. I promptly pointed in the direction of my Aburo, Olajide Abiola. Thank go, there are many others like that, brain and smarts combined. Suraj Oyewale. Babatunde Akin-Moses, Adamu Tilde, Chinonso Ogbogu, Chichi Eriobu and many others. We just have to keep building and telling stories that will inspire people, reinforce a good value-system and positive mind-set. There is a lot of milk out there, we need the meat too. We need the hard to step up to complement the soft. We have to create choices and showcase other models.
This is the time for more of our professionals and intellectuals to do away with whatever is holding them back -snobbery, lethargy, nonchalance, self-preservation and do more to occupy the spaces with more positivism and investing in charting the way forward. Of course, we must also do more at creating an enabling environment, through all sorts of partnerships, for more professionals and intellectuals to be able to overcome the overwhelming pressure of the living conditions so we can have more people showcasing quality thought and ‘smartness’. Otherwise, we just might have forfeited tomorrow to the Hushpuppis.