By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.Twitter: @farooqkperogi
I wasn’t aware that there was an insurgent radio station called Radio Biafra until the Nigerian government gave it visibility—and legitimacy—by publicly claiming to have jammed it and by responding to its broadcasts after its supposed jam. I imagine that this is the case for most Nigerians.
In an ironic way, the Nigerian government has helped to popularize a previously marginal rebel radio station. Perhaps the clearest indication of the rising popularity of the radio station in the aftermath of its putative electronic jamming is that when you type “radio b” on Google’s search box, “radio Biafra” appears as the first autocomplete prediction. This shows that, over the past few days, there has been an exponential spike in the number of searches for “radio Biafra” on Google. According to Google, “The search queries that you see as part of Autocomplete reflect what other people are searching for and the content of web pages.”
There are so many things that are defective in government’s handling of the Radio Biafra issue. First, government overestimated the power and reach of the radio station. This overestimation caused it to overreact and, in the process, lionize an otherwise inconsequential, fringe radio station. The ministry of information grandstanded about having “successfully jammed” Radio Biafra’s signals, but a BBC reporter in Enugu said he could receive the radio’s signals as of July 15, 2015.
In any case, jamming a radio station’s signals in this digital age is frankly laughable. There are a thousand and one ways to circumvent jamming. The world is going through what new media enthusiasts like to call creative destruction. The old, familiar ways of gathering and circulating information are exploding and are being replaced by a myriad of experimental digital strategies. Social media platforms, for instance, are now more effective ways to reach and engage with vast swaths of people than legacy media outfits. Jamming radio signals is so 1990s or, to borrow a line from the lyrics of Black Eyed Pea’s “Boom Boom Pow” song, so 2000 late.
What is probably worse than jamming—or claiming to have jammed—the signals of the radio station is the presidency’s issuance of a press statement on July 15, 2015 disclaiming an alleged anti-Igbo statement credited to President Buhari by the station. That’s a huge, unearned presidential validation of the station. A multi-billion-dollar advertising blitz in all major global media outlets can’t buy the radio station the kind of publicity that the presidency cheaply handed to them. I can bet my bottom dollar that no more than 500 people heard the original libelous Radio Biafra broadcast against the president; now millions of people know about it.
There are at least two reasons why the presidency’s press statement betrays poor judgment. One, the presidency is a primary definer of news. This fact confers visibility on anything that emanates from it. Two, people generally distrust governments, and are prepared to believe the worst about them. This sentiment is encapsulated in British journalist Francis Claud Cockburn’s famous cynical quip that you should “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”
Besides, the Buhari government is notorious for its snail-pace response to crucially important national informational needs, leading to the mushrooming and blossoming of online rumor mills. Why did it choose to swiftly respond to a barely known but easily verifiable falsehood from a fringe rebel radio? Why did it lend its enormous symbolic capital to a frivolous insurrectionary radio station whose signals it says it has jammed in Nigeria? I can never know what impulses drive the president’s media team, but it’s singularly ill-advised to legitimize a scarcely known fib by responding to it and thereby giving underserved wings to it.
If I were to advise the Nigerian government on how to deal with Radio Biafra I would say this: starve it of attention by not jamming it or responding to its rants. It was English philosopher John Milton who, in his famous 1644 pamphlet titled Areopagitica argued that the truth does not need to be protected from falsehood, and that, after all is said and done, truth always triumphs over “all the winds of doctrine let loose to play upon the earth.” He said censorship does injury to the truth because it misdoubts its strength. “Let her [i.e., Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter,” he wrote.
The childish propaganda of Radio Biafra is merely one of the winds of doctrines let loose to play upon Nigeria. Let it be allowed to grapple with the truth. Let’s see if it can put the truth to the worse.
I took some time to listen to the radio station to find out why the Nigerian government is losing sleep over it. It turns out that it is no more than the vulgar, incoherent, hate-filled but comical rants of some man called Nnamdi Kanu who calls Nigeria a “zoo”— or the “zoological republic”— and Nigerian citizens “monkeys” or “ill-educated vagabonds.” He labels Igbos who don’t share his insurrectionary and irredentist ideas as “Hausa-born children in Igboland.” His rants are also filled with ignorant, racially self-hating, negrophobic rhetoric, such as his habitual claims that black people are intellectually inferior and incapable of deep thought.
The station makes no effort to be persuasive. It simply revels in vulgar abuse, intentional prevarications, infantile temper tantrums, and a melodramatic display of rank, comical ignorance. The only people who will listen to the station and be affected by its message are people who already share its twisted, hateful ideals, which makes shutting it down pointless. I can bet that it does not speak for nor reach the majority of Igbo people, and that most Igbo people would snigger when they listen to it.
That’s not a station anyone should lose sleep over.