Social media, drama, sensationalism and facts
By Olukayode Oyeleye
In the past two weeks in Nigeria, the social media crowned a queen. That ‘queen’ is the ‘mother’ of a boy allegedly molested in a boarding school in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State. While she reigned, she enjoyed a unilateral, unparalleled visibility on the basis of her allegations about the alleged treatment meted to her son in the school. The story underwent gradual mutation from the initial accusations of the boy being sexually desecrated (in what was presented as a scandal) to that of being denied food after so much has been paid, then to that of being bullied at, then to being beaten to stupor and then, that the boy was sick in the school’s custody. It played down the boy’s conducts. It was presented as a case expected to be tantalising for human rights campaigners.
The more I heard the woman’s stories, which were long, winding and repetitious, the more I got a sense that there was more to the story than the world was being told. The more I read the comments of those following her, the more I got convinced that more needed to be examined if the truth about the whole accusations would have to come out. I did some psychoanalysis of the woman and those ardent followers and commentators, praising her bravery, urging her on and encouraging her, while swallowing all her stories hook, line and sinker, without critically sorting out her claims on the grounds of veracity. My findings were very simple.
Deborah Okezie came across as a woman who desperately wanted clout, attention, popularity, sympathy and some pecuniary rewards. She is probably having them now all at once, at least for the time being, given that she has been showered praises by some, and she has acknowledged that some sympathisers have paid her boy some money to take care of himself. She has also probably succeeded in mesmerising many people by being vocal and bold, insistence, with repeated emphasis on a platform where almost everyone is capable of creating and promoting her own media content. She truly seemed to have rested in the comfort zone that social media is a platform on which an accused is presumed guilty without any opportunity to be proved otherwise. After securing that space in the court of public opinion, and trying to have the best that two opposing worlds can provide, she proceeded to the court of law where an accused is presumed innocent until proved otherwise.
Her confidence was suggestive of the idea that she has some people at the background who energise her. She probably has a consultant who has assured her that the court of public opinion, where the judges are many, hasty and sentimental was the first place to begin. But, in adopting the first strategy, her judges who are without verifiable proofs violated two strong canons of equity. One says (nemo judex in causa sua) “don’t be a judge in your own matter” and the other says (audi alteram partem) “hear the other party.” She seemed unaware that what is allowed in the first court she approached may be a burden on her in the second court. In other words, in the law court where order is preeminent, your utterances can be used against you. I wonder how she would avoid perjury. And she has said so many things that border on exaggeration and defamation, considered serious in the law court, particularly if the accused decided to fight back. Initially, I had expected her calls on human rights activists to have prompted them to come falling heads over heels to take up her case and run on her behalf, but I have so far not heard of any such credible group doing that.
Deborah was a little clever by half. She tried to adopt the wrestler’s or boxer’s logic in which a featherweight fighter thinks to ride on to popularity by calling a heavyweight fighter to a fight, knowing that the name of the heavyweight fighter would draw attention to himself. And many have done that to their own chagrin! To the discerning, there are a lot to see in Deborah Okezie’s claims. She was clearly unaware that the media world is like a two-edged sword, cutting both ways. Or that he who rides on a tiger’s back could end up in its belly. She was clearly oblivious of the fact that the social media world is a world of gossip, in the main, and a slippery platform where people gain fleeting attention; or yet that those singing your praises today might turn around to condemn you the next day.
I have, for a long while formed my opinions and reservations about social media and I used them sparingly, despite all the so-called good things people say they offer you. One thing people hardly look at is what it takes away from you. I marvel how busy Deborah’s followers possibly are, to watch video recordings of over two hour duration online. They are also unaware that your so-called Instagram page, Facebook page, Tik Tok page, Twitter page, Linked In page, etc., are not really yours as you think, but that they belong to those service providers who can bring your page down anytime at their own discretion. Many click on AGREE button while registering on all of these without reading the details or full implications of what they are AGREEing to. Head or tail, the power to control your information is in their hands. Ask Donald J. Trump, the outgoing President of the United States, whose main social media platforms have been shut down few days ago by the service providers! It is easy to say that you will open another if one is shut down. But that presents another problem that cannot be elaborated here now.
Deborah Okezie has finally gone to court, as she has informed her followers and fans. The Deeper Life High School, which has hitherto been quiet will have a platform to speak. The school, the supervising church and the overall leader of the church which have been accused publicly will have an opportunity to present their facts in an orderly environment of the court of law. He who laughs last will ultimately emerge, and will laugh best. In the course of Deborah Okezie’s constantly changing and disingenuous new allegations, she alleged that the Deeper Life High School officials secretly went to her two-year-old child’s school to ask for her house address. It was therefore possible Deborah did not provide credible home address while registering Don Davies with the Deeper Life High School. She also recently said on video that a “masked” medical doctor came secretly to the hospital where her ‘son’ Don Davies was kept, and injected him with something she knew not, as if the ‘visiting’ doctor could not have got the host to do it if that allegation was anything to go by. But, she had also posted a video in which she was interrogating the boy who confirmed that the school authority was unaware of his ordeals, even when a vice principal called to ask him questions.
The wheel of justice may grind very slowly, but does so surely and clears the innocent. I am concerned that Deborah Okezie has overplayed her game and may have a lot of retractions to make because many of her allegations on videos sound too good to be true in the first place. Moreover, her openly judgmental approach detracts from her purity of purpose. I am convinced that, on this score, many who would have been sympathetic to her cause would probably have decided otherwise. Her drama, her bogus statements, her repetitions, the unnecessary details, her abuse of, and railing on, those who did not praise her in their comments and her intolerance towards those she accused of urging her to calm down all point to something different. If indeed what she wanted was justice for Don Davies, she would have adopted a more decorous approach. Unfortunately, she has wrongly exposed the young Don Davies, so much so that many schools will easily avoid having him as their student.
Her recent attack on some journalists provides an insight into her personal frustrations at this time. While the social media followers were calling her a role model, freedom fighter, motivator, the voice of the voiceless, etc., her boisterous responses to some journalists who dared to ask her critical questions show that she is now at her wits’ end. It appears the populist script has been acted up to the epilogue. The matter is now in the law court and judgment will soon be served. It is obvious that the school, the church and the leader of the church are not ready to bend any rule to their favour or curry the sympathy of idle commentators. An Igbo proverb ascribed to the bed bug says that “what is hot now will soon become cold in a matter of time.” The only thing that stands between ‘now’ and the dispensation of justice on Don Davies’ ordeals is ‘time.’ When the truth finally comes out, it is hoped that some practical lessons will be learnt and those who live in glass houses will understand the wisdom of not throwing stones recklessly.
Dr. Oyeleye is a media analyst and social commentator