“If Nigerians can devote as much energy as possible to addressing issues of poor governance and leadership crises, weak economy, increased insecurity and conflict, farmer-pastoral violence, etc. “If they could spend their time resolving regional divisions, armed bandits, Boko Haram insurgents, and electoral fraud, we would have long had a more productive society that competes with other nations.”
Social media platforms have decisively influenced our society. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat are considered the most used sources of information worldwide. The less expensive access to these platforms, ease to use and the presence of a higher number of users make them one of the easiest and most effective methods to disseminate information.
Over the past decade and a half, social media usage has skyrocketed. For example, about three billion people (40% of the world’s population) spend up to two hours a day sharing, liking, tweeting and using these platforms. This percentage breaks down to roughly half a million tweets or Snapchat photos shared every minute. The impact of social media has far tripled in recent years on various strata of society. On the brighter side, social media has spread much awareness by publishing news and providing entertainment on several platforms, enabling more people to familiarize themselves with opinions they otherwise would not have known. On the opposite side, people have unfortunately used social media to provoke, instigate or stifle public anger towards specific instances or persons. In Nigeria, for example, social media has continued to play a toxic role in destroying marriages. It has also spread hoax news and unnecessary panic among families, giving false information and misleading the public.
Although there are no official statistics to know how social media is destroying marriages in Nigeria, many examples of celebrity marriages have gone sour because of the influence of social media in-laws. In 2019, news of a controversial romance between Nollywood actress Regina Daniels and billionaire businessman Prince Ned Nwoko went viral online. Following this news was a series of mixed reactions from social media in-laws. They criticised the marriage based on the 38-year age gap between the couple. Just as we were trying to understand the marriage between Ned and Regina, news of divorce between Anita and Paul Okoye (AKA Rudeboy) appeared on the Internet. The leaked court document states that Anita Okoye was seeking dissolution of marriage from Paul Okoye due to irreconcilable differences.
Considering recent events on social media, I have concluded that most people in Nigeria care much more about the failures in celebrity marriages than anything of substance that will impact our nation. For example, in 2021, the admired Nigerian actress Annie Idibia, in a now-deleted Instagram story, accused her husband, Tuface, of infidelity. In the post, the Nollywood actress accused 2Baba of sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, Pero Adeniyi, using the visitation of his children as an excuse. Annie also claimed that Tuface’s family never found her worthy of him despite all her efforts. Shortly after Annie Idibia took to her Instagram Story in a now-deleted post to accuse her husband, Tuface, of infidelity, some Nigerians on Twitter have taken to their various accounts to air their opinion on the situation. Some social media in-laws, who commented on the issue, faulted the actress for expressing her marital problems on social media. Many argued that bringing her marital issues to social media would exacerbate the fire.
In 2022, social media came up with fresh news about Ibiere, the wife of a comedian Julius Agwu, who reportedly abandoned her matrimonial home after 14 years of marriage. Some social media in-laws reported that the couple had been going through trying times for years because of Agwu’s ill health. Recall that in 2015, the comedian, singer, and writer was diagnosed with a brain tumor. According to some unsubstantiated reports on the Internet, Ibiere had reverted to her maiden name Maclayton and traveled abroad with their kids. Although it was not clear what led to the breakdown of the marriage, there were several speculations from some social media in-laws that the couple was going through a financial crisis occasioned by Agwu’s ill health.
This year, Nollywood actor, Yul Edochie, caused a stir on social media when he announced his second marriage to fellow actress Judy Austin. In his announcement, Yul also revealed that he welcomed a son with his second wife. Several social media influencers reacted to the news of Yul’s second marriage calling on the judgment and wrath of God over him. The Internet went wild. In one day, I saw four different Twitter moments of his post. I received several notifications about it. Specifically, on social media, I saw more uproar about Yul Edochie than comments on our tattered democracy, not just from the people I follow but from the trending tabs and headlines news.
These issues have led to a realization that people tend to care more about celebrity marriages than the challenges affecting politics and governance in Nigeria. My frustration comes from the fact that if Nigerians can devote as much energy as possible to addressing issues of poor governance and leadership crisis, the weak economy, increased insecurity and conflict, and farmer-pastoral violence. If they could spend their time resolving regional divisions, armed bandits, Boko Haram insurgents, and electoral fraud, we would have long had a more productive society that competes with other nations. There is nothing inherently wrong with paying attention to celebrities and their families. I openly follow celebrities on social media too. But I have my opinion and caution in my judgment about their personal lives on social media. I am not (in any way) supporting the actions of these celebrities or justifying cheating in marriages. Neither am I supporting polygamy as it is against my religion.
However, I am emphasizing that something is unsettling when people place too much energy into the personal lives of celebrities when Nigeria is facing an acute crisis in democracy. Nigeria’s problem is not celebrities. Our problems are more than the lives of those we call our mentors. For example, there is a widespread perception that our democracy has failed to address Nigeria’s most pressing problems and that elected representatives are inaccessible to those, who elected them. Besides the failure of democracy, Nigerians feel disconnected from politicians, who make decisions that affect their lives. The news dominating Nigeria often seems to hold little relevance to people’s day-to-day lives.
Today, our democracy is in urgent need of repair. We need to seize this opportunity to move beyond celebrity problems to strengthen the foundation of Nigerian democracy. Failure to fix our democracy can lead to protest or extremism, both of which further harm democratic performance. Thus, it would be wrong to say social media is universally bad because it clearly brings myriad benefits to our lives. However, if there is no little effort from us to control the margin of information we consume online, we are dooming ourselves to become cyberbullies instead of cyber influencers.
Rev. Ma, SJ, is a Jesuit priest and doctoral student in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.