Remember That Time When Celebs Turned #BringBackOurGirls Into a Reality Show?
We witnessed the ugliness of trending at its infancy
When the Chibok Schoolgirls were kidnapped from their dormitories in the dead of night almost four years ago — the news of their mishap spread like wildfire — all over the globe.
It was almost unfathomable that more than 200 students could disappear without a trace under the leadership of an incompetent Head of State — who despite his nice smile and temperate disposition — which was a refreshing change of pace — was utterly and embarrassingly helpless when it came to conquering the destructive path of the Nigerian-based terrorist cell — Boko Haram.
As #BringBackOurGirls began to trend overnight — I got my first taste of what it means to be associated with the mechanics of viral content — and how being a part of such a thing can mess with your head in ways that evoke our very worst tendencies.
I wrote a piece soon after the Girls went missing and basically shattered the hopes and prayers of concerned observers by dishing out the dirt on my country — and explaining how direly easy it was for a rebellious group of thugs — parading under the guise of Islam — to infiltrate the Northern region with deadly intentions — without the threat of punishment by the Nigerian government.
I titled the piece — “Nigeria Won’t Bring Back The Missing Girls” — and once it was published — it became clear that the blunt and authoritative tone was capturing major attention — across the board. Nigerian readers were torn between accepting or rejecting my critical attack and non-Nigerians were fascinated by my “no-bullshit” approach to an issue that was fast becoming the social event of the year.
Back in 2014 — I was still quite naive about the potency of social media and the potentially lucrative benefits of “going viral.” And so when the numbers game began and I witnessed my well-received testimony being shared with rapid enthusiasm by friends and strangers — there was a level of accomplishment that gripped me as I gauged how thoughtfully compacted words could be the passport to instant notoriety.
As I was figuring out how to leverage the attention from fans while remaining faithful to the cause of strategizing justice for the innocent lives that were forever changed — I was also drawn to the unquenchable thirst of the mass media as a result of a hashtag that had become much bigger than the subjects that had inspired it.
As the worldwide hysteria over the Chibok girls gained momentum — so did the desire to capitalize on the fiesta of activism that may have started out with genuinely humble motives — but quickly evolved into the shit show of the decade as the shameless adulation for what was supposed to be the humanitarian anthem to unite us — began the era of righteous narcissism.
The misfortune of the Nigerian girls turned into stylized photoshoots that were staged all around the world by notables — who couldn’t resist posing for the cause. From the splendor of the Cannes Film Festival to the intimate abode of supermodels — the most watched reality show ever to hit the web did very little to incite the level of urgency for a chaotic situation that was still categorized as “code red.”
#BringBackOurGirls — did a lot more than publicly shame President Goodluck Jonathan and his cabinet of woefully incompetent subordinates — it also demonstrated the ugliness of trending — at its infancy.
Based on the results that are forever ingrained in the imagery of smiling celebs —happily holding signs that should illicit sorrowful tears — we can’t downplay the relevance of that movement — and how we failed to uphold the dignity of a much deeper message. We preferred the easy way out by carelessly celebrating the worth of a hashtag that contained more than just the entrance into a full blown rave.
Can we ever fathom that treatment being extended to the #MeToo or Time’s Up initiative?
Even at this very moment — Nigeria is dealing with another school abduction that journalists are dubbing “the new Chibok” — due to the stark similarities between both tragedies. This time Boko Haram targeted a town called Dapchi in the northern State of Yobi — and about 110 girls are missing — (although there’s reason to believe there are hundreds more).
In this updated scenario — we have a former president who was re-elected to the job he fucked up back in the mid-eighties. Muhammadu Buhari defeated Jonathan back in 2015 and his winning monologue echoed his commitment to make Nigeria safe again — by disabling the terrorists that seemed to be far more formidable and better equipped for battle.
It’s been almost thee years — and the only thing that’s changed is the realization that the climate of fear and death is definitely more heightened. The president’s issued response calls the latest incident — “a national disaster” as he sends his empathy to the inconsolable families of the missing girls — but so far there’s no evidence of a brilliantly-conceived retaliation that could end with a happy reconciliation.
As Nigeria remains in the same limbo that has plagued the nation since the colonialists left us the mess of a lifetime — we have to pay homage to how much we’ve matured since that time celebs turned the missing schoolgirls fiasco of 2014 — into a damn reality show.
We were clearly in the learning stages of hashtag fandom — and grossly misinterpreted the language of engagement as it pertains to fighting for the lives that matter as opposed to fighting for the attention of our lives.
The seduction of social media has always been the lack of a rule book — which encourages the rapturous freedom of running amok in a landscape that was built to keep us mentally lost and blissfully out of touch. We can disappear for hours in a world that doesn’t exist — but accepts your willingness to take tons of selfies — minutes after giving birth — or boob shots with the imprint — #BringBackOurGirls — providing ample nipple coverage.
In 2018 — the response to a global outrage can’t ever replicate the societal mishandling of a hashtag that travelled too far too soon without the compass of best laid plans or the thorough respect of a real-life crisis that shouldn’t have been reduced to a viral gameshow.
It was an ugly reception for an even uglier event — and the sad part is that we have the pics to prove it.