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A story of how your hashtags freed a young man from SSS custody. | My Metro

My Metro

Life & Style

A story of how your hashtags freed a young man from SSS custody.

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By Jemima Codrington

 

When gunfire broke out between detained Boko Haram suspects and Nigerian security at SSS headquarters in Abuja, Yusuf Onimisi Isiyaka was working nearby.

 

He tweeted pictures of the violence, and assured his family that he was OK and unharmed.

 

That day, he disappeared.

 

Siyaka, who tweeted under the handle @Ciaxon, was held and detained by authorities without communication – or explanation – for 12 days earlier last month.

 

Twitter user Afola Shecrownlita was at work when she heard rumours that a man had been detained. “My first thought was, so much for internet freedom,” she says. “I knew it was possible it was just a rumour, so I decided to do some research to get to the root of the story.” Using just social media, Shecrownlita was able to ascertain the identity of the so-called “jailbreak tweeter”, and connect with his family. Despite not knowing him personally, she contacted his brother on Facebook, and became the family’s point of contact while her partner and prolific human rights lawyer Ayo Sogunro contacted the Human Rights Commission.

 

#FreeCiaxon

 

Shecrownlita and Sogunro launched a Twitter campaign, demanding the release of Siyaka using the hashtag #FreeCiaxon.

 

“From there, the campaign grew organically,” explains Sogunro. “There was little information on Isiyaka at first, but the more facts Fola and I obtained, the more attention we were able to attract. There was no campaign “plan” for a while – until Thursday, April 10th, when it became obvious that we were dealing with a powerful department of state security. Fola and I then concentrated our efforts on attracting local and international attention through a consistent social media outcry.”

 

It took less than ten hours for the campaign to attract international attention. The hashtag began to trend, and it wasn’t long before the BBC was reporting on the arrest using just the facts found on Twitter. It was the emphasis on facts over opinion over propaganda that Sogunro believes contributed to the story spreading so quickly. He cites many other contributing factors that lead to the success of the campaign, such as the involvement of prominent twitter users, such as @ChairmanNHRC, @Obyezeks @Ayourb @Omojuwa and @Xeenarh.

 

Within just three days of the campaign’s beginning, Siyaka was released.

 

A new age for Nigerian activism

 

For many, the swift success of the #FreeCiaxon campaign has ushered in a new era of activism in Nigeria, one that gives the majority a voice that can’t be quietened – and a reach without limits.

 

“When you talk on social media, you are talking to the whole world, everyone is listening,” says Shecrownlita. “We got a big reaction because people resonate with the fact that it could happen to anybody, it could have been anyone of us. People in Nigeria now know that there’s power in social media, and that they have a voice. If we can use the voice properly, we’ll be listened to.”

 

Not only has the campaign lead to Isiyaka’s release, but it has also increased pressure on transparency and communication between the DSS and the Nigerian people. After weeks of denying having Isiyaka in custody, the DSS finally broke silence, with spokesperson Marylin Ogar revealing that he had been arrested for “peddling (a) falsehood” with the images.

 

The prevalence of social media enables full-time employed professionals to still partake in movements of activism, without having to take time off work to attend protests to voice socio-political concerns. For this reason, along with the recent speedy resolution of #FreeCaixon, the days of Nigerian social media activism are just beginning. “The effect of the success of #FreeCiaxon was two-fold,” says Agunro. “For social media users, it was an assurance that social media can positively and effectively affect governmental action. For Nigerians in general, it was a vindication of the fundamental human rights of the average, anonymous, citizen.”

 

The battle against police brutality, terrorism, inaction and injustice is far from over for Shecrownlita and Sogunro, who are now turning their efforts to freeing the 200 schoolgirls abducted by the Boko Haram. “You have to be an activist for as long as there are ills in the society,” says Shecrownlita, who has already began tracking down information using Facebook and Twitter. With no news surrounding the status of the girls and no help from the government, grassroots initiatives like the ones founded by Shecrownlita and Sogunro are more important for Nigeria now than ever.

 

“There’s a saying by the Yorubas: ‘One doesn’t set aside a day for grim admonitions, grim admonitions emerge by their own circumstances’,” says Sogunro. “That’s how I feel about activism in general – social media or otherwise – I try not to anticipate trouble, but when trouble arises, I’ll be ready to tackle it.”

 

Follow Metro.ng on twitter @metrodotng to keep up follow these and other stories in development. Please leave your comments below. 

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