I cannot rule out the possibility of an invention that will have a fundamental impact on tomorrow’s people much more than how the internet has impacted our world. Man has proved to be capable of everything. I am not surprised. Man, the Bible says, was created in the likeness of God. My apology to those who do not believe in the Biblical account of the origin of man. The Bible is my digital audio workstation from where I am sampling the beats for this discussion. With time and evolutionary development, man will one day create another man and another world for his man. Man, in this context, means the human being, and it takes after the biblical imagery or metaphor of the inseparability of man and woman. Man will, no doubt, create a new garden for his creation with no forbidden fruit or restrictive commandments.
The man’s man would be created to live in and for his world. He will be boundlessly licentious. His world would not be destroyed by water, because he is not going to be a man of soul and tears, but one of steel and fury. He would be one by himself, for himself and only for himself. The man’s man will not be guided or regulated by any legal regime. His world would be sans laws, rules, morals, ethics, traditions, precepts or communal interests. The god of that world would be his thoughts, desires and taste. Everything will be willed for him by his thoughts. His is just to think about what he wants and it will be done. Remember how God created heaven and earth? Man will not be limited by his strength, intellect, skills or knowledge, but by his thoughts. Unlike man, the man’s man will be a digital all-knowing man who will be complete in himself. This may not be too far as writers are already talking about children being born and raised digitally wired. If we do not have problems carrying about communication and digital devices, why not replace them with implants that will allow for a world with one language and one culture? My Christian mind sees the mark of the beast, 666, on the face of man’s creation. No doubt, a new evangelical sect will precede that world. Their sermon would be the-mark-of-the-devil-centric and would have enough content to replace the imagery of the witchcraft. The conversion would no longer be induced by fear, but by the promise of the fulfilment of the prophecy of the second coming of the Lord for his chosen ones.
But that will be for tomorrow’s man to worry about his virtual world. My concern is about the culture that the internet has foisted on this world created for us by God Almighty. Don’t get me wrong, let me reemphasize the point that the internet is one of the best things that has happened to mankind since the invention of electricity. It has transformed our world and human existence. We use the internet for almost everything and there is hardly any available science or technology or human endeavour that is independent of the internet. It has made learning and communication easier. More than a third of mankind today uses the internet one way or the other.
One of the innovations of the internet revolution is social media and its social sharing culture. Social media technologies are creating by the day an endless stream of communication and connections platforms that are constantly shaping and reshaping our connected world. Social media is not only facilitating communication and connections, but also enhancing the capacity of the individual to build and sell their personalities to the world. The individual can now conscientiously, and with less effort and resources, alter his social image or identity with a view to affecting the ways others perceive him or her. It is not uncommon today for an individual to enjoy a virtual personality that is completely opposite to his or her real personality. Because of the opportunities presented by social media, many individuals have been able to package their identities into commodities of commerce and influence. Besides its contributions to identity formation and image laundering, social media is in itself a global market place for information and perhaps knowledge. In addition to its capacity to influence the identities and personalities of the individual, social media can influence, either positively or negatively, the psychological behaviours of people. With the extent to which it is dominating the emotional and mental states of its users or tenants, it is necessary that we take time to evaluate how it impacts on our social and individual health.
Many people accede to social media with all sorts of psychological backgrounds and for self-driven purposes. I have no problems with those who are into social media for the maintenance and building of relationships of whatever kind. Socialization is a mental gym for the building of a sound mind, which is a necessity for the individual’s well-being. I am worried about those who access it to recruit vulnerable individuals for their antisocial and destructive ends. I am concerned about the goods and services being sold on social media that often escape the scrutiny of quality control authorities. I am sick and tired of dishonourable antics of those who use social media to spread fake or incendiary news.
What I, however, consider the most dangerous and about which I am most worried is the new modes of thinking that social media is inadvertently generating. Take, for example, the trending belief that possession of information or that one’s perception or conceptualization of things and social phenomena is the equivalent of expertise. Everybody is now an expert about everything under the sun. Education, tutelage or experience do not seem to matter anymore.
It is not uncommon to watch skits of non-medical “experts” discussing complex medical conditions with confidence and practiced poise. Killer concoctions are now being packaged, advertised and sold by motivational speakers. Serious mental and psychological conditions are wished away by social media men of God. Serious or crippling social challenges are trivialized by sweet-talking, ignorant social influencers.
As a lawyer, I get worried when colleagues convey their opinions on legal issues as authoritative statements. Lawyers are often called upon to comment on social issues and the temptation is always there to comment as experts and not as social commentators. Take the rising case of paternity disputes in Nigerian marriages. It is natural for nonlawyers to rely on lawyers for explanations on how such disputes are processed and resolved by the law courts. But in communicating such legal knowledge, it is always advisable not to suppress the caveat that the knowledge expressed is a mere opinion or theoretical explanation that will in all live legal disputes be subject to the facts and circumstance of each case.
I once watched on video the angry lecture of a lady, which she presented as the position of the law on the legitimacy of a child born in a marriage. On that video that trended for some time, she passed across the impression that under Nigerian law, the legitimacy of a child born in a marriage cannot be successfully challenged by a third party or even the husband who, out of suspicion or curiosity, may want to know the paternity of that child. Apparently, she was trying to make the point that the call for recourse to DNA tests may not be of any moment because of the status of the law in Nigeria. She cited and quoted from cases decided by our appellate courts to buttress her point. I received many calls from lay friends for my views and many must have been disappointed when I told them that I had not given a serious thought on that aspect of the law because I had not handled a matter of that nature. One does not become an expert on a legal issue by memorizing principles or reading a few cases on it. Cases are decided on their facts; many of the principles the inexperienced lawyer parroted about turn on facts and not cast in stone.
In particular, the status of legitimacy (or its opposite that of illegitimacy) may have different implications according to the system of law to which it is referred. Legitimate children in Nigeria are not confined to children born in wedlock or children legitimated by subsequent marriage of the parents. In Nigeria, a child is legitimate if born in wedlock according to the Marriage Ordinance. There are also legitimate children born in marriage under Native Law and Custom. Children not born in wedlock (Marriage Act) or who are not the issues of marriage under Native Law and Custom, but are issues born without marriage can also be regarded as legitimate children for certain purposes, if paternity has been acknowledged by the putative father.Basically, in Islamic Law, marriage is the foundation upon which family relations is built. Thus, if a child is born outside wedlock, such a child is regarded as illegitimate, and the Shari’a legal system does not recognize the man who had an affair with the child’s mother as the father.
These principles do not, in any way, exclude the right to challenge the legitimacy of a child. What the law does is to place a burden of the challenger to prove the illegitimacy of the child in issue. That burden of proof is the same as the burden of proving the guilt of a person accused of a crime. If we are to sum it in a principle, it will be that the legitimacy or paternity of a child can be challenged on the condition that the challenger proves the basis of his challenge by direct and credible evidence. This is so because society should not take kindly unfounded efforts to bastardize a child by removing him or her from a family he or she has grown to see as his or hers to another.
According to the Supreme Court, in the recent case of Idahosa v. Idahosa (2020) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1720) 254, the applicable law is that any person born during the continuance of a valid marriage shall be presumed to be a child of that man. The burden of proving otherwise rests with the party alleging the contrary. Under Nigerian law, evidence to dislodge paternity requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Under section 165 of the Evidence Act, any person born during the continuance of a valid marriage between his mother and any man, or within 280 days after the dissolution of the marriage, the mother remaining unmarried, shall be presumed to be a child of the man. How this principle translates to “the paternity or legitimacy of a child born in a marriage cannot be challenged because the presumption is conclusive” I do not know.