Below is a blog post I did for an event the MA Social Media class (my class) is organizing. The theme of the event is ‘We Are What We Tweet : From Birmingham to Cairo and local to global, exploring how social media drives change’. The agenda, speakers, and breakdown of the event is here www.wearewhatwetweet.com and you can register here; it’s free but you need to reserve your seat, and they are going fast!
I decided to reflect the changes (in my opinion) that social media has had/is having on politics and the polity in Nigeria, and my thoughts on where these changes will/might take us. Feel free to agree or disagree, but let’s talk about it!
Originally, I was to write on ‘Social media when internet access is low’, using Nigeria as a case study, and I had worked on the document, with some interesting insights from the research I did.
The focus changed on the night of the 17th when I received a BBM (Blackberry message) from a friend (and developer) introducing ReVoDa, a mobile app by the Enough is Enough (EiE) coalition that once downloaded and installed on a mobile device, enables eligible voters become independent observers from whatever polling booths they may be at during Nigeria’s general elections in April.
ReVoDa is a ‘social media solution’ proffered by EiE Nigeria to allow citizens report incidents of violence/fraud, police and electoral staff behaviour (proper and improper), and results of the elections in their polling units, all with a couple of clicks of their mobile phones. This is to checkmate the irregularities and fraud that have attended the elections in the country since it returned to democratic rule in 1999.
ReVoDa is ground breaking news, a major leap in the technology sector as it is the first of its kind to be developed in Nigeria, and by Nigerians. It comes close on the heels of the ‘Nigerian Constitution App for Blackberry’ which was developed by @zubairabubakar and recorded 10, 000 hits in the 72 hours. From a country where its first mobile apps development conference held in August last year, this is definitely newsworthy.
On the 18th of March, between the hours of 7 and 9pm, more than 80% of Nigeria’s population was glued to NN24, one of the newest television stations in the country, for a live presidential debate involving three of the eighteen aspirants who will be standing for elections in April. This comes on the heels of the vice-presidential debate which held and broadcast live a week ago.
For the aspirants to the nation’s highest office, that is but a prelude to the much publicized, twitter trending March 25th virtual interview to be moderated by two young people, Chimamanda Adichie and Ebuka Obi-Uchendu under the auspices of a coalition of youth activist organisations.
While I am concerned about the debate last night and the performance of the aspirants, I am more intrigued by the discussion and analysis of the debate on Twitter and Facebook. Using the hashtags #Presidentialdebate #NN24PresDebate, and making up more as the night wore on, young Nigerians analysed the strategies and policies that each of the aspirants discussed and as I scrolled through the tweets, …..miles away, it occurred to me that Nigeria is experiencing a revolution just as powerful as the Tunisian and Egyptian: A social media revolution.
Young Nigerians have suddenly realized that they make up the majority and are coming together to ‘take charge’ of their country. Politics and indeed the political arena has been flooded with young people who are not just interested in change but are in a hurry to see it happen. Youth led groups like Vote or Quench, RSVP (Register, Select, Vote and Protect), Reclaim Naija, What About Us, Cool To Vote, and a host of others creating awareness, educating, holding town hall meetings and calling on Nigerians to actively take part in selecting their leaders, the 2011 elections will not be left to politicians alone.
The efforts of these groups online (and offline) has not been without some success. In the just concluded voters registration exercise, 67million Nigerians registered, up from the 35million in 2007 (almost double) and the new ones are within the youth demographic.
These now viral online groups are riding on the success of the Light Up Nigeria movement that started in 2009 on twitter with the hashtag #lightupnigeria. Light Up Nigeria called for an overhaul of the nation’s power sector but simply said, ‘give us light’. Even though it was criticised as a ‘twitter campaign’, it got international attention, prompting the government to respond, and most importantly, has become one of the key issues any aspirant to any political position is getting tasked over.
What is new, and exciting about aspirants selling themselves to the electorate through debates? What is all the ruckus about young Nigerians and internet based campaigns? What does social media have to offer Nigerians, and Nigeria? To put this all in perspective, below is a little background on Nigeria and her history with ‘technology’ (read as interaction with the internet and forms of communication).
A country of approximately 150million people, Nigeria’s internet has been stunted by an underdeveloped and largely unreliable fixed line structure resulting in more Nigerians using mobile telephony as their preferred mode of connection, expensive as it is. The introduction of wireless broadband access (however scanty), competition by multiple GSM providers, and the promise of fibre optic cables have been the catalysts for the growth in that sector.
Between the year 2000 and 2010, internet user penetration shot up by an astounding 21, 891.1% with internet access for more than 43million people while the country in 2004 passed Egypt and Morocco to become the fastest mobile phone market in Africa with 87,297,789 users.
The prevalent and most subscribed to social networking sites by Nigerians are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in that order. There are currently 2, 985, 680 Nigerians on Facebook, ranking 39th out of 213 countries; above 70% of this number are aged 18 – 34.
It is the realization of the strength that these numbers portend that young Nigerians are orchestrating the revolution the country so desperately needs, and ensuring that after the awareness campaigns, mass mobilization of their peers to register, their votes count (or at least the incidences of rigging and electoral malpractices are reduced) by ‘creating’ citizen journalists using instruments like ReVoDa.
Clay Shirky in his foreign affairs essay ‘The Political Power of Social Media’ said, “a public sphere is more likely to emerge in a society as a result of people’s dissatisfaction with matters of economics or day-to-day governance than from their embrace of abstract political ideals.” I couldn’t agree more. Conversations on real issues affecting Nigerians have started online, and continue offline in town hall meetings, concerts, religious gatherings and schools. It is obvious that regardless of who wins or loses, the April 2011 elections usher in a new dispensation of politicking that go beyond rallies, bribes, and noise to intellectual conversations about what people seeking office have to offer the people with the right/power to put them in those offices.
And while I personally do not believe that we should expect a ‘miracle’ because of massive campaigns (both online and offline), I can imagine that if only half (1, 492, 840) the Facebook community go out and vote, we would truly be able to say that our revolution is here.
- A Nigerian Revolution? Or Maybe Not (africaunchained.blogspot.com)
- NN24 Presidential debate: Why Jonathan won’t participate (vanguardngr.com)
- 9ja Youths Call 4 Presidential Debate (teesdiary.wordpress.com)