In the last 15 years, the Nigerian democratic climate has matured. Even though we might still be haggling about the use of Permanent Voter Cards and Card Readers that ordinary should be welcomed by all without secondary considerations. We can assume to have moved from nascent and fledgling democracy to something more decisive, engaging and still evolving.
Over these years, Nigeria and Nigerians have been working assiduously to develop the basic tenets of a functional democracy, from clamouring for the freedom of the press to demands for right to self expression and association, the clamour to enhance equality before the law, allowing for majority rule while minority have their say, ensuring rule of law and due diligence, separation of power amongst others. The essence of the above tenet is to allow for wider participation and far reaching scrutiny, considering that the most basic signpost to a functional democracy is citizen participation in government.
One avenue Nigerians have explored and are still exploring in the last 5 years to engage and indirectly participate in everyday governance of the country is through the social media. The social media has arguably taken the role of the fifth columnist where every rumour, action and inaction of government is first oozed out. The popularity of the social media platform as a viable tool to pass and disseminate information ascribes the logical presumption that the social media to a large extent would determine who wins the 2015 elections.
For easy contextual clarification, www.WhatIs.com, defined Social Media as “the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media.” Breaking it down to the Nigerian internet world, social media include the usage of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, 2go, YouTube, Google+, Path, LinkedIn, among others that are not so popular. The definition of social media is in the state of constant flux, due to the influx of new platform liberalizing the way humans connect each other near or far, but the most accessible to Nigerians are facebook, twitter, whatsapp and 2go.
Due to accessibility, the social media has liberalised information sharing and allow for in-the-face campaigns, that hitherto apolitical citizens are now willy-nilly carried along as much as the politically conscious citizens. The Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval and this can be seen in the build up to 2015 elections. In the history of elections in the country, the coming Presidential election has witnessed the highest number of online polls which has been done in both corporate and individual capabilities. What this implies is that the March 28 and April 11, elections would be a by-product of our online manipulation, consciously or unconsciously. Or better still, the parties with the highest number of online majority might rightly transcend to be the parties with the physical majority.
Through the social media the world has moved from being a global village to a global parlour, wherein from the corners of a large room, far reaching mobilisation, decisions and annihilation are carried out with re-vibrating national and global consequence. The Fuel Subsidy uprising of 2012 and the #BringBackOurGirls movement are two viable cases in point.
The social media is a coordinated platform for passing message amongst the next generation, thus, strengthening the possibilities of age group influence and voting pattern. Nowadays, no type of social media is completely isolated from others, as major networks adjust their functionality to offer more services to their users. Unlike before when opinions on social media is at variance with societal reality, social media conversations these days are real-time conversations. Either by twittering, facebooking or whatsapping, immediate happenstances are communicated to a waiting online audience to savour. If online platforms can be used in urging citizens to get their Permanent Voter Cards, it can also be used to mobilised same citizens for specific interest, albeit in a legitimate manner. In essence, the social media polls and predictions are not wishful thinking and need to be taken extremely seriously in deciding who the results pans out in favour of.
At ‘A Day Social Media Training’ organized by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in collaboration with Facebook Incorporated (Facebook) for Civil Society Organisations, Political Parties and Candidates, on Thursday 29 January, 2015, at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, it was unofficially stated that Facebook now has 14.8 million active monthly users in Nigeria, while 11.8 million of those users access facebook through their mobile devices like Android Phones, Blackberry and tabs. A report in 2011 by Portland Communications, a Kenyan-based public relations agency and Tweet Minster, a media platform, says Nigerians are the third most active Twitter users in Africa. The report came shortly after the Internet World Statistic for Facebook usage in 2011 established that the number of Nigerian Facebook users has increased from 400, 000 in the last four years to 4.3 million at the end of December 2011. The figure places Nigeria in the third position in terms of the number of Facebook users on the African continent, coming behind Egypt and South Africa with 9.4 million and 4.8 million users respectively. That figure would have triple by now! As at the moment, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan had a total of 1,804, 195 likes on his facebook page, the highest in Nigeria, while is major opponent Muhammadu Buhari had mere 74, 260 likes.
According to Internet Live Stats (www.InternetLiveStats.com), Nigeria is ranked 8th among the list of Countries by Internet Usage in the world (2014). For proper clarification, the page defined an Internet User “as an individual who has access to the Internet at home, via computer or mobile devcie.” As at July 1, 2014, number of internet users in Nigeria is pegged at 67,101,452, up from 46,680,049 (2011). In the current month of March 2015, the figure has risen to 74,594,149.
If the information given by the Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, while speaking at the Nigerian Internet Governance Forum (NIGF2014), is anything to go by, of the people with access to internet connectivity figure, Telecommunications Service Providers in Nigeria (majorly MTN, Airtel, Glo) connect over 63 million Nigerians to the internet. And going by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) 2014 statistics, Nigeria has over 130 Million Active Mobile Phone Subscribers, of which 63 million are connected to the internet most probably through their phones.
Juxtaposing the figures with the political reality, the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, recently stated that the official number of registered voters for 2015 elections is 68,833,476, with Lagos and Kano making up the highest number of possible voters. Playing on assumptions, it would not be out of place to assume that half of the figure released by INEC – 34 million – would be, people who are averagely knowledgeable and are among the 74 million with access to the internet and are most likely to be on one form of Social Media or the other. And considering that between 2011 and 2015, over 10 million Nigerians have joined facebook, one can start to imagine the comparative advantage already gained by any candidate the online community decides to cast their vote in favour of.
According to CIA World Factbook demographic statistics estimate(2014), 98.2 million Nigerians are between the age bracket of 15 – 55. If this is marched with the “How Africa Tweets” report which affirmed that Africa’s tweeters are considerably younger than their global counterparts; 60 per cent of the continent’s most active tweeters are aged 20-29, whereas the average age of Twitter users worldwide (according to Royalpingdom.com) is 39, one would understand why some politicians are paying through the nose to have social media presence.
Gone are the days when politicians keep obsolete facebook pages with no direct impact on the mood and voting pattern of citizens. Over the years, perceptions have changed, you cannot have a successful campaign without social media leveraging. Smart politicians, activists and socio-economic commentators are utilising the new media to penetrate the minds of their followers. Being social media savvy creates this aura of innovativeness and shows understanding of contemporary demands. Real or imagined, in the build up to this elections, politicians, using both monetary and ideological alignment cajoled perceived social media warlords into their camps. These set of people have no guns nor instrument of oppression to coerce but rather have the world wide web, twitter and a near “moronic” cult followers.
Despite the growth in the usage of twitter among the elites in Nigeria, most public figures are yet to join the burgeoning Twittersphere. Although, Twitter in Nigeria is widely used for social conversations; it is fast becoming a go-to for real-time important information. Sadly, many political gladiators are still lagging behind in the use of social media. Maybe post 2015 elections, governments, businesses and development agencies would see reason why staying out of a new space where social dialogue will be taking place, is a bad economics.
Another fast information sharing platform in recent time is Facebook Inc., owned WhatsApp. The app runs on almost all devices and operating systems for phones and tablets. According to Zuckerberg, the platform as at 2014 has 450 million active users with the potential to grow astronomically in the coming years. A good number of Nigerians are on Whatsapp. It is easy to use, highly compatible with any internet enabled phone and even allows for short videos sharing.
Another key factor why the social media would be a strong determinant of the election is that, unlike the conventional media, the social media is obtrusive, unregulated and does not obey the conventional rule of stopping political campaigns 48-hour to the D-Day. Thus, campaign would be done till the last minute of voting.
One common trend before the arrival of the social media is the muffling of the voices of the youths in politics. However, the pattern of play is changing with the young people taking their destiny into their own hands through social media. A country’s competitiveness depends on its capacity to improve on modern trend, thus, engaging the youths through the platform they have come to identify themselves with cannot be undervalued.
If one looks at the effect of social media in the emergency of Barack Obama, the Arab Spring, Enough Is Enough Movement, Save Nigeria Group, etc, one would realize that the strength of making government work, vote count and protecting the sanctity of our collective matrimony lies in the new appendage that is fast getting common “Office of The Citizen”.
In June, 2009, Clay Shirky, gave a TED talk titled “How social media can make history” where he talked about the transformed media landscape, and what it means for anybody who has a message that they want to get out to anywhere in the world to be able to do so with little or no hindrance. With social media, election observation has been made easier that citizens would not be there just to cast individual votes, but also to help ensure the sanctity of the votes cast.
Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni, a development worker, writes from Centre for Democracy and Development. Twitter handle @SM_S0407