Social media will play a major role in ensuring that Nigeria’s upcoming national elections are transparent, analysts and youngsters from the West African country predict.
Expectations are that the techno-savvy young Nigerians will monitor the 2011 elections civic journalism-style via their accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blog sites.
When citizens of the country vote in presidential and parliamentary elections between 2 and 9 April, young participants will tweet, update their statuses and post videos of activities at polling stations. They will disseminate real-time and first-hand accounts of their voting experiences.
“A most likely scenario on election day is that millions of young people will upload images of activities going on at polling centres in their localities,” writes Funke Osae-Brown, a Lagos-based journalist. Her opinion piece was posted on the Africa Review website on 27 March.
“Those who plan to snatch ballot papers may find it difficult to do so as their images will be on Facebook and YouTube, blogs and Twitter.”
With about 150-million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most densely populated country in Africa. More than 70% of that makeup is youngsters under the age of 35. Of the slice of voters, these youngsters comprise 65% of the almost 67-million total which has registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec).
An increasing number of youngsters have jumped onto the social media networking bandwagon in recent years, thanks to improved mobile internet connectivity in the country.
Almost 90-million Nigerians have mobile phones and more than 44-million have access to the internet. A whopping 3-million use Facebook in the country – and most of these account-holders are youngsters.
“With 87-million handsets in the hands of Nigerians – most of whom are young people who are social media inclined – for the first time, Nigeria’s 2011 election will be transparent even if the government does not want it,” Osae-Brown said.
He added that police will have to follow leads from these social media posts to detect any “brutality or unfair play”.
Political parties are highly active on the social networking sites and are “mobilising young people to monitor the counting of votes at polling stations in their areas”, Osae-Brown observed.
Incumbent president and candidate Goodluck Jonathan is one of the hopefuls leading campaigns on social networking sites. As of 28 March, Jonathan had 518 270 Facebook fans who liked his page, mostly belonging to Nigeria’s younger generations.
Nuhu Ribadu is another presidential candidate with a strong Facebook presence. A total of 165 264 users like his campaign page. There are 20 presidential and 20 vice-president candidates.
The 2007 poll was marred by controversy and allegations of fraud. Late former President Umaru Yar'Adua had to be sworn in after a lengthy court process.
Mobilising young voters
The groundwork for the election social media revolution was mostly done during the voter registration period.
Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), a coalition of individuals and young people’s organisations, has been at the forefront of mobilising youngsters to take part in the elections. It’s Register, Select, Vote and Protect (RSVP) campaign has inspired large portions of the target audience to register to vote.
“From Facebook to Twitter, we engaged youth by providing the required information, motivating them, providing technical solutions to problems and asking youth to show off their voters’ cards by posting pictures on Facebook and Twitter,” said EiE’s Gbenga Sesan in an interview with Global Voices Online.
“We asked young people in particular to register as voters and we saw some really great responses,” Sesan added.
EiE has also been to town halls and gone through traditional media channels such as TV and radio to reach out to Nigerians unfamiliar with social networking. The youngsters’ organisation will focus on accountability during the post-election period.
ReVoDa: a new monitoring network
ReVoDa is a new mobile phone application that has been born out of EiE’s work. It has been developed by the coalition’s ICT-savvy volunteers.
“ReVoDa will allow each citizen to report incidents, police behaviour, Inec performance and results from their respective polling units,” Sesan said in the Global Voices Online interview.
“ReVoDa provides untrained citizens with a medium through which they can share their election experiences.”
Elections results will be posted on the internet as soon as they become available.
The young voters may have to go against the recent directive of the country’s inspector general of police, Hafis Ringim, who has said that Nigerians should not use mobile phones to monitor the voting processes.
According to media reports, many of Nigeria’s public figures have slammed the edict, including Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka.
There are almost 300 local and international groups that will monitor the elections.
Commented Osae-Brown: “For the first time, it will not just be the TV camera or the photojournalist who will be on the watch-out. Every Nigerian will be a TV cameraman and photojournalist and citizen journalism will be at its peak.
“Hence, without help from the government, the April 2011 elections will be transparent.”