Social Media and the 2011 Nigerian Elections

Posted on 19/07/2011


I have never been as politically aware as I was during the recently concluded Nigerian elections that returned Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party to an unprecedented fourth-straight term as ruling party. I was not alone – the political landscape of Nigeria had changed in those twelve or so years of democratic experiment. Many had doubted that Nigeria would last that long without the jackboots once again rearing their ugly heads to the tune of their familiar “rat-ta-tat-tat!” Other analysis had it that enough harm had been done to the military image by the combination of Babangida and Abacha for the ‘long knives’ to as much as muster a whimper of protest. So Nigeria survived, against most odds – Eight years of a blustering, bamboozling Obasanjo presidency, two and a half years of a wimpish, sickly Yar’ adua prototype, a few months in no man’s land under the so-called ‘Turai Coup,’ then another year and a half through the merry go round of Jonathan-in-Wonderland, which offered Nigerians our first impressions, upfront and personal of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the proverbial Aladdin of our times! (Wonder how many tricks he still has up his sleeves!)


It wasn’t a very praiseworthy first impression, but it wasn’t so damning either, actually it was a bit of twiddle Dee and twiddle dum. Goodluck supporters asked us not to demand so much from the man; that he was just rounding up his predecessor’s term in office. We should re-elect him on his own cognizance first, then we shall all see magic and wonders? Or fury, and…brimstone?


Social networking has been altering our views of the world since the turn of the millennia. The expansion, growth and influence of these networks over the past few years have been absolutely astronomical. There is no better example of this than the social network revolution that is blowing across North Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is gradually seeping downwards into sub-Saharan Africa – the only reason for the seeming sluggishness of this approach may not lie beyond the stark illiteracy, stank ignorance, crass backwardness, static development and despotic leadership that has spawned over the region since the last wave of revolutionary ethos in the sixties and seventies.


However two things did convince me early, that the Internet and social networking would have massive influence on the results of the Nigerian elections. The initial conviction was the statistical data that informed us that the majority bloc of the country’s populations were comprised of youth; and further, that of the approved registered voters list for the then forthcoming elections, the 18-40 age bracket was in the marginally higher percentages. If I was to further guesstimate these projections, I would say that 70-80 percent of this 18-40 bracket belonged to at least one social network group or the other! That simply presupposes the powerful impact communications and networking would have in their lives and how much this would have to bear on opinion-making and decision-taking over the next few months.


On December 17th 2010, I helped to organise a one-day seminar at the University of Lagos Main auditorium under the auspices of a youth advocacy group I support called, 1 Thumb. The group was set up to build awareness among Nigerian youth of the importance and essential need for them to actively participate in politics and the elections. The message was: ensure that you register to vote; to make sure you do cast your vote; to ensure that you wait patiently for the votes to be counted; that you have the right to defend your votes by disallowing rigging and other illegalities; and that your defensive tools are your social networking weapons: email, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Bebo, Yfrog, You tube, MOBS, etc. That message from the highly successful lecture was the very same message that other Nigerians had been expressing, on talk shows, in newspaper columns, in public utterances and all over the media space. Some had postulated that if Nigeria didn’t get the vote right this time around, there might never be another chance. Incidentally I was of that view too. I actually still do believe that we might just have used up all our aces!


The CPC was a wild card. It was not your ‘regular’ Nigerian political party. It is not the norm in Nigeria to find a political entity truly determined and designed toward service to nation and humanity. I come from the old school and am not ashamed to insist that crimes left unpunished will fester until they destroy any structure or organisation…or nation. And that is what leadership has shied away from these past twelve years – the logic is simple really, how can you punish crime and misdemeanour when your hands too are full of slime and grit! CPC was different and I saw in General Muhammadu Buhari a person determined to rid Nigeria of the filth that has kept us soiled, stained and muddied all these years. So I saw in the CPC the solution to the Nigeria problem and I pitched my tent with the old General for those reasons.


One could argue that of all the major parties none employed the use of social networking more than the CPC. The party had various Facebook pages, many of which were independent initiatives by support groups, including the Buhari Bakare 2011 Volunteers’ Group, perhaps the most active of all. President Goodluck Jonathan’s Facebook page was equally as often visited, although on further perusal one would pick up a sycophantic slant embedded within the postulations and comments of the page administrators. As much as I attempted to appreciate the presidential attempt to be socially network savvy with the youth culture, the wordiness of the scripts and self adulatory style was put offish at most times. It was hard to believe everything one read. It would seem plastic to all but the die-hard follower!


Courtesy Facebook, Twitter, and You tube, various videos were posted during the recently concluded elections featuring irregularities across Nigeria – the most notorious being the Rivers State Senatorial case, which was widely distributed over the Internet. The video went viral on both Twitter and Facebook depicting the blatant rigging of the election where a lady was busy thumbing sheaves of ballot papers, while another lady was on the lookout and two men who evidently saw what was going on without much concern hung around and a National Youth Service Corps member who for his impartiality was engaged as one of the INEC staff, sat at a desk ensuring that the affront to our democracy was being validated. Further independent investigations revealed that the polling unit where the thumb printing was being done was in the Gokana Local Government. The polling unit was PU 32/12/04/008 situated at C.P.S. I B-Dere, Giogon Boobana, Rivers State. The Facebook reportage also managed to pick up the names of the culprits in question; one lady whose face was quite clearly visible throughout the video was given the name, Baridi Naleloo, assumed to be the PDP women’s leader of Ward 4 B-Dere and an employee of Gokana Local Government. The other lady whose is thumbing the ballot papers is identified as simply Barivure, also assumed to be an employee of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. One wonders if both women still occupy their posts…or if they have been promoted!


Unfortunately, the election has been won and lost and many ignoble occurrences during and after are better forgotten; many unfortunate and unnecessary deaths have occurred, accusations of rigging and manipulation have been thrown from both sides, treacherous and even treasonable comments have been wantonly put on display, fingers are being pointed in all sorts of directions, and the senior advocates are about to feed fat again. C-o-u-r-t!


One must always pray for hope, and so one can only wish the President and his new cabinet well. If truly he means well for Nigeria, then some of the ills of the past will be remedied, and hopefully, finally after years of ceaseless plumage, and rape, and plunder, Nigeria can finally face the course that was destined for it at independence, in 1960. It might take some catching up, but we will get there, God willing. Amin!


God’s guidance, always.


~ Femi Sowoolu

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