A tremendous change in the Nigerian political process has been the rise of social media. How social media has influenced politics in Nigeria is prominently shown in the way that political parties were unable to change election results as they were coming out of the various polling stations. The use of platforms such as Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, WhatsApps, Twitter, Blog, MySpace, YouTube and Instagram have emerged as an important means of electioneering and the policing of election results. The power of social media played a prominent role during the Ekiti and Osun States governorship elections. In the Ekiti State gubernatorial election, accredited election and citizen observers, the civil society situation room, and the APC, PDP and INEC situation rooms deployed observers to the field who relied mainly on SMS, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, BBM, Instagram, for the report of incidents. Three hours after voting commenced, observers and citizens had started broadcasting election results announced in their respective voting centres through social media, which then drew the attention of political parties, local and international observers towards the comprehensive tracking and analyses of these results. Although INEC constantly advises that genuine election results should not be monitored on social media but through INEC’s designated channels, many people, including those of us at the Centre for Democracy and Development situation room knew APC had lost the Ekiti election to the PDP, much before the final tally and announcement of results by INEC. The role of social media in the Ekiti State election equally played out during the Osun state governorship election.
At the March 28, 2015 Nigeria presidential election, social media played a prominent role not only during the electioneering campaign but also during mandate protection by ensuring election results were broadcast before the official announcements by the INEC. Just like in the case of the Ekiti and Osun States, a few hours after voting, results started trending on different platforms, giving a clear lead to the All Progressive Congress in the North-East, North-West, South-West, and a struggle with PDP in the North-Central. It also quickly revealed the People’s Democratic Party’s lead in the South-East and South-South. The agitation spawned by the election results on social media subsequently led the PDP to accuse APC of posting fake election results, while charging Nigerians to totally disregard results issuing from these platforms and to wait for INEC to announce the official result. Indeed, Nigerians waited for the official announcement from INEC. However, there was no major difference between the results announced by INEC and those that had trended on social media.
The use of social media in elections has become a key tool in determining the fate of candidates and parties at polls, and in checkmating electoral fraud. With social media and digital communication increasingly being used for reporting incidents in elections, political parties and the electoral body need to come to terms with the power of citizens in monitoring elections and preventing the alteration of results. To this extent, social media makes it possible for citizens’ votes to count. Nigerian democracy and Nigerians have more to gain than to lose in the social media sphere that has taken over ways of communication among people globally.
In summary, the emergence of social media and it’s utilisation in elections has obviously frustrated unscrupulous Nigerian politicians and forestalled the erstwhile strategy of changing election results through the collaboration between returning officers and political parties. This is a revolution to Nigerian democracy; those who must win elections must win the genuine support of the people.
Audu Liberty Oseni is a Programme Officer with the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria