The New Information Highway, By Dele Agekameh
The political parties may have their agenda, but the people’s agenda should remain the same to make the officials work to get tangible results that will speak for themselves in the next elections.
Nigeria’s 2015 general elections have come and gone. We are now confronted with the ripple effects or the smouldering aftermaths of the titanic battles. While the winners are jubilating and celebrating by popping champagne all over the place, the losers are licking their wounds. One thing that will, for long, remain indelible in the minds of everybody is the unprecedented level of attention given to the elections in the social media by emergency reporters. It was a novel experience in many ways.
In Nigeria’s federal system, the federal government holds sway over the state governments. As such, the ‘big vote’ in every election is the one for the top job in Abuja. This is true for other federal systems elsewhere around the world, but maybe more so in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, the election for the top seat generated wide interest, especially from the youth and other Nigerians, far and wide, gripping the whole world that watched on to see if the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party could be unseated at the centre. The outcome of the presidential election held on March 28, could not have been better for the neutrals and the teeming hoard of enthusiasts on social media around the world.
On April 11, it was time for the gubernatorial elections and elections into the State Houses of Assembly. It proved to be a more ‘local’ affair (as it indeed is) with waned interest noticeable even at the polling units. On social media, where the presidential election was keenly followed step by step from the wee hours on election day, through the arduous process of collation in Abuja (including the ‘Orubebe interlude’), until final results were declared, the gubernatorial elections drew significantly less attention. The ‘online situation room’ was still operational, albeit with less force.
The posts on the different online platforms told pretty much the same story as was the case during the presidential election. One could discern a pattern consistent with the narrative in the presidential election. The Rivers State election, again, was a hot topic, with sporadic violence reported by residents, beginning from the day before the election, quite unsurprisingly, because of the precedence set on March 28. Lives were, again, lost in Rivers State, with gory pictures of victims spread across facebook and twitter. Their authenticity was unconfirmed by any official sources save for credible news media accounts. However, it was clear that the gung-ho politics in that particular state had claimed some lives.
The INEC twitter account was active, voters posted events from their polling units which showed thinner crowds but much of the same allegations. The INEC account dispelled claim after claim of malpractices and fake ballot papers reported in different states. One report that the INEC account answered directly to was that of some armed naval officers in Ikorodu LGA in Lagos, who were distorting elections, stating that the Lagos State Resident Electoral Commission would “resolve” it. Fresh pictures of under-age voters around the North emerged again, with a good picture reportedly from Jos North local government and another from Kofar Fada polling unit in Keffi, Nassarawa State, making the most wave on social media. INEC did not confirm the authenticity of these pictures; neither were they denied as many reports coming out of different states were denied.
A particularly post that went viral during the gubernatorial elections was a video of the son of Musiliu Obanikoro. The junior Obanikoro, who was a candidate for a seat in the Lagos State House of Assembly, allegedly involved in a fracas of sorts at a polling unit in Lagos. While some reported that he was confronted while dolling out cash at the polling unit, others suggested he was arrested for bribing voters at the polling unit. The video showed him engaged in heated argument with several people, including a woman who appeared enraged for unclear reasons, shoving the state house of assembly candidate at one point. The presence of policemen at the scene explained the reports of his arrest, but he is seen entering into his vehicle at the end.
Even with the lower turnout and the absence of many of the international observers, who were themselves posting updates on social media during the presidential election, it is clear that elections in Nigeria have taken a new turn. The unprecedented use of social media in these elections is a welcome development. It succeeded in making the last minute scramble at polling units by political party affiliates a reduced feature in the elections. For whatever reason Obanikoro Junior was engaged in that scene captured on video, future candidates will be wary of making costly mistakes at polling units going forward, if for nothing else, but to avoid embarrassment or undue insinuations and rumours. At last, Nigerians are catching up to the true power of their resolve and determination, using the tools they have control over.
It is now time to extend the practice to all aspects of national life. All agencies of government should establish an online presence on social media for easy access, not just outdated websites that are never maintained. In more civilised countries, the police respond to threats posted on social media and multinational corporations make big announcements first on social media. There is one glaring example of the part it played in the Arab spring – governments have been toppled via social media. The sooner Nigerians realise that power to force the hand of our historically unresponsive government and its agencies, the better it will be for the general well-being and development of the country.
If “my oga at the top” can go viral, and elections can be monitored from polling units to collation centres through eye witness pictures and videos, then people can attend public tenders, follow government projects in their communities, phase by phase, and make reports with pictures or video evidence. The change does not have to end with All Progressives Congress, APC, taking over from the PDP at the centre, it should also extend to the citizenry being more involved and informed, using the resources at their disposal. One man cannot guarantee change, but with everyone on board, real change can be realised.
Anyone who has been following the rising cases of police brutality against black people in the United States of America, will know what role video evidence caught on smart devices has played in getting people’s attention. It has put recalcitrant policemen on their toes, because new videos emerge every day. On April 9, the brutal killing of 48-year old Walter Scott, by an overzealous policeman in North Charleston, South Carolina, was the latest in the running scandals involving white policemen. Thanks to the amateur recording of the murder scene by an eyewitness video that emerged few days after which told a damningly different story that changed the storyline.
But then, political apathy in Nigeria is still very much a problem. The presidential election roused a good number of the citizenry, due largely to the fact that indications were clear that it would be a close race and the debate was steered by prevailing issues like insecurity among others. Still, after all the bar-room talk and public debates, the turn-out was less than ideal. The states with the highest numbers, like Lagos, Rivers and Kano, only had a fraction of their official population registered as voters, and a fraction of those registered actually voting. The gubernatorial elections saw that number dip.
However, to be fair to the people, there are probably more than a few reasons to stay safe in one’s home during elections in Nigeria. People on social media in Rivers State reported monitoring elections “safely in the house”, which is sound logic.
This is why Nigerians have to work together to make the state apparatus work for the citizens and show interest in government processes. The political parties may have their agenda, but the people’s agenda should remain the same to make the officials work to get tangible results that will speak for themselves in the next elections. News travels faster than ever before, through easier channels and with greater reach. It is time Nigerians exploit this great avenue to create the change we crave.