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How Facebook, Twitter, others shaped Nigeria’s elections

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In a continent where one out of every 5000 in 1998, was an internet user, the current boom in internet usage, especially social media is particularly striking. For Nigerians, the social media is the in-thing. For instance, the recent general elections was largely shaped by internet based tools like Facebook,YouTube,Twitter among others. From the most obscure village to the most flourishing city, this media frenzy is such that electoral aberrations, which would have gone unnoticed were blown open. Both pre and post- election victories,defeats and tragedies were shaped by this trend that is poised to redefine Africa’s most populous nation. CHARLES KUMOLU reports.

Internet users at a Cyber cafe

Though  the reading culture in Nigeria, is generally said to be low, Martin Ebosetale does not belong to the group that has given Nigeria this image.

This company executive reads virtually everything in print. If there was a price for reading, the Edo-State born father of four, would clinch first price, especially for reading Newspapers.

He would rather forego his meals to reading any of the national dailies.

The only time he does not read papers, is when he is away in his village Ugboha in Edo state. This is because he has to travel to Uromi to purchase papers. This is why he is quick to say that connecting to the world is expensive in his village. And it accounts for his grumbling whenever he travels to his village. But this did not surface during his recent trip to his state.

The reason for this is not far fetched. This time there was no need for a trip to get papers, he was convinced of getting every news of the Presidential Election without his traditional source of information, as his blackberry phone and Laptop, were better substitutes.

He first got wind of the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan across some polling units, through a facebook post, where his friend posted the results as released in a unit thus:

“PDP; 150,ACN 80,ANNP 4, na wa’ooo hurricane Goodluck is sweeping everywhere, this is just the beginning” his friend wrote.

While this raised the curtain on the numerous election results and issues Ebosetale, received through social networking site, in his obscure village, it underscores the role of social media otherwise known as new media in the recent general elections.

Victories,defeats and violence were reported from polling units

In addition, it also shows that social media boom has began in Nigeria. For instance, it was common sight to find people at various polling units, recording and sending information with their phones during the elections.

This reporter, who monitored the elections as an accredited journalist, discovered that beyond phones, some voters came to the centres with Ipads(a new mobile device for information dissemination). A similar story is also told in every corner of the country, as victories, defeats, violence and other conducts were reported through various internet based tools.

For instance, there was a case which is now a hit on YouTube. People gathered at a polling booth in Lagos and insisted that the Youth Corpers used as adhoc staff by INEC destroy unused ballots. The Corp members had no such directives and so refused, but the people insisted. The police was called in and still the people insisted. When the Corps members explained that it was contrary to INEC’s policy, one of those present produced a phone and asked that they call their supervisor. They refused to leave until the ballots were destroyed.

Also, it was a facebook post by a Corps member, Aik Ukoma, that gave the signal that he was in danger.

Aik, who was eventually killed by the rioters in Bauchi State, wrote, “ Na wao! This CPC supporters would have killed me yesterday, no see threat oooo. Even after forcing underaged voters on me they wanted me to give them the remaining ballot paper to thumb print. Thank God for the police and am happy I could stand for God and my nation. To all Corps members who stood despite these threats esp. In the north bravo! Nigeria! Our change has come.”

While Ukeoma’s post reported violence, Prof. Wole Soyinka, while appraising the state of the nation recently, noted that he got reliable reports about credibility of the presidential election from a social platform, Reclaimnaija initiative.

Soyinka said the figures announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the end of the collation did not differ in wide margin with independent reports by Reclaim Naija reporters, who posted their figures from the polling centres across the states.

Although, these instances does not exist in isolation, it depicts that Nigerians are merging the extensive use of mobile phones with internet based tools and platforms that allow people to interact with each other like never before.

Mobile phone users

Nigerians spend much time on social media platforms

This was also supported by reports that “when Africans go online predominantly with their mobile phones, they spend much of their time on social media platforms like facebook,Twitter,YouTube and others, sending and reading emails and posting research queries have become less important activities for Africans.”

Further findings by VaguardFeatures,VF, revealed that facebook is the most visited platform in Nigeria, five out of every ten enlightened Nigerians, who are seen fiddling with their mobile phones, are on facebook. This also applies to people in workplace, where seven out of every ten employees are on facebook during working hours.

“We can’t take away the power of the social media, it has come to stay, and it is greatly reshaping the world by acting as a watchdog or mouthpiece of everyone,”Engr Oye Osemokha, an Internet Analyst, told VF.

Nonetheless, this was also supported by reports that, “the number of Africans on facebook stands at over 17 million, up from 10million in 2009. More than 15 percent of people online in Africa are currently using the platform, compared to 11 percent in Asia. Africa’s internet users are more than 100 million at the end of 2010.”

It’s no threat to traditional media

VF further gathered that social media appears to be a boost to traditional media.

“I am an illiterate when it comes to distinction between social and traditional media. I would say that the media generally got so much involved in the elections, so I don’t see any distinction. The media has done very well. However, the social media and traditional media played vital roles in shaping the elections,”Veteran Journalist, Chief Segun Olusola told VF.

Continuing the retired broadcaster said, “The so much media involvement that we have seen, is a manifestation that we are going to see more better changes. It would influence a lot of things in the country. Therefore, the social media has helped to advanced the reach of media influence in the society.”

Beyond reporting election incidence, it was observed that some politicians, resorted to social media to solicit for votes. This is evident from the number of facebook pages owned by candidates seeking to be elected into various offices. Prominent among these, is President Goodluck Jonathan’s facebook page, where he engaged in daily conversation with Nigerians.

It was further gathered that various agencies and NGOs set up platforms that enabled Nigerians from all walks of life to set up citizen reporting portals to report conduct of elections with their mobile phones.

A glimpse of social meda

9.15 am: Three bomb blasts rock Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria as polls opened for the country’s gubernatorial and state assembly elections. No casualty reported. 24 of the 36 states vote today, with that of Kaduna and Bauchi scheduled for.

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