November 6, 2021

Having an impressive impact on Wikimedia is a positive influence for me – Sam Oyeyele

Having an impressive impact on Wikimedia is a positive influence for me – Sam Oyeyele

Sam Oyeyele is one of the key figures for Wikipedia in Nigeria. Over the years, he has firmly positioned his status as a poster child for the Wikimedia movement, not just in Nigeria, but the African continent as a whole.

With a background in Engineering, Sam is an ardent social entrepreneur with a strong passion for free knowledge, Open source and Open access. These areas are all part of the collective known as the “Open movement” – a movement that seeks to work towards a spirit of transparency, collaboration, re-use and free access of data.

Sam Oyeyele is known for being a co-founder of the official affiliate of Wikimedia Foundation in Nigeria, as well as founding The Afrocine Project, a project which aims to bridge the knowledge gap about Africa on the internet, using cinema and pop-culture. Through his extensive engagement with the open movement, Oyeyele has been able to talk about his work in over a dozen international conferences and summits in different parts of the world. He was also one of the delegates at the African Regional Meeting on Intellectual Property Rights in Kenya, which was organized just before the pandemic by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – an agency of the United Nations.

In an interview with the Vanguard, Sam Oyeyele said that he started his journey in the open movement in 2011, when he started editing Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. Specifically creating and editing pages about the African continent, with a special interest in cinema. He has been able to contribute over 18,000 global edits, and have uploaded more than 1,000 images, which are being used to illustrate Wikipedia articles. He has also contributed significantly to the other projects within the Wikimedia ecosystem, such as Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata.

He continued by mentioning that when he started out, he was among the very few Nigerians who knew about the existence of Wikipedia or the possibility to even improve articles on the encyclopaedia. Soon enough, he realised that there’s a need to get other people from Nigeria onboard to shape the Nigerian content on the platform. There was just so much knowledge gap and systemic bias on the platform and Sam didn’t feel he could solve it alone. Research once showed that there were more biographies from Germany and France (countries with combined population of less than 150 million), than the entire African continent (continent with a population of more than 1.3 billion).

In 2014 through 2015, Sam co-founded a Nigerian group with three other Wikipedia editors. The group was eventually recognized as an official Nigerian Wikimedia affiliate in September 2015. Since its establishment, he served as the Outreach Coordinator for the affiliate until December 2020.

Wikimedia Nigeria has been dedicated to promoting the use of Wikimedia projects by residents of Nigeria, and to also help in creating awareness on how the everyday Nigerian can contribute to the pool of knowledge on Wikimedia projects. In his role as the Outreach Coordinator, he organized dozens of Wikipedia editing workshops, edit-a-thons and contests in Nigeria, owing to his adequate knowledge of the complicated editing policies on Wikipedia. He also coordinated several Wikimedia projects, events and workshops at the global, continental and national levels; some of those that were coordinated at national level included: Wiki Loves Africa, Wiki Loves Women, and Wiki Loves Monuments, amongst others.

Through these activities, Sam and his colleagues were able to get a lot of Nigerians to participate in the Wikimedia movement, with many of such participants staying to become long-term contributors. Through the efforts of the team at Wikimedia Nigeria, they created thousands of articles about Nigerian subjects, helping to close the content gap on the internet. They practically grew the Nigerian community from nothing to a community of hundreds of people that Nigeria has today. In 2019, the team organized a Wikimedia Conference in Nigeria – the WikiIndaba Regional Conference, for which was chaired by Sam Oyeyele.

Sam said that this undertaking happened as a result of a research carried out by the Wikimedia Foundation showing that only a small percent of Nigerians knew about Wikipedia as a brand and what it does. He said, the awareness figure was around 23% of internet users at the time. This problem is also consistent for other countries on the continent. This wasn’t acceptable! Especially, when you compare it to western countries that had at least 80% awareness levels at the time. Sam said that the aforementioned problem also explained the knowledge gap problems – Africa simply does not actively participate in the process of content creation on the internet.

To try to fix this problem, the Wikimedia Foundation, in conjunction with Wikimedia Nigeria, partnered with a marketing agency, to produce two viral Wikipedia video(s), in the bid to improve on the awareness problem. One video featured Emmanuella, a comedian, and the other featured Nollywood actors, including Pete Edochie. The videos performed well beyond expectations, garnering about 50 million views across different online platforms and increased awareness levels to 44% through the project, Sam mentioned.

The Wikimedia Foundation runs dozens of projects such as writing articles, uploading photographs to Wikimedia Commons for skilled photographers and structured data like Wikidata. All of these areas Sam has contributed to. Furthermore, software developers or those generally interested in programming can contribute to Mediawiki which is the backbone of all Wiki projects.

Sam Oyeyele is one of the country-leads for the African Wikimedia Developers Project, a project that is aimed at nurturing an active and vibrant Wikimedia developer community on the African continent. In 2019, he organized a 2-day workshop for this project and invited skilled Wikimedia programmers from outside of Nigeria to teach the developers at the University of Ilorin on how to contribute to the programming aspects of Wikimedia. The event had over 30 students in attendance.

The Afrocine Project was established in 2018 as a multi-country and multi-faceted project which aims to bridge the huge internet gap, by encouraging the contribution of content that relates to cinema, theatre, and arts sectors of Africa, the Caribbean and the Diaspora to Open projects. The idea behind this is to draw in more volunteers by focusing on pop culture (which has a big draw on the continent), and then eventually, these users can either continue contributing on this topic, or branch into other topics that interest them.

As a result of this project, Sam Oyeyele and his team have managed to directly add over 5,000 quality articles to Wikipedia, with thousands more of existing articles improved upon. Over 20 languages have been directly impacted and events have been coordinated in over 15 countries. The project has also indirectly impacted other participation across the movement, through our promotions and advocacy. Sam said they have surpassed the expectations they got for the project when it was started but still see so many problems that need fixing.

The project was noted to be in the middle of a campaign which will run until the end of November, 2021. The campaign was however tagged: “months of African cinema” where all Wikimedia volunteers are invited to write articles or create content around their scope during the two months to win great prizes.

The Wikimedia 2030 Strategy started in 2017 as the Wikimedia movement started the important discussion about our collective future. It reflected on our years together and wanted to shape our impact on the world in the next decades. For Sam, there was a need for a common strategic direction that would unite and inspire people across the movement on our way to 2030.

As a community member, he coordinated discussions within the Nigerian community to get their viewpoints and inputs to the strategy. Afterwards, Sam joined the diversity working group on the strategy team, where they worked to map the current areas of diversity gaps within the movement as well as projects that have been concentrating on bridging these gaps, essentially brainstorming on different ways to ensure inclusiveness in the global Wikimedia movement.

In January 2021, Sam started working with the Wikimedia Foundation as a facilitator for the implementation phase of the strategy process to engage with Wikimedia communities on the best ways to implement the different recommendations that have been put forward by the different working groups during the strategy process. He began with the Universal Code of Conduct enforcement, presently working on the drafting process for the movement charter.

As per the biggest challenge to his work, Sam stressed that institutional support is particularly lacking on the continent; both from governments and private entities. He said that it seems to be a general lack of interest in free knowledge, digitization and open access from African governments. Private entities also often expect some form of reward before collaborating on movement projects. So this challenge he considered to be the biggest for the open movement so far on the continent.