It’s election season in Nigeria, and news outlets are paying close attention to how young people and social media are affecting the vote. With Nigeria aiming for – and so far achieving – a smoother electoral process than they had in 2007, digitally-engaged Nigerians are an important group in promoting transparency and change.
To review where the elections stand, tomorrow Nigerians will vote for president, choosing between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC), former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu (ACN), outgoing Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP), and a host of minor candidates. Last week’s legislative elections (see the latest results here) have yielded major opposition gains, but many analysts still predict that President Jonathan will win re-election in the first round. Just as important as who wins, though, will be how the vote goes in terms of safety and credibility.
The government is playing a role in reforming the electoral process. Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has taken steps to ensure transparency tomorrow, directing “that the results of each polling unit be displayed immediately after the vote is cast so the candidates will be able to tabulate their votes even before a national announcement is made.”
But civil society groups in and outside Nigeria are setting up their own projects to prevent vote-rigging and other problems. Such projects often rely on social media, especially video, and are largely run by youth. VOA gives examples of two activist groups:
A video posted on the YouTube video site Thursday showed alleged rigging by election officials during last week’s legislative voting in Rivers state.
Comments below the video included the cell phone number of a top official from the Independent National Electoral Commission, known as INEC, so Nigerians worldwide could call to complain.
The video was released by a group called Juju Films Productions.
At a recent event in Washington, Reno Omokri explained the actions his Nigerian group, Council for Youth Empowerment, are encouraging.
“Go surreptitiously and just video what is happening and then upload it so that we can actually force the elections to be free and fair and credible. We are not just going to rely on INEC,” Omokri said.
Omokri says Nigerians around the world have been inspired by recent social media driven uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
At Slate, Dayo Olopade tells a similar tale:
As telecoms compete for a market of 150 million Nigerians, Web literacy, email usage, and mobile-phone penetration has become among the highest on the continent.
During Saturday’s comparatively smooth first round of voting, for seats in the Nigerian National Assembly (postponed once by the beleaguered electoral commission), the new connections came in handy. I saw dozens of voters transformed into informal election monitors—snapping photos on their mobile phones and alerting friends when the lines were shortest. A local newspaper took note: “The tweets, Facebook updates, Skype messages, text messages and pictures that voters exchanged via email and mobile phones gave the addresses of the polling booths, the locations, the number of people accredited, those who voted and the votes that each party got.” Within 12 hours of the polls closing, a charming YouTube video documented the group count at one polling unit. If thugs tried to snatch that ballot box, they might have seen their face on the evening news.
As Olopade says in his headline, “technology may not swing the election, but it will prove a point.” The same may be said of Nigerian youth. The Financial Times sees a generational shift taking place in Nigeria. As the comparatively young Jonathan (age 53) prepares to solidify his power, analysts quoted by FT say, ethnic, party, and generational power structures are wobbling. In a country where some 41% of the population is under the age of 15, a political opening could amplify the voices of youth – especially if youth continue to latch onto new technologies. The BBC, in fact, is saying Nigeria has already begun to change just as a result of last week’s elections.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Oftentimes demographic and technological shifts are overrated, and power structures are often surprisingly durable. But it does seem as though the cumulative efforts of young activists, political reformers (such as INEC’s chairman, Dr. Attahiru Jega), and domestic and international pressure are doing something to significantly change the political process in Nigeria.