New communications technology and social networking are about to influence the politics of the African continent once again. This time it is Nigeria, whose leaders are rapidly coming to terms with the political significance of new forms of communication and networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as the country prepares to go to the polls in April.
by Dr Harold Elletson
Nigeria is one of the youngest countries in Africa: The average age is just 19. In 2008, according to the UN Children’s Fund, only 49% of Nigeria’s population was aged over 18. Young Nigerians are technologically savvy too. The International Telecommunications Union estimates that, at the end of 2010, the market penetration rates for mobile phones and the internet were 53% and 24% respectively.
Nigerian politicians have been quick to learn that the combination of demographics and access to ICTs required new strategies for communicating with their electorate. President Goodluck Jonathan declared his intention to run for the Presidency on Facebook, and other politicians have also adopted the site as a campaigning tool. Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, former Vice President Atiku Babubakar, Governore Emanuel Uduagan of Delta State and many others have established a campaign presence on the social networking site.
Technology is also playing an important role in making voters aware of the elections and encouraging transparency. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has deployed 240,000 people and 132,000 data capture machines to help with registering voters in what has been described as “Africa’s single largest technology project ever.”*. And Reclaim Naija, a broad-based platform for promoting transparency, has launched a website using Ushahidi, the software developed in Kenya to monitor electoral violence.
The likely effect of all this is difficult to predict. What is clear, however, is that it constitutes a fundamental change to the nature of democracy and political campaigning in Nigeria. There can be no going back.
* Nyimbi Odero, Head of Information Technology at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), quoted in The Africa Report, March 2011.