HOW THE YOUTH AND SOCIAL MEDIA CONTRIBUTED TO THE UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS OF 2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
Looking back at previous elections in Nigeria and the reactions that followed after announcing results, a well meaning Nigerian would naturally be burdened about how the giant of Africa will scale through the important test of 2015 general elections.
Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world, and key when it comes to Africa’s development; peaceful conduct of elections can only shape the future of Nigeria’s democracy and as well expand the frontiers of democracy in Africa.
As the presidential election rescheduled for the 28th March, 2015 drew nearer, the world began to watch Nigeria. As a resource person to the African Union on the implementation of African Youth Charter and through my engagement at the global stage courtesy UNDP, UNHABITAT, UNESCO, UNAOC among others, the most questions friends of Nigeria asked me outside our official thematic areas of engagements were all about the 2015 elections and the likely roles of Nigerian youth in expanding the frontiers of democracy in Nigeria. The answer to this question then varies and was already a subject of debate and analysis in Nigeria, but nonetheless, there was a hardening consensus that something had to be done about it. But what? Given the lack of a collective and institutional memory about electoral challenges and its damaging effects on all aspects of society, clearly new approaches to these old problems were necessary.
The roles of the Nigerian youth are fundamental as our democracy is still a work in progress. The numerical strength of the Nigerian youth is vital enough to determine who wins the presidential election in Nigeria. As a young professional and after studying the body language of many my co-active young citizens, we understood perfectly the task ahead of us. If we omitted our responsibilities in building our nation or allowed ourselves to be used by unscrupulous political actors to disrupt our hard earned democracy, the damage of breaching such public peace may be mutagenic, and injurious to the system. While I was thinking about a nationwide initiative that will build a culture of peace before, during after the elections as United Nation Peace Ambassador, Commonwealth Youth Council from United Kingdom appointed me and few others as Youth Campaign Against Election Violence (Y-CAEV) Ambassadors in Nigeria. To us, the work to deepen our democracy has begun.
We believed that using online social media tools and strategies to complement existing efforts will open up a dynamic new front in achieving free, fair, credible 2015 elections. Given the inherent flattened hierarchies of the Internet, the access to information, and the demographics of Nigeria’s Facebook, Twitter, Youtube among others and smart phones generation, we knew that a new type of advocacy was possible.
Youth driven Initiatives, many young Nigerians with physical and virtual influence began direct and indirect selection processes of youth activists, bloggers, and relative technology experts. On youth stakeholders’ consultations,Constitutional Rights Awareness and Liberty Initiative(CRALI) did well in involving communications. AYCRIP for example established strategic partnership with major youth networks, selected youth civil society organisations, youth leaders, political actors across Nigeria towards building strong buy-in and vast inter relation structure. In all these activities Nigerian youths all had clear and the same objectives. They wanted initiatives that will build the culture of peace and achieve violence free 2015 general elections; campaigns that will enlighten people to freely and actively participate in the 2015 general elections; and police the entire electoral processes.
Active young Nigerian citizens designed initiatives to share best practices, analyse the daunting challenges of popularizing and layman-understanding of the electoral processes. The popular #RSVP code on events’ invitation cards was creatively transformed by Enough Is Enough to‘Register to vote; Select credible candidate; Vote candidate of your choice; Protect your vote’. CRALI did not to stop also through its#KnowYourRightsNigeria on social media and #KnowYourConstitution initiative on UNILAG 103.1 FM to educate Nigerians on their civic rights, responsibilities and simplified the electoral law, and electoral processes to the understanding of ordinary man on the street.
Amongst the several platforms for engagement and discussions by youths, social media platforms have proved very effective. The effectiveness comes from the relative ease of access, the anonymity it can confer on participants, relative speed of dissemination and the general prevalence of feature phones. For example, what would have been the most embarrassing moment of the election was saved by the quick intervention by mostly young people and dissemination of information on social media platforms. When the card readers provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)to ascertain the true identity of voters began to fail, Nigerians observed that the seal on those cards had to be removed. Circulating such important notice on social media helped a lot.
Moreover, where a case of underage voting was discovered, the suspected was snapped with phone camera and the picture went viral in a matter of minutes which provoked INEC quick intervention and investigation. The efficacy of social media and mobile technological advancement also assisted Nigerians in policing their votes till they were counted. They quickly circulated counted unofficial results from pooling units nationwide making it difficult for anyone to doctor the results among others.
As a young leader, my opinion was sampled in a live telecast on the effect of inciting violence or using the youth as political tugs simply because young people’s opinion are respected as key actors who are also stakeholders in the national scheme. The social media has also become a general assembly for young people where opinions are shaped with enabling space for encouraging debates with intent of mobilizing them towards popular position as far as electoral matters are concerned. In addition, the political actors also deployed agents for collecting opinions from the social media as means for getting undiluted and useful feedbacks from all strata of the society. The social media efficacy really served as a viable platform for getting reliable information helpful for decision taking in the electoral process.
While this article is to highlights the roles of young people and social media towards free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria, it would be unfair to discuss such emphatic success without reverencing other important stakeholders like INEC officials, Security services, peaceful political actors, Civil Society Actors, the press, ECOWAS, African UN, EU,and their member states for their roles in recording violence free elections in Nigeria in the face of combating terrorism. The young people can ride upon the innovative mobile technological advancement and the efficacy of social media to launch a bottom-up popularization of political participation among young people and expand the frontiers of democracy, using the social media effectively achieves its launching locally and internationally.
The engagement is not over yet. It just started. Democracy is not all about wining elections and I make bold to say that the acid test of democracy is good governance. Now that we have discovered where our strengths lie, we are ready to engage the incoming government in order to be accountable to us.
Adeola Austin Oyinlade is a Nigerian lawyer, youth policy, human rights and international law expert.
Connect with him on twitter via @AdeolaOyinlade