Founder of Nigerians Saving Nigerians, Omololu Omotosho Governor Adams Oshiomhole casts his vote during the July 14 Edo State governorship election
Below, is a limited analysis by Mr. Olawale Rasheed of Nigerian newspaper, Tribune exploring the causes and effects of Nigerian online political activism in and outside of Nigeria.
“Regional Editor (News), Olawale Rasheed, assesses the increasing importance of the internet in Nigeria‘s political terrain, concluding that the opposition has hijacked the web against the ruling party.
A trend likely to surprise keen watchers of political events in Nigeria is the eventual opposition hijacking and domination of online platforms for political activism. In the last one year, opposition activists consisting of a blend of youth civil society activists and youthful politicians have taken over the web, launching a viral campaign against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governments.
A systematic review and survey of web postings in the last one year revealed a refreshing surge in online activism by Nigerians with the ruling party and the Federal Government at the receiving end. In specific terms, a long list of cyber activists and solders appeared to have been deployed by the opposition coalition encompassing forces from home and abroad, waging a relentless war of words and propaganda against the establishment. The boldness of the activism, the depth of their postings and the reach of their propaganda are all emerging as a potent factor in future contests for political power in Nigeria.
There are hundreds of social networking sites on the web. For Nigerian activists, political activism is more potent than social chats, leading to an explosion in the number of cyber warlords with sharp missiles and bullets. In a system that allows for pseudo names and in a world where cyber protectors battle for internet freedom, Nigerians have taken to the web, voicing their disdain for the government and, at times, engaging in false postings alongside equally truthful ones on the state of the nation.
On twitter and facebook, thousands of Nigerians have become emergency journalists unencumbered by the rules of the journalism profession. Thousands of citizen journalists are roaming the web, firing salvos of unverified news and information. Countless eyewitness reporters have joined the fray, such that even traditional journalists are having hard times on news reporting. Unlike the fairly inaccessible print and electronic media, the citizens now troop to the web, airing their viewpoints away from the news editors, sub editors and editorial page editors.
The web opening has also witnessed the emergence of many online news mediums which are doing a great job in breaking news and keeping the citizens informed. Interestingly, the preponderant news media are regularly hitting hard at the ruling party, exposing corruption and campaigning for good governance. In reality, the online news media like Sahara Reporters, Pointblank, PremiumTimes, StarWitness and others have established themselves as leaders on the web. What is puzzling is the political bent of most of this news media.
Contrary to the usual sayings that few Nigerians have access to the internet, the situation has dramatically changed since the telecoms companies started offering net services. Reports now confirm that the average Nigerian with a mobile phone is potentially a web user. That fact directly implies a lot for the nation politically, a reality now being exploited by the opposition parties. For the ruling party, its online policy has been reactive rather than proactive.
How has the political parties reacted to this new development? How are the various levels of government coping with this new web activism? Will such activism have any effects on future political contests in Nigeria? These and more questions cannot but interest those who have interest in the relationship between online political activism and voting trends in the political communities.
To start with, many reports and studies have confirmed that democratic revolutions ongoing in the Arab world are mostly driven by web activism, with armies of cyber soldiers at their art every minute. The web has toppled tyrants; it has installed people’s power. Its potency is, therefore, not in dispute. In fact, political projects in settled democracies now have strong web components, with many political organisations worldwide now having a director and directorate of Online Media.
For the Nigerian political scene, the ruling party has been very conservative in its approach. The PDP is still battling to get a hold of the traditional media while it is yet to have any strong online presence. The party‘s presence in the traditional media is even not that strong, while it appears to have abandoned the web to the opposition. While individual PDP leaders strive to maintain a web presence, the party as an establishment has, so far, had no online strategy, leading to its being regularly battered without any mechanism for counter action and attacks.
Even when the party is wrongly and falsely attacked, the response mechanism is mostly very weak and belated. Checks for more than five months now showed that many attacks on the party have gone undefended. Since the fuel subsidy crisis in December-January, the regularity of attacks on the Federal Governments and its policies has gone viral even after the president appointed a special assistant on social media. Virtually every minute on twitter and facebook, the bashing of the PDP, the presidency and federal policies surfaces without any counter attacks as is always the case in the United States of America and Europe.
For the opposition caucus, there seems to be a deliberate policy to deploy the web for political agenda. Findings showed that the opposition web assault is coordinated and well funded. Equally noteworthy is that the opposition appears to have forged a coalition with some genuinely patriotic youths, civil society leaders, young professionals and an amalgamation of unemployed graduates with all believing that the evil is nothing but the ruling party.
Findings also revealed that the former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, may be the leader of these cyber soldiers alongside opposition political activists within the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). While both the ACN and CPC may appear outwardly detached from the cyber war, the strategy is clearly a decided one, as the opposition seems to be taken a lesson from the Arab Spring. The intention may be to effect a web revolt which will eventually manifest in the neighbourhood, wards and constituencies across the land.For the opposition, the advantage may be the raising of awareness for political change ahead of 2015 as well an opportunity to thoroughly discredit the ruling party before the increasingly politically active segment of the society before future elections. Within the opposition circles, the strategy is working and can work, as it has worked elsewhere in democracy promotion.
For the ruling party, the development presents both opportunities and threats. From the angle of threats, records on the web showed that a lot of damaging materials are streaming into the web daily which, in the long run, can be downloaded into hard copies and can make their ways into the nooks and crannies of the federation. Such a situation can create political erosion which may uproot the most entrenched of all platforms. Damaging materials not debunked immediately have the equal potency of becoming truth in the minds of the unsuspecting and increasingly impoverished public, thereby transforming the ruling party’s leaders into an anti-people caucus. The political implication at the ballot box is very huge.
But there are also opportunities. Given that the opposition is already entrenched on the web, the ruling party can counter-attack by recruiting and deploying its armies of cyber soldiers to battle the opposition army on the web.
In fact, keen observers will notice that what we have on the web now is merely a monologue with the opposition launching attacks without any response from the target. When and if the ruling party deploy its own army, the nation‘s web community may then be treated to a balanced exchange of ideas and policies.
For all political actors, the potency of the web as a factor in future political contest should not be in doubt. Blocking the web is of course not an option; boycotting the web is also suicidal. The incontestable reality is that future elections may be partly won and lost on the web.”
Nigerians Saving Nigerians as a prominent democracy organization played a major role along with citizens of Edo State, Nigerian masses, Nigerians abroad, and Nigerians/Nigerian organizations of goodwill to make sure that democracy is properly enforced in the recently concluded July 14 Edo State, Nigeria governorsip election.
The result of the July 14 Edo State governorship election as certified by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has demonstrated that it is a good development for every Nigerian.
This link may suggest to Mr. Olawale Rasheed of Tribune Newspaper, the potency of the work of Nigerians Saving Nigerians and maybe he will pay homage to Nigerians Saving Nigerians the next time he writes an article on a topic he does not know much about.
On Mr. Olawale Rasheed’s next article on Nigerian online political activism he may want to conduct more reseach on the relationship between the sufferings of Nigerian masses and the availability of a hand-held equipment (cellular phone with internet connection) that allows them to individually and collectively dramatize their sufferings to the world.
What are you thinking?