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Social media helps curb Nigerian election deathtoll, paving future path

Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji | April 30, 2015
The dozens of deaths that marred the recent Nigerian elections would be considered shocking by the standards of most developed nations. Compared to past elections, however, the violence this time around was limited, and many observers say social media and technology such as biometric card readers played a big role in minimizing conflict.

This year, while the election-related death toll in Nigeria was nowhere near that of four years ago, the country was far from tranquil during election season. Violence caused the government to postpone the presidential election from February to March 28. Elections for senators and representatives were held two weeks later.

The National Human Rights Commission reported that in February it had "received reports of and documented over 60 separate incidents of election-related violence from 22 states spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, resulting in which 58 persons have so far been killed and many more injured." In addition, various reports at the time put the death toll due to attacks by radical Islamic group Boko Haram at 39, though there was no direct link to the elections.

There have not been official reports on election-related death since March, though the All Progressives Congress (APC) claimed earlier this month that 55 of its members had been killed in election violence before the Rivers state governorship election.

There is a limit to what can be achieved through social media and other technology, observers acknowledge.

"Of course, these technologies are not silver bullets nor do they always contribute to positive elements within a democracy, noted Georgia Tech's Best. But during the recent Nigerian elections, "our experience monitoring social media over our media aggregation platform, named 'Aggie,' demonstrated the power of these technologies can be used for good."

Other experts agree. Through social media and mobile phone usage, a "new type of engagement and advocacy became possible in Nigeria," said Adeola Oyinlade, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights expert.

Very practical information was shared via social media, Oyinlade noted. For example, card readers were provided by Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to read identity cards issued to ensure, among other things, that people could not vote under assumed names. Some people had trouble scanning their cards in the readers, and learned through social media that a seal on the cards had to be removed so they could be read properly, Oyinlade said.

Such use of technology augurs well for other countries as well, Oyinlade said.

"People from African countries going to polls this year can ride upon innovative mobile technological advancement and the efficacy of social media to launch a bottom-up popularization of political participation among people and expand the frontiers of democracy," Oyinlade said.

African countries holding elections later this year include West African nations Benin, the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Burkina Faso. To be effective, however, technology needs to be coupled with government policies promoting the flow of information, observers point out.

In the Nigerian elections, "I do believe that the use of technology played a major role and will continue to do so," said Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa regional coordinator of the World Wide Web Foundation, which promotes affordable and uncensored access to the Internet. "However, for information to openly flow, there are policy underpinnings. Nigeria as a country has a FOI (Freedom of Information Act) and INEC practiced open data. In the case of other West African countries, these policy framings are missing and we may be hoping too much in expecting a Nigerian scenario."

 

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