Armed with Blackberries and Twitter feeds, a growing group of hip young Nigerians are gearing up to stamp out fraud at this weekend’s presidential elections.
They hope social media can take on the violence and rigging that has blighted polls in Africa’s most populous country in recent years.
Gbenga Sesan, a 33-year-old IT consultant and activist, is one of the leaders of such efforts. His team has designed a smartphone application called Revoda, which allows voters to instantly upload reports of delayed voting materials and intimidating gangs at their local polling stations to Sesan’s database. A daily summary is then sent to Nigerian officials and Western election observers, as well as being posted on Revoda’s website.
“This allows us to follow the process — people can capture not only results but also details of the day … and then they can put them out there quickly,” Sesan said of the impact of new technology.
During Nigeria’s parliamentary polls last Saturday, which kicked off three weeks of elections for local and national positions, he was busy uploading photos and videos from polling stations to Facebook and YouTube.
“We’ve got one [Blackberry] video of a policeman who was evidently drunk and intimidating people,” Sesan said. “If anyone wants to go to court they have a lot of evidence.”
Another venture, Reclaim Naija, uses text messaging and email reports to compile a live online map of troublespots. And then there are the so-called “Twitter activists.” They look out for rigging, spread warnings about bombs at polling stations and generally express distaste with the political elite — in less than 140 characters, of course.
“Twitter is quick and dirty. It forces you to be concise,” said Amara Nwankpa, another IT consultant turned activist, who has more than 5,000 followers on Twitter. “Most young people have short attention spans so [this] grabs them.”
When a bomb exploded at an election commission office in northern Nigeria last week, the Twitterati played an important role in spreading the word, Nwankpa said. When an election observer suspected that ballot boxes were being tampered within an eastern state, she raised the alarm via this medium.
“When you bring attention to things, it gets harder to rig,” Nwankpa concluded.
During 50 years of independence, Nigeria has lurched between military coups and flawed elections. Political office is often seen as a route to self-enrichment in Africa’s largest oil and gas producer, whose abundant natural resources mostly benefit a tiny elite while over 80 percent of Nigeria’s 150 million people live on less than $2 a day.
Yet there are strong hopes that this month’s polls will be the most credible since the end of army rule in 1999. One reason is the appointment of Attahiru Jega, a respected academic, as the head of the electoral commission, which is usually complicit in rigging. Another is the growing use of social media and a growing desire for proper elections among voters themselves.
Things do seem to be getting better. Last weekend’s parliamentary elections were widely held to be an improvement from previous years. These polls also gave the election commission and social media activists a chance to try out their anti-fraud measures before the looming presidential vote, in which tensions will run far higher.
In a country of widespread poverty and poor infrastructure, snazzy technology has its limitations. Many Nigerians cannot afford smartphones and struggle with slow internet connections. Under federal law, digital evidence cannot be submitted in court, although judges can waive this rule for individual cases if they see fit.
However, in a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30, social media also looks increasingly like the way forward. Sesan observed that Facebook and Twitter give a voice to young Nigerians, who make up the bulk of the population but often feel that they are ruled by aging godfathers.
“A lot of politicians are surprised. They wonder, ‘how can these guys capture so much information and get it out there immediately?’” said Sesan. “But I am not surprised … this is a young country.”
Source: Global Post
In a few hours from now, the 2011 presidential elections would get underway and it is expected that there would be a huge voter turnout. Thanks to the ‘new’ INEC, the use of mobile technology in citizen election monitoring and reporting in the 2011 Nigeria elections is indeed a possibility.
The 234Next election tool (powered by Ushahidi, the public news reporting software) is one of the best ways to get involved with the elections by reporting what’s happening within your polling unit and location.
Since the platform is accessible via your mobile phone, it therefore provides a fast and easy way to report election activities from different locations. The tool also allows users to send us gist, photos, and videos of activities around their polling units. There is also a system in place on the tool to verify reports.
On the live blog and reports pages, you’ll get minute-by-minute live updates on the election progress from NEXT reporters all across different states in Nigeria.
Where to vote
There is an easy-to-use search functionality that allows you to find a polling unit by state, LGA or ward. To look for a polling unit in Alausa, for example, simply select ‘LAGOS (8462 booths)’ on the search field and choose a Local Government Area, say ‘IKEJA’ (360 booths), then select a ward within your area or locality, say ALAUSA/OREGUN/OLUSOSUN (48 booths).
To send a report, send an SMS starting with 234NEXT to 07026702053 e.g. “234NEXT Election going well” or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also submit a report on the site, even from your mobile phone.
If you are on Twitter, you can report by sending a tweet with the hashtag #Election234next.
On Blackberry, send a message to Blackberry PIN: 25FD3FDF.
After the elections, we expect that results would be announced by Returning Officers (RECs) almost immediately. The 234Next election tool will provide confirmed results about the elections from all states. Meanwhile, citizens should send us reports of the election results at their various polling units.
Join us in making history with technology in this year’s elections. Visit the 234Next election site for more information.
Since the launch of the reporting platform at election.234next.com, NEXT has received an average of 800 reports per day totaling 15,000, from over 1,000 locations around Nigeria. The site crashed at the height of traffic during the National Assembly elections of April 9th but has since been rebuilt to handle increased traffic. This weekend, more Nigerians can discover the 234next.com election report platform.