While Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections have largely been acknowledged as a victory for democracy — with the first ever victory of an opposition candidate –it was also a model in how social media brings transparency to the electoral process.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress party lead in the vote last month quickly became apparent a few hours after polling units closed thanks to technologically savvy Nigerian voters using social media to share each step of the process.
Locally developed voter monitoring applications, Revoda and Nigeria Elections were in robust use during the entire weekend. Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shared any official polling numbers, Nigerians who had volunteered among the 700,000 electoral officers shared the voter numbers from their units. While nearly every tweet and Facebook post came with the ‘unofficial’ caveat it was a good indicator of the trend. By Sunday evening Nigerian social media had turned into a land of ‘Nate Silvers’,
In some senses it’s not a complete surprise that social media was accurately reflecting a trend. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing Internet penetration rates. Last year alone it added 10 million new internet users to have around 75 million Internet users now. Nigerians who voted last month were about 30 million.
Ever since the #OccupyNigeria nationwide anger strike in 2011, when the Jonathan administration suddenly removed fuel subsidies and set off inflation, social media has played role in the national discourse.
Its national prominence rose a year ago when the over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok by the ultra violent separatists group, Boko Haram. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign reverberated around the world and even found its way to the White House. Before the vote, through Facebook posts, Twitter usage, and even sharing video through the messaging the application ‘WhatsApp,’ it often seemed that the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan was playing catch-up in the lead up to the vote.
A senior person inside the Jonathan camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Quartz the president’s re-election campaign had been caught flat-footed on social media. “The APC campaign was consistent with their message on social media, they completely shaped the narrative there,” said the Abuja-based source. “By the time people here started to throw money at the social problem it was already too late.Then there was multiple messaging which was confusing for voters.”
And it was the same in this #NigeriaDecides campaign influencing both leading parties respective campaigns. As Techcabal noted, every trick in the book was in play even online polls with surprising results. On Election Day, everyone with a social media account played a role in disseminating results. #NigeriaDecides was the top trending hashtag on Facebook and Twitter on March 3oth as Nigeria and the rest of the world eagerly anticipated the results.
“Many people who stationed themselves at the polling centers until the close of election were able to know the results of those centers, record events and also photographed copies of results pasted,” Tony Okeregbe, a professor at the University of Lagos told Quartz.
“Then, they connected, via social media, with friends at other centers who did the same thing with other friends. At the end of the day, a rough estimate of what the results would look like was known before hand.”
The consensus from all sides is that while social media didn’t decide the vote it had a significant influence on perception, expectations and a demand for transparency. All in all it seemed that social media was a winner with the #NigeriaDecides hashtag resulting in citizens proclaiming that Democracy is alive and well in Africa’s most populous nation.
And as Nigerians tweeted, the victor isn’t always the winner.