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Blogs and the Nigerian Elections: Will We Stop Talking About Our Cats And Shoes For One Day?

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, Digital Activism, Elections, Governance, Media & Journalism, Politics, Technology

Nigeria [1] has one of the most vibrant and dynamic [2] blogospheres in Africa. It is no wonder that the Nigerian state and presidential elections were heavily blogged by Nigerians [3] at home and abroad.

New information and communication tools such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites have the potential to transform election reporting, campaigning, monitoring, and political discussions all over the world. In the case of Nigeria 2007 elections [4], blogs were used by Nigerian citizens as a tool for debates and discussions about the future of their country and a platform for sharing election news and information. Local Nigerian bloggers published regular accounts in the form of text, audio, photos, and videos of what was taking place on the ground during the campaigns and on the election day.

While most election reports from the mainstream media were written by journalists reporting as passive observers, bloggers were writing about their personal experiences as voters in authentic voices of active and concerned citizens. Considering the number of election related posts and comments [5] in the Nigerian blogosphere, it is safe to say that Nigerian blogs added new voices and perspectives in election coverage in Africa.

In the absence of RSS feeds [6] from the local media in Nigeria and a lack of in-depth coverage [7] from the mainstream media, people like Bill of Jewel in the Jungle [8] had to visit Nigerian blogs to know what was happening [7]:

I cannot think of any one group of people from an African nation that have been more influential and active in the growth of the blogosphere over the past 3-4 years than the Nigerian blog authors and their readers worldwide. When I want to learn the latest news about what’s happening down in Nigeria I automatically check with high-profile bloggers Imnakoya of Grandiose Parlor, Chippla Vandu of Chippla’s Blog, and Sokari Erkine of Black Looks. There are many, many more good online authors who hail from Nigeria and/or write extensively about Nigeria but these three people are my first GoTo bloggers for information about the country.

In his post titled, Nigerian Elections 2007: What's hot and what's not in the media coverage [7], Jewel in the Jungle wonders why CNN did not provide an in-depth coverage of Nigeria's elections:

I’m surprised that CNNI’s Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange and Inside Africa program host Femi Oke have not been reporting daily from Nigeria about the elections since the hotly debated coverage of the Niger Delta militia story last February and I am surprised that CNN has chosen not to devote more resources and reporters to cover these critical elections in Africa’s most populous and arguably most important nation. One out of every five Africans hails from Nigeria and what happens there is important. Inside Africa is sure to cover the Nigerian elections this weekend as the program’s host Femi Oke is a British born-and-bred Nigerian-European.

According to Grandiose Parlor [6], the majority of Nigerian mainstream news media have not made their content available via RSS feeds:

It remains a mystery why the majority of the Nigerian mainstream news media with significant real estates on the Internet have not taken steps to overhaul their various domains to reflect one of the most basic Internet trends of the new world – making their subscriptions available via RSS feeds (RSS: Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary).

He adds:

Yet, most Nigerians are news junkies, particularly those of us in the Diaspora; the consumption of news about the homeland has become a daily addiction.

Bloggers As Voters: I Finally Got to Vote!

Apart from providing socio-political context and writing critical commentaries [9] and analysis [10], local bloggers in Nigeria shared their experiences and stories as voters.

Olawunmi had this to say [11] about Funmi Iyanda's personal account [12] of her participation in the elections:

Funmi Iyanda observed the elections personally, and her account left a sour taste in my mouth. where is democracy?

Christy Aikhorin voted in Lagos [13]:

I finally got to vote for my Lagos state gubernatorial candidate, but it was not funny, and I guess it would be same for most Lagosians, and perhaps most Nigerians. I decided to take a walk to the polling station, which meant walking for 45 minutes—driving during the election was restricted to essential services. I didn't mind though, since the polling station was in Ikoyi (the same part of Lagos where I happen to live) and I at least had my iPod to keep my company.

Ugo Daniels [14] leaves a comment on this post underscoring the importance of an eye-witness account:

An eye-witness account like this is indeed worthwhile, I hope the contributor would be writing a lot more on this blog.

Ore writes “Voting in Progress [15]“:

The family went out to vote this morning. We saw a crowd of people at the Tantalizers near our place and pulled in there. Once there, we found out that there were different polling booths and that we were not all registered to vote in the same place. After returning home to get separate cars, we went back out again. I returned to the Tantalizers as that was my place to vote. And then the long wait began. I chided myself for not getting there earlier, but I heard from people who had been there at 8AM, as instructed, that the INEC officials had not yet arrived at that time.

Funmi Iyanda writes “Power from the People [12]“:

So l sit here this morning pensive, it took all of 3 minutes for me to
cast my vote on Saturday, 3 minutes. The week before l had stood in line in the sun for two hours, hat and sunglasses firmly on, large bottle of water in hand as resolutely determined as most of my fellow country men to cast my vote. This weekend, the polling booth was a ghost town, my people had lost hope, l voted and left, because l had an access car, l had observed proceeding from the Alimosho area, through Agege, Ikeja, to Maryland and the apathy was palpable. The streets were empty as boys took to the highway playing football. Close monitoring of news reports (galaxy TV was commendable) all day showed that this was the situation nationwide along with late or non arrival of ballot material and the usual ballot snatching/ stuffing, harassment and intimidation.

Global Voices author, David Ajao, [16] wrote a great overview of election reports and views shared by Nigerian bloggers before, during and after gubernatorial election, Blogging the historic election (Part 1) [17].

Will We Stop Talking About Our Cats And Shoes For One Day?

Recognizing the importance of blogs as a tool for citizen journalism in Nigeria, Omodudu wrote, Calling Nigerian Bloggers [18]:

Can blogging do for Nigeria what blogging did for the American elections? Will bloggers use their blogs as a tool for on-the-ground citizen journalism. Will bloggers post, up-to-the minute reports as the elections unfold? Will bloggers at least attempt to thwart the efforts of the individuals who have planned to rig the gubernatorial elections? Will bloggers take pictures and make videos of the pluses and minuses during the elections? Will we stop talking about our cats and shoes for one day, and focus on an issue that will determine how we live our lives in the next for years?
Snap a picture, make a video, write a comment. God bless you all.

Tobias focused his attention to blogging and civil society. He wrote a “Blueprint for a Nigerian Civil Society Election Blog,” [19] arguing that the blog might help to prevent abuses:

One way to perhaps help to prevent widescale abuses might be to make this solidarity more readily visible on the Internet through a Nigerian Civil Society Election Blog. I did an Internet search and while there are some bloggers (like this and this and this) discussing the election and Global Voices and Pambazuka News have been covering the elections, I did not see any clear effort to use blogging specifically to prevent violence during the election.

Even if such a coordinated effort does not take off, I’d like to encourage everyone that knows anything at all about what is going on in Nigeria these days to blog actively about it and to tag blog postings at Technorati, Del.icio.us and other social networking sites. The election must be carried out as much as possible in public view, and Nigeria must know the world is watching. If you are concerned for your own safety, you can always blog under a pseudonym at WordPress.com or one of the many other free blogging sites out there.

Responding to comments from readers, Tobias pointed out [20]:

I’ve started tagging stuff I find at del.icio.us using the (oh so imaginative) tags “nigeria” and “election” – would be interesting to see the picture that emerges at http://del.icio.us/tag/nigeria+election

At the beginning of this year, Stakeholder Democracy Network [21] started a group election blog, Greenlight Nigeria [22]. One of the aims of Greenlight Nigeria [23] is to utilize social networking tools:

Use social networking tools and the power of the web to get people talking and thinking about the elections and democracy in Nigeria

Greenlight Nigeria publishes audio [24], video [25] and text contributions from their contributors on the ground. They have also used Evoca [26]to allow readers to leave audio comments [27]:

If your computer has a microphone, you can click here and leave a message.
In 36 hours from now (after 5 pm on Wednesday) I’ll check into the Evoca account, select from any messages and edit them together for an audio feed.
I expect we’ll all feel a little goofy at first talking into a microphone to no one, but I am so impressed by the audio that election monitors have been sending up, I really want to give this a try. We just need to break the ice.

Tobias finds Greenlight Nigeria blog very inspiring [28]:

I don’t know yet how the SMS experiment worked out, but the greenlightnigeria.org blog has been very inspiring to monitor, with audio and video testimony posted just about daily for the last two weeks.

Nigeria Election Hotline is a new citizen journalism site, which publishes Nigeria election news. It is funded by Open Society Institute [29] and moderated by Africa Confidential [30]:

Nigeria Election Hotline is a news website that aims to publish stories on the 2007 vote that might not otherwise reach the reading public. Despite a vibrant tradition of independent journalism, many Nigerian journalists are concerned at the level of interference in the media by political interests who are seeking to control the flow of information in the press. Nigeria Election Hotline is an effort to make sure that Nigerian voters have access to the information they need to make an informed choice at the polls.

Content from Nigeria Election Hotline appears on allAfrica.com [31], the largest online distributor of African news and information worldwide.

Should Mobile Blogging Be Explored?

While radio is the main source of information in Nigeria, as is the case in other parts of Africa, mobile phones continue to be the most pervasive tool of communication. According to the International Telecommunication Union [32], there are about 5,000,000 Internet users in Nigeria [33]. The Network of Mobile Election Monitors of Nigeria [34](NMEM) puts the figure of mobile phone users to 30 million. In a country where cultural and social relationships allow for mobile phones to be used communally, the figure might be even higher. It is estimated that by the end of 2007 Nigeria will be the largest mobile phone market [35] in Africa.

It is for this reason that The Network of Mobile Election Monitors of Nigeria [34] (NMEM), a non-partisan non-profit project, decided to use SMS to monitor the presidential polls [36].

Tobias Eigen wrote about mobile election monitors [37] in “Are you in Nigeria? Text your election observations to 0808-4032739″:

This is terrific news and I am very pleased to see that election monitors are making use of Ken Banks’s Frontline SMS tool to make this possible. These examples of SMS use for defending democracy are extremely important and can be applied everywhere in Africa.

The concept mobile blogging has not been thoroughly explored and utilized in Africa. Recently, Malawian blogger, Soyapi Mumba [38], argued that in Africa where Internet access is limited, mobile applications such as Twitter [39] can be used in many ways including in political campaigns and news [40]:

So the launching of Twitter provides a good alternative considering that the use of mobile phones is much higher than that of computers. In Malawi for example, there are about 50,000 Internet users against about 700,000 mobile phone users out of a population of about 12 million. Twitter allows users to post a small update via SMS, instant messaging client and the web.

Note: Our research has not shown any examples of Twitter being used in the Nigerian elections. We would be glad to receive such information.

Candidates’ Blogs

As part of his online communication strategy, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko started a blog, Vote Mimiko [41]. Mimiko was running for governorship in Ondo State [42]. The blog contains a campaign video, campaign photos, and election reports. Dr. Mimiko lost to the incumbent, Gov. Olusegun Agagu. He is challenging the results [43] at the election petition tribunal.

Before he pulled out of Peoples’ Democratic Party [44] presidential primaries, Donald Duke started a website, Donaldduke4president.org [45], and a blog [46]. However, the blog allows invited readers only.

None of the main presidential contenders, Atiku Abubakar [47], Umar Yar'Adua [48], and Muhammad Buhari [49], had blogs.

So What?

The Nigeria 2007 elections were marred by massive irregularities, violence, and disorganization. Grandiose Parlor used one word to describe the situation: d-i-s-e-n-f-r-a-n-c-h-i-s-e-m-e-n-t! [50]

Did blogs made any difference? What we know for sure is that blogs made it easier for Nigerians in the Diaspora and other news seekers to follow what was happening on the ground. But did blogs ensure transparency? Did they prevent rigging? Did they transform political media landscape? What value did they add in the Nigeria's quest for a democratic society?

Further Resources:
Blogs that were covering the Nigerian elections:

1. African Shirts [51]
2. Grandiose Parlor [52]
3. Black Looks [53]
4. Yomi Says [54]
5. Ore Notes [55]
6. Trae Days [56]
7. Chxta [57]
8. Naija Blog [58]
9. The World According to Adaure [59]
10. Oluniyi David Ajao [60]
11. Pause to Ponder [61]
12. Nigerian Curiosity [62]
13. Nigerian Village Square [63]
14. Akin [64]
15. Chipla [65]

*This list is obviously not exhaustive. You may visit the Nigerian blogs aggregator [2], BlogAfrica [66], and Afrigator [67] for more blogs.