Thursday, 30 June 2016

Historicizing Social Media as a Public Sphere for Participatory Democracy in Nigeria - by JOHNSON Sesan Michael

Note: This is an on-going work

“The value of the communication experience has undergone a sea-change; from the need to share it, to the need to share in it. Technology and social media in particular have brought power back to the people; with such technologies, established authorities are now undermined and users are now the experts.”[1]

Fred Omu, a pre-eminent historian of the Nigerian Press states that: ‘Beginning with the emergence of the West African Pilot in 1937, the media has played a pivotal role in promoting political awareness, moulding public opinion and accentuating democratisation in Nigeria.’[2] A plethora study of the political history of Nigeria had clearly established the anti-colonial roles the media, particularly the print media played. Thus, the media was an established force in the nationalistic struggle for the attainment of political independence of Nigeria from Britain.[3] In a nutshell, the media are not the holders of power, but they constitute by and large the space where power is decided. Reuben Abati puts it this way:
At every moment in Nigeria history, the press has been in the forefront, manning the barricades. The centrality to the issues of the day and lives of the people has brought the Nigerian press much travail. From colonial times, it has been treated as a major tool of power. Opposing power centers which feel threaten by its dynamism invariably seek to control the press through several means in which politicians latter result to misuse of mass media to achieve their selfish desire”[4].

 Whereas, politics is dependent on media politics and media politics leads to the struggle over the minds of the masses. Arguably, traditional media has not been able to adequately increased mass participation of citizens in the democratic processes as it is obtainable today in this era of globalisation and proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Put differently, traditional media has not pushed forward democratisation in Nigeria. This was the position of Adesoji when he says:
“The response of the Nigerian Press to the challenges of democratisation has not been adequate. This could be due to the fact that the Nigerian Press has not taken full advantage of the benefits of Globalisation to information dissemination. The implication therefore is that many challenges have either not been met at all or not properly met. While the Nigerian press could be excused on the ground that it is still globalising, it is pertinent to say that there is the need for it to quicken its pace so that it can catch up with the novel developments characteristic of the globalised world. This will no doubt enhance its ability to cope with the growing challenges of democratisation and other developments in the world.”[5]

Markedly, as an additional and alternative tool to the traditional media, the Social Media within the contexts of globalisation has aided the globalisation process of the Nigeria’s traditional media. Social media as a phenomenon has transformed the interaction and communication of individuals throughout the world. Social Media has become ubiquitous and important for social networking and content sharing, particularly in the political milieu.  It continues to be a great platform for democratic conversations and political events, thereby facilitating and accentuating participatory democracy in Nigeria. Politically, as it is obtainable in other public spheres of life, social media has the power to influence millions of people. The Social Media is at an alarming rate becoming a veritable campaign network against corporate malfeasances, governmental fiscal recklessness, political laxity and other forms of endemic corruption.
Meanwhile, it is evident that starting with the February 1999 election which led to the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the president, Nigeria was ushered in into new thresholds of democratisation. The proliferation of democratic institutions, the emancipation of political landscapes, the constancy & creditability of elections hitherto unheard of, particularly the acceptability of defeat by an incumbent president in Nigeria in 2015, have all signalled that a thrust towards democratic consolidation is evident and on a quantum increase in Nigeria.[6]
Recent elections in Nigeria served as the best examples of the affirmative affects that social media platforms can have. In 2011 and 2015, during the voters’ registration and elections, Nigerians on Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms actively participated in the political engineering and electioneering. Oser, Hooghe, and Marien opine that the use of social media is accentuating participatory democracy[7] and this is more apparent among all stakeholders (the electorates, politicians, policy makers, government officials, civil societies, etc) and its roles in ensuring political accountability will certainly continue; because, more Nigerians are having more access to the Internet, the Social Media and mobile phones. As a matter of fact, more Nigerians are accessing the Internet and Social Media via their mobile phones. And for instance, 80% of Internet use in Nigeria is via mobile phone. About 48 millions of Nigerians are on the Social Media. Recent report shows that Africa is currently the second largest mobile phone market after Asia, with more than 700 million mobile connections and no doubt, Nigeria has the chunk of this percentage.
One thing that is certain is the fact that the underlying impact of social media platforms cannot be denied because they are revolutionising the political cosmology of Nigeria. Social media has thus far had numerous implications for both Nigerian leaders and the electorates. It’s no longer news that during the processes that culminated into the 2015 General Election in Nigeria the social media played a critical part in allowing political actions to be organized through the social networks of people with shared interest in democracy and common desires for liberty and arguably, fast track the democratisation process that culminated into the emergence of the ‘Opposition Party’ (All Progressives Congress) as the ‘Ruling Party’.

Statement of the Research Problems/Questions
Extant literature had captured the roles played by the traditional media (newspaper, television, and radio) in promoting democratisation in Nigeria. With globalisation coupled with advancement in ICT and the proliferation of the social media and social network sites which was ushered in with the transduction from web 1.0 to web 2.0; and apparently with the integration of the traditional media with web 2.0 technologies (since most dominant traditional media in today’s Nigeria now have online presence); it has been argued that the social media is aggressively accentuating political participation and democratisation in Nigeria. Though, the roles and the nuances of the social media within the framework of Nigeria’s democratic experience between 1999 and the 2015 General Election had been interrogated, yet, it has been argued against the suggestion that social media contributed to the defeat of the incumbent president during the 2015 General Election in Nigeria. Therefore, attempts are hereby be made in the paper to consider, interrogate and scrutinise this claim within the framework of the Manuel Castells’ theory of power and counter-power.
The major research questions which guide this study and to which it provides answers include: First, how social media was used to increase political participation/engagements (citizens’ participation in democracy) vis-à-vis voters’ registration and election results monitoring? Second, did online monitory of elections and online reporting of elections results play any roles in ensuring fair and free election during the 2015 General Elections of Nigeria? Third, how media politics, power and counter power played out on the social media and did they contribute to regime change in Nigeria in 2015?  

[1] Odoemelam, C. C. and Adibe, K.N, ‘Political Conflicts And Political Communication in Africa: An Analysis of Social Media Role’, Paper presented at the ACCE, Covenant University, Ota, 2011
[2] Fred I.A. Omu, Press and Politics in Nigeria, 1880-1937, London: Longman, 1978, pp. 204-240 as cited in Adesoji , Abimbola O. Globalization of the media and the challenges of Democratisation in Nigeria,’ Nebula, 2006
[3] Adesoji , Abimbola O. Globalization of the media and the challenges of Democratisation in Nigeria,’ Nebula, 2006
[4] Reuben Abati, “Democratic struggle, freedom of expression and the Press in Nigeria” Paper presented at the Human Rights Second National Conference, Kano, Nigeria, 1998
[5] Adesoji, Abimbola O., Globalization of the media and the challenges of Democratisation in Nigeria,’ Nebula, . 2006
[6] SMB Johnson, ‘Unstoppable March of Social Media and Democratisation’,, September 15, 2015 2:40 am
[7] Oser, Jennifer, Marc Hooghe, and Sofie Marien, “Is Online Participation Distinct from Offline Participation? A Latent Class Analysis of Participation Types and Their Stratification.” Political Research Quarterly 66 (1), 2013, 91–101 as cited in Christa Odinga,  ‘Use of New Media during the Kenya Elections’,  Master’s Thesis submitted to the Department of Informatics and Media at Uppsala University, in June 2013

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