Thursday, February 26, 2015

Social Media as a Tool for Change in 21st Century Africa: The story of the 2011 Nigerian Elections

Social Media as a Tool for Change in 21st Century Africa: The of the 2011 Nigerian Elections

Presentation made by Ololade Adewuyi, Online Editor, TELL Magazine to the Youth in Leadership and Enterprise Initiative, YELI, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife on July 9, 2011

What is social media?
The world has truly become a village unlike we have ever dreamed. When I was in my final year in this university seven years ago, the word social media had only just begun to evolve. It is on record that social media came into use just in 2004 and it is a phenomenon that has changed the way we perceive our world today. You have friends that you know many things about but have never met. You have family members whom you have not spoken to in ages but you know when to wish them a happy birthday. You have seen places where your legs might never tread on, all through the internet. One big issue for all, the internet has come and disrupted our lives in many positive ways that we wonder what we ever did without it. We ask; how did we ever survive without our Facebook and our Twitter? How did we get by, day by day, without communicating with our online friends?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, social media are “forms of electronic communications (such as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).” It’s the culmination of Web 2.0, the age of user generated content on the internet.

When I was at Ife in the early days of the millennium, the idea of googling up your assignment was only just catching on. I remember our first attempt to use the net during a course on Stylistics in my third year. We had no books in the library for the particular topic that our tutorial teacher asked us to work on and someone suggested going to the White House (Physics department) internet lab and see if we could contact the author of the book to help us out. The author, Geoffrey Leech, was based at a UK university and when one of us who was adept at the working of the net googled his name we found an email address. It was a triumph. The same student was the only one out of about ten of us who had an email address so he sent a mail to the professor through it. We never got a response but it was a big lesson for us all.

Pretty soon, I set up my own email address through a friend’s help. There was a group on campus called Yahooligans that was set up by fellow students to help in creating email handles for everyone at a cost. I assure you they made a huge profit. This was in 2002 when there were only about two or three cybercafés on this huge campus and people had to queue for days to be able to secure browsing time at the White House. I know it may sound incredulous to many of you here today. I’m from that generation that paid through its nose and struggled to use the internet. I wear my scars proudly.
The way we perceive our world has changed. I have more than a thousand friends on Facebook, almost two hundred followers on Twitter and more than a hundred thousand people have visited my three blogs since I started the first one in 2007. My internet footprint is more than the average Nigerian’s but still lags behind many of my contemporaries in the West. However, in the near future, Africans will become an integral part of the web culture as it is. Through increasingly affordable mobile phones and internet services, young Africans will make their impact on the net but we have to use that impact positively because there is no tool as democratic as the internet and social media in our time.

In an article in Intelligent Life, JM Ledgard writes: “Connectivity is a given: it is coming and happening and spreading in Africa whether or not factories get built or young people find jobs. Culture is being formed online as well as on the street: for the foreseeable future, the African voice is going to get louder, while the voice of ageing Europe quietens.” (‘Digital Life’, IL, Spring 2011)

The Arab Spring
The power of social media was powerfully demonstrated in Africa for the first time during the recent upheavals that took place in Tunisia and Egypt. Now famously known as the Arab Spring, the riots against the tyrannical rule of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali started when a trader Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself ablaze to protest his shameful treatment by police officers in the town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. “It is a national tragedy when the youth - literally the future - commit suicide to make a point,” wrote Larbi Sadiki in an opinion published by the Al Jazeera website. 

The deaths of other martyrs prompted demonstrations against the government, which it tried to suppress by the use of force and banning state media from reporting. However, the power of social media came in and Tunisians on ground began to put pictures on Facebook and send in real time events via Twitter. Videos emerged on YouTube of how protesters defied police batons and whips as they stormed government offices demanding for better rules of engagement with the society. In a few weeks, the 23 year-old government of Ben Ali was brought to its knees as he capitulated and took off for exile in Saudi Arabia. Many of us followed the proceedings of that revolution via the #sidibouzid hash tag. 

In Egypt, it was an eye opening event. If people power could triumph in our neighbour’s enclave, why not with us the biggest Arab country in the world? A Facebook group set up by Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and blogger Abdel Rahman Mansour to mourn the killing of Khaled Said, a 28 year-old Alexandrian by police officers took root. They called for the end of police brutality. Soon after, Ghonim was incarcerated leading to riots all over Cairo. When he was released, he called for the almost 30 year-old authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak to resign and that true democracy should be instituted in the country. 

The events of those 18 days mean that Egypt will never remain like before. The Cairo that I visited in 2009 where huge billboards carrying the intimidating face of Mubarak has gone and what we now have from the social change that occurred is a country of better sure-footed people who will never be intimidated by booming guns and emergency laws. The Egyptians in their turn inspired others in Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen to seek for change in the way they are being governed. 

Nigeria Elections 2011
Young, tech savvy Nigerians watched closely as the events in the Middle East unfolded as the Nigerian general elections drew close. In an article published in TELL in January, I drew attention to the work of Amara Nwankpa, an Abuja-based tech activist who set up a group called Light Up Nigeria calling for the government to restore electricity to the country. Using the Delta rerun in January as a test, Nwankpa on Election Day tweeted all the actions on ground to his followers who were hungry for news from the frontline. He beat many mainstream media to the announcement of results and at the end of the day said that the main test was to come in the general elections in April.
Even President Goodluck Jonathan joined the social media frenzy by first announcing his intention to contest on Facebook thereby taking the shine away from an opponent that held a big announcement party on the same day. Everything was seemingly set for social media to make a big impact in Nigeria during the countdown to the elections.

The group Enough Is Enough Nigeria also campaigned broadly using Twitter and Facebook to rally young people to go out and register to vote using the acronym RSVP i.e Register, Vote, Select, Protect or what we generally refer to as rice and stew very plenty. It caught on as many young people went to registration centres armed with their mobile phones where they took photos of themselves and posted on Twitter. The growing Nigerian Twitter community became abuzz with terms like RV or Registered Voter as a status symbol. It was interesting to note that many of these people were only voting for the first time ever even though many were well past 18 years, the threshold for voter registration. In a country where many people had great mistrust for the political class, the sudden vibe on social networks made it cool for many to go out to exercise their civil rights.

The story of the Nigerian elections in 2011 will not be complete without the impact social networks played in galvanising young people to think that they could really begin to make a positive change in the way their leaders are chosen. This in effect also brought a change in the way politicians now perceive the electorate. So on Election Day, they turned up at polling booths holding their BlackBerry and other internet-enabled mobile phones where they tweeted happenings on the scene using the #Nigeriadecides hash tag. Photos of people voting and later results were sent onto the EiE and aggregation platform. 

It was not only young people that caught on to the Twitter train, the mainstream media also tried to match up in its own way through the use of the networks to share news. At TELL, we had our reporters nationwide send in verified news reports via text messages that were posted on our website and then tweeted to followers and shared on our Facebook page. It was a real test of the traditional media’s readiness to move with the changing times. It was not a battle between old and new, I think it was an effort to complement each other. Where young people could be quick to declare results, traditional media employed years of news wisdom to filter credible information to readers. What we had was the most widely reported election in Nigeria’s history. Having covered general elections in Ghana and Togo in the last two years, I am able to say Nigeria has set a pace for other African countries in the use of social media for electoral purposes even though only an estimated 70,000 voters used social media in a recent report by the Social Media Tracking Centre. 

The elections were not without failings as new media pinpointed issues arising. The famous video about massive thumb printing of ballot papers in Rivers state, underage voters in Bauchi and others that emerged on YouTube showed the savvy of Nigerians. They have all become evidence in court cases. And they show that Nigeria has moved a little away from the era of massive rigging with impunity to an era where mobile phones with cameras can make a big difference in how electoral crime can succeed or fail. The gains of the last elections in Nigeria must be worked at to ensure a freer and fairer electoral process for one and all. It is in doing this that we can hope to ensure positive change in our society for our children and their own children.

 Using social media to draw attention to social ills
The mobile phone that you hold in your hand has changed the way we live. No longer is the endless wait for NITEL to install a line in your home so that you can call your family members in Europe or America. All you need is dial on your mobile. And now you have to call your uncle before going to his house to ask for money for school. The days are gone when you showed up at his doorstep unannounced. We used to joke as kids that Africa was so simple that we did not have to call before a visit. We used to frown at our ‘been-to’ folks who insisted one called before coming even though they were the only ones who had landlines in the extended family. So you had to use the public phone ahead of a visit. Good news is that everything has become simpler. And so have the means to create change. 

A website, a Twitter handle and a Facebook page are modern tools of drawing attention to social ills in our time., a US-based site that prides itself as the biggest online petition site in the world has about 3 million members worldwide. It has pushed for the release of activists incarcerated in jails in China, it has helped stall the deportation of immigrants in America and it has helped fight for an end to rape as a cure to lesbianism in South Africa through the signing of petitions online that have been pushed to high ranking government officials.

These can be replicated in Nigeria as well. However, sites like Sahara Reporters have also helped to bring focus on Nigerian government and corporate corruption in a way that main stream media has not been able to. They call themselves citizen journalists and that is the way to go for the future. Citizens can highlight major concerns in their neighbourhood, in their local governments and states by creating blogs that will show the world the happenings in their locality. It means that an uncompleted road in Gbongan can be known to a resident of Accra. A lecturer demanding bribe or sex for good grades in Ado Ekiti can be exposed to readers in Kuala Lumpur. A government official who is intimidating his constituent can be exposed to readers in New Foundland. A successful community project in Ilesa can be monitored and replicated by a reader in Sally, Senegal.

The Twitter handle @boycottdbanj gained massive following in just a few days of its appearance as it criticised entertainer Dbanj for supporting the electoral bid of President Jonathan. The persons behind it felt wronged by the fact that the entertainer would use his popularity to campaign for a politician that they did not support and they made their views known on the social media platform. The group later changed to the handle @boycottpdp and you know what that means. 

Today you do not need to wait for a newspaper man to report your progress, even though newspapers are always good for their spread and authenticity, you can always blog about it and have people read you regularly. The internet is a democratic space and you will be surprised at what people are searching for. TIME’s managing editor Richard Stengel puts it succinctly: “What social media have done is to make us all more aware of what’s going on – and offer a new avenue to organize opposition. We like to think revolutions arise from below, but through most of human history, it’s the elites who have caused and led revolutions. Now because of social media, anyone can communicate with everyone. We’re seeing that in the Middle East, Africa and China. The democratization of information may actually lead to real democracy.” 

One thing that has to be understood is that social media in itself does not make change. It is the person behind the computer, the lady holding the Blackberry, the young man hooking up to YouTube that makes change happen. It is from your mind that change happens from where it is transferred to your network. It is your mind first where the yearning for change begins. It is what you feed your mind with that will feed your social network. Let change begin from your mind and let us transform our community and our nation with it. It is the only way we can hold everyone to account for the enormous trust we put in them. 

Thank you all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quelle est la verite? What is the truth?

The truth is that many of our men have died needlessly in the fight against Boko Haram. You do remember recently when the Army claimed that retreating from the frontlines was a tactical strategy? Lots of armoury was lost as Boko Haram took over army formations. We were told the army had no weapons to fight against Boko Haram yet we were losing ammunition and shells on a consistent basis. Even Shekau made a video displaying his looted weapons and called the Nigerian Army cowards, asking what more do they need to fight against his men when they have such a large cache.

The truth is that more than 15000 innocents have lost their lives to the politics of our war. These are men and women who have left behind orphaned children, whose ancestral homes have become nothing more than a rubble of pounded shells and broken dreams.

The truth is that our president said he underestimated the crisis until it festered and threatened to stop his re-election. Now he is moving earth and heaven to win the battle in hopes of salvaging public opinion.
The truth is that every well meaning human should see beyond this late resurgence of the Army for what it is, a play for the soul of Nigeria.

I will continue to denounce the use of Nigerian souls for poker. This is not about APC or PDP, this is about human beings, my countrymen with the same dreams and aspirations. Surely they deserve better.

Of Lost Lives and the Future of Nigeria

I heard people talk about losing their sons and kinsmen in the war against Boko Haram when calling into Nigeria Info FM this morning. What got to me the most is the fact that many of these people believe that the FG toyed with the lives of the dead soldiers by not responding to the Boko Haram threat early enough.

And I have good reason to believe that GEJ deliberately allowed the insurgency in the North East to grow in order to decimate the numbers of the North. A PDP aspirant for House of Reps told me yesterday that it is a South-South agenda.

More than 15,000 lives have been lost to the bombings and attacks in Northern Nigeria since 2009 when the Boko Haram menace began to fester. It is a sad report on the FG under GEJ that it allowed many innocents die like cheap livestock while playing the ostrich.

While I praise the military for its recent achievements, one cannot but ask: what were they doing all this time? what did you do with all the resources you have amassed over the last four years? why have you allowed our young soldiers die ignoble deaths?

They don't even tell us the number of Nigerian soldiers that have perished.

In lieu with the politicians, the Nigerian military has become without honour.

While the military claim not to have arms to fight, GEJ has empowered a private army in the Delta waters that now owns warships and war boats.

Are they preparing for a war? Who knows?

And do not be taken in by the statement made by the President that he underestimated the threat of Boko Haram, that just shows he doesn't understand the primary job of his office.

I insist that a country that wants to move forward would vote anyone but Goodluck Jonathan​ as its president. He is a man that is content to play poker with the lives of his countrymen all in the name of North-South politics.

I dare to say that this President is not speaking for me and many other well meaning Southerners that I know. He is certainly not speaking for my family and I.

#Change #AnyoneButGEJ

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Love, Lies, Blackmail and Murder – A Marxist Analysis of Windeck

Windeck: The Angolan show has captured the imagination

For several months, Anglophone Africa has stayed glued to television screens watching the intrigues and suspense unfold in the runaway success Angolan telenovela Windeck.

Such is the addiction that the drama has held its viewers hostage to.

While my family and I have been huge fans, it's important not to lose the messages inherent in the novela.

While Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya have been known for the power of their film and television industries, it's certainly the first time that viewers have had such access into Lusophone life and culture as presented by the Angolan drama.

Well, some questions have arisen in my mind thus far: Are all Angolans really that pretty? Are all Angolan men very easy to manipulate by their women? Are all Angolans always scheming to become rich?

Several questions but the one I would attempt to answer in this short piece is the third above.

I attempt a definition of Marxism for the lay reader as a study of the relationship between the owners of property and means of production and the workers and the poor. Marxism explores the battle between the haves and have-nots.

While the story of Windeck looks like a love story on the surface, a closer look reveals that it is a story of the economically powerful and the workers who attempt to get ahead by all means.

The Vosses are the owners of the means of production while the Victoria Kajibangas and Hendas are the forces struggling against the powerful in order to come into their own wealth whether by hook or crook.

While the struggle between the classes is always a classic tale, in Windeck we find that the lower classes are never successful in their aspirations and schemes

Lowly Ofelia got into the Voss lineage via marriage. Victoria is unsuccessful but Ana Maria moves up via eventual marriage to Kiluanji.

In the reverse, Xavier is eventually outed as a non-Voss by his wife to show his failure at pretending to be part of the upper class. Even though he multiplied the fortune he illegally inherited, his legacy is left in tatters when he is revealed as an adopted child.

Windeck states that one can only be a part of the upper classes by virtue of birth or acceptance by marriage. In capitalist societies, we know that this is wrong and that the poor have been known to work their way into great wealth.

In the society of the novella, we encounter scheming workers who continually fail as they attempt to rise above their circumstances of birth.

Even though the Vosses live in splendour and look like victims of schemes, in truth they represent the perpetrators of inequality which leads to every scheme against them.

Due to their wealth in a society where most are poor, they have become the centre of attention and are left open to envy.

As we have found out, the Vosses are not as perfect as they pretend. Xavier is adopted, Wilson is plain and easily runaround by his wife, Kiluanji is clueless and unable to decipher his being manipulated while Lukeni wants so much to become a Kuduro artist and be free like the commoners.

The Voss women are not so different: Isaura is cold, classy but scheming, Ofelia is afraid of her past and is racist, Luwena is a lesbian and goes on to have a child out of wedlock with a man who she has no relationship with while Luweji hopes to escape the stranglehold of her mother and hopes that love will rescue her.

Among the workers, Rosa wants to get ahead by sacrificing her daughter's happiness. Kassia has been raised in faux-bourgeois conditions and expects marriage to improve her destiny.

Ana Maria, hard working and independent, cannot reason without emotion clouding her judgment while her psychopathic sister Victoria takes advantage of everyone's trust as she attempts to cross the border between rich and poor.

Artur is gay, focused but is unable to rein in the monsters living his roof, Henda and Sebastiao, both scheming characters who have found devious ways to lay their hands on the "Angolan dream".

Sebastiao employs Karl Marxes opium of the masses, religion, as his way to reach higher than his calling in life.

Perhaps the people who the story was most kind to were the hardworking men and women of Mofete.

Even they get entangled in the filth left around by the Vosses.

In Windeck the rich and poor clash not on the basis of ideology but as a result of material conditions.

The scheming is not really due to love, but in the ambition to get ahead and become a part of the owners of the economic production as depicted in the magazine house Divo.

Divo is the land, the scene of the battles told by the brilliant script writers. However, even though there were many twists and turns, Windeck is not much different from the many novellas we have seen: Cuando Seas Mia (When You Are Mine), The Rich Also Cry, Second Chance, etc.

They are classic tales of rich boy, poor girl, scheming in-laws and secretaries, etc.

However, what they all boil down to is the continued fight between the upper and lower classes for access to wealth.

While the lower classes always scheme to move higher, the upper class would only accept them in on strict terms.

Usually this is by marriage.

These novellas continue to tell one side of the story.

And we would be hard-pressed to ask, are there no genuine ways that poor people have climbed out of poverty into the monied class?

In Windeck we are told that this is impossible. Xavier is exposed for being a fraud and Wilson takes everything by virtue of his blood.

Victoria and Kassia are denied marriage into upper society.

Only Ana Maria is able to move up - by marriage.

Windeck perpetuates the long held views that the only way young women can make it in life is to marry rich.

It cements the Kate Middleton story: The working class girl who marries the Prince.

Windeck is a feudal classic draped in beautiful characters and pretty actors. Despite its pretenses at love, its lies and blackmails with a tinge of murder, it is fails as a Marxist tale as the poor in the story remain where they are, downtrodden, punished and disgraced.

Still, it is a story that has captured our imagination.

It would be interesting to know the views of everyone that has see the drama, this insight is by no means final. Please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tribute to Cephas Sackitey (former Associate Director Alliance Française d'Accra​)

Cephas Sackitey
Tribute to Cephas Sackitey (former Associate Director Alliance Française d'Accra​)

I was searching for my temporary voters card on Monday night when I dug out my French class notebook from 2007.

In 2006, I moved to Ghana to work with Ovation Magazine as a correspondent. While in Accra, I found an old friend, arts and culture journalist John Owoo​ who I had met in 2003 while studying at Alliance Francaise Ikoyi.

With John initiating me into the Accra culture scene, I began to attend events and soirees at the AFA and there I met Cephas Sackitey, the centre's associate director.

Friendly, approachable and helpful, Monsieur Cephas was the typical culture expert. He encouraged people to learn French and regularly gave scholarships to journalists and artists to study at the centre.

I approached him of those evenings and told of how I would like to continue my language classes in Accra. But with my meagre income as a journalist, I would love a scholarship to study.

Cephas agreed to give me a three-month scholarship which lasted from October-December 2007. It was the note from that class that I found two days ago.

After that period, I again asked for another scholarship in 2009 which Cephas granted. So from October-December 2009, I studied at the centre. While there, I had the opportunity to report events and it was where I first met with and interviewed Afrobeat singer Seun Kuti​ among many others.

I left Accra in October 2010 to work fully in the Lagos office of Tell magazine as online editor after my stint as West African correspondent based in Accra.

There was really no opportunity to say goodbye to many of my friends. Even my flat in Adabraka with all my books and other stuff was left to a Nigerian friend who himself has sadly now passed.

When I found that notebook on Monday night, it brought back memories of a long ago period when I tried to find my feet as a young reporter in a foreign country.

So I tried to reach out to old friends that I remembered had helped pave the way for me in a new culture. I remembered Cephas and made a mental note to find him out and send a thank you mail.

Sadly, it was in my Facebook chat with John that I found out that Cephas had passed away two years ago after a short illness.

While looking through tributes online, I decided that I needed to pay tribute to this man who has helped the growth of music and culture in Ghana.

The journey of life is peopled by destiny helpers who get you along to your aim.

It was at AF Accra that I met artists, musicians, photographers and journalists like Yaw Dela Botri​, Francis Kokutse​, Kofi Setordji, Nii Obodai and a host of several others.

I also remember having an awkward dance with Bibi Brew during the World Music Festival.

Just like he did to me, I know that Cephas also gave scholarships to several other people.

I honour your memory Monsieur Cephas.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Nigeria and the secrecy of the unknown soldier

Every year in January, the politicians celebrate the day of the unknown soldier. I have always thought the unknown soldier were those that died during World War II and the Civil War.

However, with recent events, I now realize that the unknown soldier is that man who has recently been sent to fight Boko Haram but has perished due to reasons we now know include lack of adequate equipment, poor logistics and other reasons.

The unknown soldier is that man who was poorly equipped to face the insurgents in Borno but who we are never told their names.

Defence HQ tells the whole world that 50 Boko Haram fighters were killed, but they never tell us that half that number of 'unknown soldiers' lost their lives.

The unknown soldier is the one whose family is given less than a month to pack out of the Army Barracks once he is no longer useful to society.

The unknown soldier is the man whose family is paid a dead man's pension that is less than the $10,000 winning bonus that a player in the Nigerian football team gets every time they win a match.

The unknown soldier is not he who died before I was born, the unknown soldier is continually being minted daily on the front lines of our war.

Why is the unknown soldier of our war without name?

Why does Defence HQ hide the names of our unknown soldiers when we could be praising their memory?

Surely, the unknown soldier has a name, a kindred, a family.

Give us an opportunity to mourn our heroes, tell us their names and stop shrouding the identity of our piling dead under bureaucracy.

Let us know their widows, let us know their sons and daughters so that we may show appreciation for the feat of their fathers whose blood continues to water our freedom.

Let us unveil the unknown soldier, a hero whose blood is as precious as mine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Interesting times we live in.

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