Ekiti Election: Did social media fail? By ‘Sola Fagorusi

SOCIAL MEDIA ICONSWith a couple of my colleagues from the Youth Alliance on Constitution and Electoral Reform (YACORE) we were in Ekiti to facilitate sessions with select young people across the 16 local government areas in the state on voter education, hold town hall meetings and road rallies. On the second day of the exercise convened by Ekiti based non-profit, Kids and Teen Resource Centre with funding from the United Nations Development Programme -Democratic Governance for Development (UNDP-DGD) part of the content was the use of social media for elections. The feeler from the audience was clear – social media use was relatively poor in the state. My interaction with the hotel porters, the cab drivers, ex-course mate resident in the state and commercial motorcycle operator on what the election result would likely be was met with practically the same response. It was a feeler different from what held outside the 6,353 km² landmass called Ekiti.

It is the morning after the election. There are two sets of people in Ekiti state, south western, Nigeria – the elated and the shocked. The contingent of the elated is led by the newly elected governor, Signor Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party. Around 5am on Sunday, 22nd June, 2014, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC through its twitter handle – @inecnigeria announced that – “We will provide a tabulated format of the results tomorrow. Ayodele Peter Fayose is Governor-Elect of Ekiti State #EkitiDecides” With that, the curtain was peacefully drawn on the June 21st 2014 election in Ekiti. In perhaps a manner never seen before, @inecnigeria played a crucial role, nipping rumour in the bud before it grew wings. Given the national interest in the election, it also offered updates and provided hotlines for the public who needed to inform the electoral body of any new or strange development. Through its social media pages it also offered breakdown of the voters’ population, the polling units, the voting points and other necessary information.

Ekiti, which was declared a state in 1996, has passed through several politically charged periods in its short history. The incumbent, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who was defeated in an apparent landslide, is also a major actor in this history. The Ekiti election has come and gone but the lessons would linger in the air like a good perfume. An infograph on the Ekiti elections would be a delight to the eyes. It would capture statistics about the election that the Nigerian public may not be fully aware of or by able to see in one single location. The hullabaloo about the Ekiti election was going to be laid to rest by 350,256 voters which is the total votes cast in a state with a population of barely three million. Fayose of the PDP had 203,090 of the total votes leaving Kayode Fayemi with 120,433 votes and Opeyemi Bamidele of the Labour Party with 18,135 votes. The election had 12,000 policemen deployed for security purpose asides members of the military and paramilitary institutions. INEC also deployed 8,000 staff (permanent and adhoc) for the same election in all the 2,195 polling booths. 76,000 prospective voters were registered through the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) exercise to add up to the 657,000 already captured during the 2011 election.

It is difficult to say who the Goliath was in this political contest and who the David also was. Despite several analyses by political pundits, it is uncertain if anyone was sure the vote count was going to be this ample. Since Barack Obama rose to become president of the United States of America in 2008 aided a great deal by his deployment of the social media, its use for political campaigns and election have increased. Given Dr. Fayemi’s intellectual disposition, it is not surprising that he got on social media to bring his government closer to people. Prior to the election, he led the pack of contestants in its use for campaign using #JKF2014 and #promisekeeper and even hosting social media influencers to a meet where he fielded questions from them and with a well-designed website hosted at www.kayodefayemi.com.ng for regular information dissemination.  When Ayodele Fayose, was questioned on his non-use of social media about three months before the election, he made it known that “I am not a social media person, I am a grassroots politician and I live in the village. I spend 80 per cent of my time in the village. I have not been to Lagos now for more than four weeks. Talking of social media, how many people have telephone in my village? There is no light to charge the telephones most times. Twenty per cent of Nigerians are in the urban city and you see them on Facebook. By 6:00 am, all other people are in the farm. By the time they come back, they are badly tired.” Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, a top contender in for the election also engaged with the public on his website – www.mobinthehouse.com

If results from the election is anything to go by, it is appropriate to review when and how to use social media especially with various demography. Ekiti election is a Guinea pig in several regards and INEC needs to thoroughly review it empirically to draw references and talking points. Politicians, civil society organisations and members of the social media community needs to draw messages from this particular election that has given victory in a free, fair and peaceful election to a candidate unpopular with the elite, bugged with charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), called a ‘bastard’ by former president Olusegun Obasanjo in December 2010 in Okuku, Osun state at a function organised for Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and only claimed to have nothing more than a high school certificate from Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo in the INEC form he submitted for the 2014 election. What happened in Ekiti also needs reflection as to how the values of a people can change given the socio-political condition.

Like the media, it is clear that social media does not work in isolation. If anything, it only amplifies what is on ground a la diffusion of innovation. Ekiti is apparently a sub-urban and dominantly rural community. Fayose possibly understood this and gave the people the kind of sensation they needed. In turn, they poured votes in his direction trouncing the incumbency of a Ph.D. holder in the process. Nigeria’s leading opposition group also needs to learn two key lessons from this experience – social media sophistication does not translate to votes in a country where digital literacy is still low; it also shows that with an INEC that is properly organised election can be free and fair enough to win or lose to the incumbent at the state or federal level.

More than any group, young people played a key role in this election and this would be revealed empirically through #youthobservatory in the coming days. INEC walks away from this election with high shoulders given the success. It however still needs to acknowledge that social media was key to its communication during the election. It can take it a step further by having all contestant fill details of their social media activities in their nomination form to include their website, YouTube channel, twitter handle, Facebook page amongst others. That way they can be held responsible for what emerges through their channels. INEC also needs to partner with other stakeholders to ensure that the senate passes the sought amendment to the Electoral Act for the use of electronic voting systems during elections. This is the ultimate use to which the PVC can be put to. I congratulate the people the people of Ekiti state for an election devoid of bloodshed.

 

@SolaFagro on twitter

 

 

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