#BBCtrending: Lessons from Nigeria on social media activism

  • 15 April 2014
An image tweeted on Saturday 12 April showing Yusuf Siyaka Onimisi Image copyright Lawal Haruna
Image caption Success for social media: Yusuf Siyaka Onimisi was released after a campaign on Twitter

It's sometimes said that social media lobbying is the ultimate in armchair activism, but are there lessons to be learnt from Nigeria?

Nigeria is right now in the grip of a string of horrific attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants who've reportedly kidnapped 200 schoolgirls and killed more than 70 in a bomb blast in the capital Abuja. And that's just in the last two days. One of the hashtags trending in response is #CitizenSolutionToEndTerrorism. Ordinary Nigerians have been trying to come up with practical steps to stop the horror and bloodshed.

It is typical of something we've often noted on BBC Trending when it comes to Nigeria; it has a very lively social media activism scene.

No matter where you are in the world, it's easy to "like" a page on Facebook, or hit the retweet button. Whether that translates into anything real is another matter. A recent study, looking at the Save Darfur Cause on Facebook, found social media support is often pretty wafer-thin - with little concrete support, in terms of money or action, in the offline world. But there are success stories too. As we reported on this blog, the #nomakeupselfie campaign raised more than £1 million ($1.6 million) for cancer charities in the UK.

And this weekend saw one example of a success story from Nigeria. Yusuf Siyaka Onimisi had been detained for 12 days apparently for tweets he posted showing an embarrassing jailbreak in the capital Abuja. He was released and is back with his family. On hearing murmurings of his disappearance, Nigerians on social media began to investigate - verifying if the story was true, tracking down his friends and relatives, then launching a campaign for his release using the hashtag #FreeCiaxon (@ciaxon is his username on Twitter). The protest on Twitter went to the streets too, with demonstrations in cities including Lagos, Ibadan, Kano and Kaduna.

Image copyright @BabajideFadoju
Image caption A picture posted on Twitter from the #FreeCiaxon protest in Lagos

As protests got underway, news began to emerge on social media of his release - with photos posted online by a family friend. "I would say with 90% certainty that if we didn't start this campaign, the guy would still be inside," says Fola Lawal, who started the #freeciaxon hashtag. "The government knows the weight of social media," she says.

Journalist Salihu Tanko Yakasai with Freedom Radio in Kano also believes Onimisi would almost certainly still be detained had it not been for the protests on social media. "People often disappear for no reason or with no explanation," he says. "God knows what would have happened to him." Social media, he says, has become "the single most effective way" to hold the government to account in Nigeria.

Nigeria was an "early adopter" of social media says BBC Africa's Miriam Quansah and, together with Kenya, has perhaps the most active social media activism scene on the continent. The #LightUpNigeria campaign - calling for better access to electricity - was an early example and came a full five years ago.

But some Nigerians still don't have access to the technology to get onto social media, points out blogger and high-profile tweeter, Blossom Nnodim, who runs a programme called #AdoptaTweep. She's been vocal and influential in a number of social media campaigns in the country, and says many Nigerians who are online feel a sense of responsibility. "The young who do have access have taken it upon ourselves to be the voice for the ones who don't," she says. "To be the voice of the voiceless."

Reporting by Cordelia Hebblethwaite

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