Nigeria election: Politicians all of a twitter

Screen grabs from PDP Goodluck Jonathan's Facebook page (left) Nuhu Ridbadu of the ACN Twitter page (top) and the fan page on Facebook for Muhammadu Buhari from the CPC.

For the first time in Nigeria's political history, the internet and social media appear to be playing a huge role in shaping the country's political landscape.

Politicians have been making concerted efforts to gain electoral mileage via the internet, Facebook and Twitter.

President Goodluck Jonathan made history as the first head of government to use Facebook to make his formal declaration to stand for election.

The president's decision has literally changed the political tide.

Virtually all politicians have created websites and social media accounts to regularly update their supporters about their activities.

Although only a small percentage of Nigerians possess their own computers, many people use internet cafes and increasingly mobile phones to go online.

Press shunned

From less than 100,000 internet users in 1999, when the country returned to civilian rule, the International Telecommunications Union estimates some 43.9 million Nigerians now have access to the internet - almost a third of the population.

There are an estimated 1.8 million Nigerians on Facebook and more than half a million people follow the president's Facebook page.

The number of Nigerians with Twitter accounts is growing by the day and most of the country's newspapers and bloggers also have them.

"President Goodluck Jonathan is always telling us what he is doing and what he is going to do if given the mandate but the opposition candidates are always raising an alarm," says Treasure Timidare, who is a fan of the president on Facebook.

The politicians appear to have shunned the traditional press in favour of the social networking sites to reach the younger generation which represents a new phase in the country's online revolution.

But the media is also reaping the benefits of the social media updates of these politicians for reports.

Image caption Approximately 70% of Nigeria's population is under 35 years of age

"Some of the president's explanation of policy ideas through his Facebook publications has made news for me," says Segun Owolabi, news manager at a private radio station in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt.

This is not limited to local journalists.

The internet bug has also caught Nigerians in diaspora who now closely follow political developments back home.

Jackson Ude, who publishes the news website in the United States, has also found the Facebook posts and tweets of the politicians useful.

"I have gone on Facebook and Twitter to closely monitor what the politicians are doing, especially what their positions are on very serious national issues," says Mr Ude.

"I am now back home to monitor the elections armed with enough information," he says.

'Online buzz, offline action'

Civil society groups have also decided to take a cue from the politicians by using the internet and mobile devices to mobile the electorate to pressure government for free, fair and credible elections.

Image caption Almost half of Nigerians have a mobile phone

"Apart from using social networking platforms to promote informed decisions among young people in the 2011 elections, there is a need to sensitise them against electoral violence," says civil society activist Yakubu Joseph.

Enough is Enough Nigeria (EIE), which is a coalition of internet-savvy Nigerian activists, has massively mobilised for the elections.

EIE's "Register, Select, Vote and Protect" campaign, which originates online, is designed to move people from their computers to the polling centres.

"The plan is to use tweets and Facebook messages to whip up interest and then have people go out physically to vote," says Gbenga Sesan, a leader of the group.

"They will use the same tools to report on their activities so we can create an online buzz that can inspire more offline action."

The social media has equally provided a platform for youths to debate, interact and mobilise against electoral fraud.

Information technology expert Ify Ndueze feels young people are prepared to resist attempts to rig the elections.

"What had happened in the last two elections, I don't think will happen this time around," he says.

"We have our Blackberry and other mobile phones all locked to the internet. With these I don't think any politician will hoodwink us any more."

With more than 70 million mobile phone lines in the country, some analysts have already predicted that whoever emerges as the country's president will owe some credit to the new media.

Nigeria: A nation divided

To win at the first round, a candidate not only needs the majority of votes cast, but at least 25% of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states. Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP, reached that threshold in 31 states; runner-up Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC only did so in 16 states.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Broadly, the Hausa-Fulani people based in the north are mostly Muslims. The Yorubas of the south-west are divided between Muslims and Christians, while the Igbos of the south-east and neighbouring groups are mostly Christian or animist. The Middle Belt is home to hundreds of groups with different beliefs, and around Jos there are frequent clashes between Hausa-speaking Muslims and Christian members of the Berom community.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Female literacy is seen as the key to raising living standards for the next generation. For example, a newborn child is far likelier to survive if its mother is well-educated. In Nigeria we see a stark contrast between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. In some northern states less than 5% of women can read and write, whereas in some Igbo areas more than 90% are literate.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and among the biggest in the world but most of its people subsist on less than $2 a day. The oil is produced in the south-east and some militant groups there want to keep a greater share of the wealth which comes from under their feet. Attacks by militants on oil installations led to a sharp fall in Nigeria's output during the last decade. But in 2010, a government amnesty led thousands of fighters to lay down their weapons.

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