Technology Allowing Nigerians ‘Phenomenal’ Access To Governance

Technology Allowing Nigerians ‘Phenomenal’ Access To Governance

Nigerians are enjoying increased participation in governance through social media platforms, but inability to take action beyond online discussion and debates threatens social media relevance, according to an opinion piece in in VenturesAfrica.

Nigeria’s Freedom of Information bill, which allows public access to government information, became law in 2011, enabling many Nigerians to seek out information not previously in the public domain.

It provided for increased participation in addressing health challenges such as the AIDS response.

Nigerians’ ability to access previously inaccessible government reports is phenomenal, said Japeth Omojuwa, founder of Omojuwa.com and one of Nigeria’s top social media activists with more than 70,000 Twitter followers.

“Data is everything and it is much more (readily available) today than ever before,” he said. “There are a lot of platforms making data from public and private institutions and these are (generating intense) discussions on social media.”

Onigbinde leads YourBudgit.com, an online platform that acts as intermediary between government leaders and the governed in Nigeria. It was launched in 2011 with support from Co-creation Hub, a technology-focused workspace in Lagos. The goal was to simplify the Nigerian budget so all Nigerians could understand it.

Government budgets should be common knowledge, Onigbinde said. Leaders prepare budgets on how to spend public resources, and people should understand what the money is being spent on.

During the January 2012 fuel subsidy protest in Nigeria, YourBudgit.com was instrumental in ensuring a re-adjustment in the Nigerian budget. The team created a budget cut application during the Occupy Nigeria movement, a protest instigated by the price of fuel. The app helped engage users on the national budget.

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Other social media tools in the limelight include antigraft.org, a web repository that documents corruption in Nigeria. The website was launched in June this year by WANGONET, a coalition of non-governmental oganisations in Nigeria with funding from Open Society Initiative for West Africa.

‘Seun Akinfolarin, one of the creators of antigraft.org said the website allows people take action on corruption, “So you don’t find someone convicted for crime 10 years ago coming out to run for office 10 years after because people have forgotten.”

NigeriaElections.org is another website created to foster good governance in Nigeria, providing information about elections. These include election malpractice, candidate profiles, polling stations and real-time reports on elections.

Opportunities abound for technology in AIDS response, said Paul Adepoju, managing editor at HealthNewsNG.com. Adepoju said social media helped increase awareness – an important prevention measure.

Although some public officials in Nigeria have expressed displeasure over the growing use of social network sites as platforms for debating government policies, Nigerian activists consider it an enabler of good governance.

Early this year, an online newspaper, Premium Times, reported that the federal government awarded a $40 million Internet surveillance contract to Elbit Systems to monitor computer and Internet communication by Nigerians. This raised debate around the freedom of expression.

“I don’t think there is a need for social media regulation,” said Oyinlade.

He said the right to use social media can be traced to the universal right of freedom of expression or freedom of press.

In an article, “Social Media may yet change governance in Africa,” former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar acknowledged social media as the space where young Nigerians gather “to share their thoughts, often venting their frustrations with the inefficiencies of the country.”

He recognized social media “as a powerful organizing tool in protecting our democracy moving forward. It also allows me an opportunity to listen to diverse uncensored views of the people.”

Abubakar said government officials should see social media as a way to listen to their constituency, a “gold mine of data and reference for performance.”

“We might not have a mass protest that sparked off from Facebook but we must understand that the Arab spring did not come from Twitter, it was just an enabler,” said Akinfolarin of antigraft.org, “so when there is a need for that movement, we’ll be able to use this social media platform to organize.”