After announcing free WiFi hotspots in the form of Google Station in South Africa just three months ago, Google on Monday revealed that it…
Last Saturday (and Sunday in some parts of the country), Nigerians went to the polling stations to participate in the presidential election which was eventually won by four-time presidential candidate and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
For this electoral exercise, technology was on trial as those in favour of — and those against the deployment of technology — in the electoral exercise anticipated the outcome of the election and how far technology would, or could, go in the country’s electoral process.
1. Rigging could be curbed
Rigging during elections is a fairly popular electoral tactic in Nigeria. ‘Rigging’ is the word used to describe the major electoral malpractice in which votes are massively cast for a candidate. During elections prior to this year’s, some regions of the country that didn’t have up to one million voters (for example) used to present ‘amplified’ total number of votes reaching as high as two million. This was done by hijacking electoral materials and/or by printing their own ballot papers.
But this year, the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced the permanent voter card (PVC) reader – something that unsettled several politicians who allegedly relied on rigging to win.
The first thing the card reader does is to authenticate voter cards and it matches each card to the holder via confirmation and matching of thumbprints. Since not all registered voters will eventually vote, it introduced new indices including total number of accredited users which means no matter how much the politicians rig they cannot go above the total number of accredited voters which are verified by the card readers or such results would be cancelled.
2. Social media has an impact
In the previous election, social media was not taken very seriously because the playmakers extensively believed it was only a few Nigerians that used the medium. But this year’s election was probably won and lost on social media, even before the citizens got the ballot papers.
Muhammadu Buhari-associated topics trended more easily on Twitter than Goodluck Jonathan’s, forcing the PDP social media camp to sponsor trend topics on Twitter and sponsored several posts on Facebook; it also promoted its Twitter handles and Facebook pages not to forget numerous Google ads even though comparatively, the APC’s social media team did not do much of sponsored social medi promotion.
The Buhari social media topics were also more fun-filled and got the attention of even the president’s supporters on Twitter.
A good example is the #BabaWhileYouWereGone topic that trended when Buhari travelled to London, while moments after he was declared winner, #BabaNowThatYouAreThere became a trending topic – and an opportunity for Nigerians, especially his fans, to tell him the changes that they desire.
3. Mobile video rocks
The high penetration rate of smartphones positively impacted the political race and empowered citizens with an instrument-turned-powerful-medium to accurately tell stories without holding degrees in journalism – they also get to stay anonymous.
There are video evidences circulating on social media platforms to support claims of electoral malpractices. Some of the videos were so boldly taken that you sometimes ask yourself whether they were staged or the persons that recorded them had death wishes.
They’ve become powerful tools in the hands of online debaters with which they can win arguments without saying anything apart from introducing the video and providing information on where the videos were taken and names of the actors.
4. Internet and live TV can make it easy to go viral and popular within minutes
Prior to the morning of Tuesday 31 March, many Nigerians didn’t anything about Peter Godsday Orubebe although he is a former federal minister. But when he attempted to create confusion and ultimately (and abruptly) end the collation of the election’s results live on international TV, he became an instant internet sensation leaving behind several memes that will not be forgotten easily.
Within few minutes, he became the number one trending topic in Nigeria and 24 hours later, he remained among the top ten. His Wikipedia page was also swiftly updated to feature his special moment (of shame) on TV.
The video has already gone viral – is available on various platforms and the memes flying around are hilarious.
5. Tech-driven data crunching is the future of African politics/elections
Even though it took the electoral body about three days to collate and announce official results, Nigerians on social media had already gotten the tentative (speculative) results of the elections on social media from media platforms such as Sahara Reporters and the opposition party, the APC, which had a very big election situation center in Lagos.
Citizens only stayed glued to the TV sets to find out whether the results they have had been tampered with while the electoral officials made their ways to the International Conference Center in Abuja from across the 36 states of the federation.
One of the defining moments that pointed to the fact that technology-driven data crunching is the future of politics and Africa’s electoral process was when agents of the PDP said the electoral body chairman Attahiru Jega, had already shared the results of the election with the APC and the results being gradually announced by the INEC are similar to those that are already on the website of the APC.
Even though Jega exonerated himself from the allegation and claimed the commission’s officially declared results are the real ones, the fact that each party had at least an agent at each polling unit nationwide pointed to the fact that armed with just mobile phones, results announced at the polling units across the country could be sent to a situation room, collated, computed, analyzed and published within few hours after elections had been conducted in Nigeria or elsewhere.
This, right here, is the future of elections and politics in Nigeria and across Africa. The days of relying on big forms and ‘old school’ calculators to compute election results are numbered – its strong voice is gradually disappearing as Nigerians herald the emergence of its next president with loud shouts of Sai Baba, Sai Buhari!