Globally, the Internet and the social media are veritable tools used by political parties to mobilise the electorate, project their ideologies and boost their chances at the polls.
But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Currently, only 6.9 per cent of the 46 registered parties have verified websites and just about half have an updated social media accounts.
With a population in excess of 170 million, Nigeria stands as the most populated country in Africa. Regardless of the huge population it shoulders, just only half, precisely 90 million of the country’s size, are internet users. Globally, the internet, websites and social media have become indispensable tools in today’s world and politics is not an exception.
Using the former United States president, Barak Obama’s campaign strategy in 2008 as an example, his team organized a massive campaign through the Internet to encourage voters to go out and support the campaign.
The total votes cast in that election were 131.2 million, compared to 122.3 million in 2004, which was previously a record for the largest voter turnout in US history. In terms of the popular vote, Obama received 69,456,897 votes, while McCain took 59,934,814 votes.
Similarly, they took to social networking websites and the team was able to recruit thousands of volunteers’ right from the grassroots level, which formed the bulk of Obama’s political machinery. In Nigeria, the practice of democracy has extensively utilized radio and newspapers since 1960s to 2001.
In that period, Nigerians and the political system have not fully recognized the importance of internet because it was not generally available to the electorate. However, one of the milestones the democratic dispensation has reached in Nigeria is the making of internet available and seemingly affordable.
The use of internet and social media is believed to increase the impact of enhancing the democratic system, the interconnectedness, understanding and mobilization, among party campaign members and supporters. It also facilitates effective dissemination of information and communication which encourages political awareness among the populace.
Nigeria’s journey into fullblown internet and social media engagement can be said to have commenced since the #Occupy- Nigeria nationwide anger strike in 2011, when the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan removed fuel subsidies.
Since then, the internet and its agents, the social media, have continued to play the significant role in the country’s national discourse. At the 2015 general elections that ushered in the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, technology and internet fully impacted on the outcome of the election.
The president and his team maximized the combined efforts of the internet and other social networking facilities, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to win the poll.
Investigation reveals that out of the current 46 registered political parties listed on the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) website, only 15, representing 6.9 per cent, made use of the internet by way of having a verifiable personal website.
The rest could be said to have completely ignored it but chose to rely on the old-fashioned mode of conversation and engage ment. The report According to the findings, out of the 15 parties with websites, only seven have updated website. Two of the remaining eight also have only WordPress website.
On social media platforms, six political parties, namely; APA, APP, BNPP, DA, ID, DPP, NDLP,NEPP, NUP and PDC, don’t have any social media representation either in Facebook, Twitter and others. Also, only 21 of the political parties have an active or updated social media pages.
For example, the last time an update was done on the social media page of Accord Party was April 9, 2013. The party has 2821 followers on its Facebook account. The parties with the highest followers on their Facebook pages are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with 145,000; the All Progressives Congress (APC), 123, 720; Young Democratic Party (YDP), 72,916 and APDA, 5,566. Currently, in its 19th year of unbroken democracy since 1999, the nation’s political system has had a gradual slide into embracing digital means of conversation on the political field.
With Nigeria’s Internet literacy growing exponentially in recent years, it is expected that political parties use email, websites, Facebook and YouTube to communicate their campaigns, given that the bulk of voters used the media as primary tools to socialize, communicate and stay informed.
But that is not the case in the country. Speaking on the development, the Country Director, Centre on Convention for Democratic Integrity (CCDI), Mr. Olufemi Aduwo, said that the sense of impunity and lack of organizational structure on the part of politicians who run the political parties are responsible for the reluctance in embracing technology as a mechanism to enhance their activities. He said, “The first question to ask is what is really the goals and objectives of these political parties when they were formed?
Many of these parties were formed by politicians in PDP and APC, who use them as a means of negotiation whenever their interest is soiled. “What do you expect them to do with websites when they don’t even have a functioning office to operate?
The same people running political parties without websites, social media and other digital devices, make use of these platforms in an efficient manner to run their corporate offices. Who is deceiving who? I think INEC should also find a way of inputting technological advancement into guidelines of registration of parties.
“This is a digital age and majority of the electorate are now internet compliant. How do the fringe parties intend to rival the big parties except if they refused to inculcate digitisation into their system of operation and conversation?” Querying when the much-touted electronic voting will take place when even the political parties, who are major players in the system don’t have basic digital tools, Aduwo stated that, “To build an efficient democracy, political parties must embrace Information Com-munication Technology (ICT), to reach out to the electorate.”
Giving his opinion on the issue, a political commentator, Comrade Ojajuni Eni, said it is time for political parties to move out of the shadow of parochial politics and start engaging the people in a virtual manner.
“Most of our politicians believe in playing politics using the tools of religion and ethnicity. They do this deliberately in order to narrow the minds of the people. Even those parties with websites and feasible social media, what are they churning out from the platforms?
Are they not either insulting the sensibilities of the masses or abusing each other?” Addressing the media on the issue, the president of the Computer Guild of Nigeria (CGN), Wole Adedoyin, said the website is one of the major tools for canvassing, mobilizing, sensitizing, educating and engaging grassroots voters.
“A typical party website would be strong, have detailed information on party organization and structure including profiles of some party officials at both the national and state levels.
“My advice to INEC is to compel all registered political parties in the country to have functioning websites so as to allow the public to have access to their programmes and manifestoes. “Political parties and candidates in the United States began to adopt the internet during the election campaigns in 1996. Political parties in Nigeria started using it in 2001.
Even though most parties then did not have a real conception of how to use the medium and many of them set up websites primarily to be seen to be keeping up with technology.” While stating that the websites have become vital campaign and communication tools for political parties around the world, he noted that Nigerian parties and candidates might be left behind to play catch up if necessary steps are not taken to put the issues in proper perspective.
INEC’s position on the issue, the Commission’s Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said there is no law that states that political parties must have websites at the point of registration.
He said: “There is no law to that effect; it is not a requirement for registration of a political party. It is not a legal requirement, it is not compulsory that political parties must have websites at the point of being registered.” But giving a fresh insight into the subject matter, the President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Sola Aderounmu, said political parties should be advocating for e-voting in 2019.
He said: “The era of analog political parties is gone. With the advent various IT tools there is the need for political parties to embrace the use various IT tools to disseminate info. NCS is advocating for e-voting in 2019. My suggestion is for INEC to enforce all political parties to have up to date website with relevant information.
This will go a long way to assist the masses with relevant info regarding each party.” Speaking with New Telegraph, some national chairmen of political parties said technology is an indispensable tool for modern political system.
The National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie
Social media is a very crucial aspect of information dissemination in the world today. And it has actually played a critical role in choices that people have made in the democratic setting. We need a third force that will compete with everything that it requires to carry the people along in term of social media and technology.
We are in the world of technology, especially social media, which is one of the means of disseminating information. So, it must be used properly to disseminate information and carry people along. But unfortunately, people are using the social media in Nigeria to voice out their anger against leadership.
The National Chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Yinusa Tanko
It will be a minor because every political party needs social media platforms to reach out to the people. All there internet platforms like websites, facebook, twitter and other social media networks must be functional because without it they may not get their desired audience that they need.
So, having social media platforms is even not an alternative; it is a must that we must have it so that we will be able to compete with others and let people know about our existence. Social media are a necessity for political parties in Nigeria.
Clearly, the political system has moved away from the traditional political communication system to the modern means, the earlier political parties in Nigeria realize this and amplify their drive towards the digital system of running their parties and engaging the masses, the better for them and the country’s quest for free and fair political process.