Ascendancy of social media in build up to elections
FEW weeks before the general elections, the virtual social media space has been saturated by canvassers and cyber-warlords who have taken over the unregulated mass communication platform to run a vigorous, no-holds barred campaign either for change, as represented by General Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) or continuity as proclaimed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Long before these blood-dripping and nail-biting crusades from both divides interrupted sanity and polluted the social media space, President Goodluck Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had in 2012 dismissed the pool of online critics as collective children of anger.
In defense of his principal in a piece titled ‘The Jonathan they don’t know,’ Abati, feeling rattled from unending social media jibes hurled at Jonathan had branded the new media adherents as “the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, and the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria, who seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan.”
But can these ‘children of anger’ be blamed for exploiting the channel the president himself elevated to state art when in 2010, he made a public ceremony of his signing up on Facebook and went ahead to publish a 360-page book titled ‘Goodluck Jonathan: My friends and I,’ which documented his conversations with Nigerians via the social media platform.
Explaining why he decided to open a Facebook account, considering the fact that a president should be too preoccupied with state matters to have less time for inanities like chatting, he responded that he was motivated by President Barack Obama of the United States of America and his novel use of social media network during his presidential campaign to stimulate new thinking on participatory governance across the world.
“Facebook is one tool of social media that allows for interaction between government and the governed. Opinions on issues, policy and governance can be expressed in an unedited, uncensored way by the citizens. While you used to wonder if your letter would ever get to the president, such doubts are eliminated through Facebook. The multiplicity of opinion, variety of thoughts and the engaging, argumentative nature of the posts are very essential to breeding understanding and building consensus in the democratic process. I love Facebook also because it allows me to get some information that may normally not get to me, having been ‘edited’ along the line,” he had said.
From the thousands of feedback and raw comments the president got from Nigerians, the one which stood out for particular mention after the president got elected in 2011 was the post from one Babajide Orevba, whose father, Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba, slumped and died jubilating Jonathan’s poll victory. It took the entire country by surprise, when for the first time in the history of inaugural speeches, the president on May 29, 2011, at the Eagles Square, Abuja, acknowledged the death of a 65-year-old Orevba, who collapsed out of enthusiasm and joy immediately he was declared winner, and died three days after.
Jonathan, in his address to the nation, had said: “Only a couple of days ago, I received an entry on my Facebook page. It was sent by Mr. Babajide Izegaegbe Orevba. He wrote to inform me that I had lost a great fan. That fan was his father, Mr. Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba. The deceased, the son told me, was no politician, but had campaigned enthusiastically for my ticket. Tragically, overwhelmed by the joy of our victory, he collapsed, and passed on three days later. I pray God Almighty to grant his soul eternal rest.”
Orevba’s commitment and love to President Jonathan started shortly after he became the acting president. A native of Sabongida Ora, Owan Local Government of Edo State, Orevba fell in love with Jonathan’s style of government and his determination to put an end to the epileptic power situation. He was said to be particularly impressed by the patience and maturity demonstrated by Jonathan when the controversies started over whether as Vice President, he should be allowed to act in the absence of his former boss, late Shehu Yar’Adua, who was hospitalized for over 90 days in Saudi Arabia.
Today, Babajide, a graduate of Psychology from the University of Ado Ekiti, who now lives and works in Abuja, has taken up the gauntlet from where his father left it to unabashedly campaign for the president’s reelection, using the same medium that brought him access to the president in 2011- Facebook.
Narrating how his father died, Babajide said, “three days to the presidential election in 2011, my father reminded us to ensure we all voted for Jonathan. We all assured him that we won’t do otherwise. On the day of election, before I went to cast my vote in my ward, which was a few distance away from his, I assisted him to check his name. On Sunday, he sat glued to the television monitoring as the results trickled in from the states.
“By Monday evening, when it was obvious that the president was in a clear lead, my father’s spirit became high. At that point, if you demand anything from him, he would gladly do it. He always told us he never supported Jonathan because of getting an appointment in return. ‘Of course, I do not know him neither does he know me, but I believe in him.’”
“On Monday night, the situation changed. The family members were all in the living room when chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, declared Jonathan as the winner of the election. Out of enthusiasm, my father shouted but he collapsed. I quickly grabbed him but he could not hold himself so we rushed him to the General Hospital, Ikeja. At that time it was already Tuesday. He remained on admission till Saturday and was not able to talk before he finally gave up.”
Explaining how he posted the death of his father on Facebook, Jide said, “I have been a fan of the president on Facebook six months before the election and anytime I have any issue to comment on, I sent it to him through Facebook. So, when my father died, I published it on the president’s Facebook page just as I used to do without attaching any importance to it, but to my surprise, when he mentioned my father’s name in his inaugural speech, friends and neighbours started calling me to say the president just mentioned your name.”
“Until his death, his belief was that Jonathan’s presidency will fix the power problem in the country. I hope my father’s sacrifice would not go in vain. If it is only the power problem Jonathan can fix in the next four years, then he would have succeeded in making Orevba happy inside his grave.”
For failing to make Pa Orevba happy in the grave, and many other promises not yet fully met, the president in the run-up to his reelection has courted the wrath of many ‘all-knowing crowd of Facebook and Twitter addicts.’ Surprisingly, the bandwagon effect of the social media population is queuing behind Buhari, who has now been renamed FeBuhari, as a riposte of the February 14 presidential election day, which across the world is lovers’ day and St. Valentine’s Day.
It must, however, be noted that the FeBuhari brigade are not having a field day on the turf. As the epic day draws near and Nigerians count down in trepidation, it is a harsh tag battle between the #IHaveDecided, #ThingsMustChange Buhari camp and the #OurGEJ, #ForwardNigeria, #NoGoingBack group rooting for President Jonathan.
With his more than 1,700,000 Facebook followers, Jonathan is the first Nigerian President to use social media to communicate with the citizens. Apart from using the online platform to tell Nigerians some of his achievements while in office, the President has been using the medium to seek the electorate’s support.
Every Facebook post of the president attracts thousands of likes and comments from his supporters and the opposition.
His party, the PDP, has just a little above 60,000 followers on Facebook and about 28,000 Twitter followers.
Likewise, a few days after Buhari was elected to run against Jonathan in next month’s presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, he too took the campaign for voters’ support to the social media. In just few days after signing up on Twitter, the former head of state has gained over 70,000 followers and also commands about 100,000 followers on Facebook.
His party, the APC, with over 75,000 Twitter followers, has tweeted more than 8,000 times – seeking for the electorate’s votes, while some of them are also geared towards “attacking” the PDP. The APC seems to be using the service more frequently than the PDP, which has less than 2,000 tweets.
Meanwhile, Buhari has said he would create time to read through the comments and observations of his fans via his Facebook page as he contests against President Jonathan. “I take note of every comment, suggestion and feedback you give me. Please keep them coming. Thank you for your support,” he wrote on Facebook.
With the hue and cry over difficulty getting the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), it remains to be seen how this online battle will translate to victory for both feuding sides on Saturday, February 14. Whoever carries the day will be hugely indebted to the passion of the teeming mass of both virtual and physical combatants who sacrificed sweat and blood to make it happen. Who will be the next hero after Orevba?