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CIPE BLOG COMPETITION 2013: Social Media and Democratic Dialogue

CIPE BLOG COMPETITION 2013: Social Media and Democratic Dialogue

If you’re on planet earth today, you’re in luck.

Till about a decade ago, media outfits were owned by powerful governments and wealthy businessmen. Few people could be seen on TV or read on newspapers. The rest of us merely watched history unfold around us and different stories told on mainstream media.

Then, one at a time, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, forums, wikis, YouTube, etc., appeared.

Social media gave impetus to the Arab Spring which swept away some autocratic rulers and the #OccupyNigeria protest in January 2012.

Dialogue is the best way to resolve problems and reach decisions acceptable to all. The Nigerian democracy is ailing. But the situation is gradually changing. Social media is facilitating inclusiveness for citizens in at least 4 ways.

1. Equal opportunity to be heard

Social media affords everyone a fair opportunity to be heard anywhere as much as a Harvard Professor.

Long gone are the days media censorship held sway and ‘rebel’ journalists wasted with impunity like Dele Giwa was letter-bombed for exposing corruption.

Yes – media censorship still exists, but the swiftness and intensity at which blogs, Twiter handles and Facebook pages spring up and spread, advocating positive change, is too much for corrupt, autocratic governments to contain, prompting recent calls by the Senate President for censorship of social media.

2. The power of number

Social media harnesses the power of collaboration through user participation to empower citizens. The #SaveBagega campaign illustrates this well.

In March 2010, one of the worst lead poisonings was discovered in Zamfara, Nigeria. It infected thousands of innocent lives and killed 400 children.

By 2012, all the villages have been cleaned up. Except one – Bagega, a village of 8000 residents and 1500 poisoned children. The video below by Human Rights Watch captures their plight.

The government promised $5million in May 2012, but that was the last we heard about government ending the social plague.

Then in October, 2012, a non-profit group, Follow The Money, launched the #SaveBagega campaign to advocate aid for Bagega.

I joined thousands of other citizens who occupied Twitter for several weeks, demanding a tripartite solution: remediation, medical treatment and safer mining practices. We positively engaged stakeholders like the President, the Senator overseeing the environment, Bukola Saraki and organizations interested in children and human rights.

In the words of Lawal  Hamzat, the Co-Creator of Follow The Money:

With thousands of people from about 78 countries signing our petition, about 600,000 on twitter that mentioned the hashtag – #SaveBagega in the last couple of months, we can always say that together, our actions count and can always save the world we live in.


Image Credit: Oluwasomidotun

It was a nice day when the President released $3million for the remediation in January, 2013. By July, 2013, Bagega became fully remediated.

More recently, I led a Twitter campaign to raise funds for a University colleague battling kidney failure.


Though, sadly, we lost him eventually, how we engaged some important stakeholders and got some helps are things never before possible before social media came around.

3. Closing the gap between the leaders and the citizens

Before social media came around, the elected representatives only got feedback from few individuals privileged to hang around the corridors of power.

Today, the feedback passes a two-way system. Many top government officers are on social media. Citizens interact often on Twitter about bad roads, police extortion and epileptic power supply with the governor of Kwara State where I live, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, the Senator representing my district, etc.

Many times, they respond, saying what they’ve done, are doing or will do to address the concerns. This was at best a dream a dozen years ago.

4. Media reportage and exposing evils

Police extortion and abuse is widespread. These have remained unchecked for many years. But thanks to social media, citizens are changing that by making information open. This year alone, ordinary citizens have recorded and uploaded 2 videos of police soliciting bribes on YouTube.

Both videos went viral within hours, leading to the erring officers getting punished. That’s huge deterrence. Policemen are now scared to the marrow to solicit bribes on the highway.

This approach can also help expose electoral frauds, human rights abuses and bad governance.

Social media has great potency. It’s for us to leverage it for constructive reforms and nation building.

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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.

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