SOCIAL MEDIA AND DEMOCRATIC CONSOLIDATION IN NIGERIA
Research on democracy consolidation in Africa pays little attention the role information technologies play in mediating political relations between individual politicians and citizens. On the other hand, media research has not done enough to account for how existing socio-political relations potentially define the use of media for political purposes. Drawing from a recent governorship election in Nigeria, this paper argues that local issues can determine how social media are framed and used in political campaigns. In the election central to this study, the incumbent seeking reelection boasted superior social media in both strategy and deployment. But the opposition candidate eventually won the race by framing social media as a tool of the elite meant to bypass ordinary citizens. Thus, by depicting himself as a “man of the street,” the opposition candidate galvanized aggrieved groups within the state to achieve an unlikely victory. The paper is based on two weeks of interviews with top campaign officials of the opposition campaign.
Despite the general paucity of economic infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, over the past decade this region has experienced some of the fastest growth rates in mobile phone and Internet penetration in the world. In Nigeria, mobile phone subscription has risen from just over 866,000 in 2001 to over 121 million as of October 2013. During the same period, Internet users rose from 200,000 to 57 million (NCC, 2013). These technologies are now major social connectors, and there is hope that they may be transforming political life by enhancing democratic consolidation and increasing the quality of democracy. Technology potentially has the power to make elections in Nigeria more transparent and to encourage citizens to expect accountability from elected leaders (Adewumi & Daramola, 2010; Etzo & Collender, 2010; Ifukor, 2010; Olorunnisola & Douai, 2013; Schuler, 2008; Smyth & Best, 2013).
1.2 Background of the Study
One of the elements of democracy and the rule of law is the freedom of expression. To democratize is to ensure free unhindered two-way communication between the government and the governed. The essence is to ensure the responsiveness of the government to the yearnings of the people and for the people to put their views across to government without fear or hindrance and in an atmosphere devoid of interference. Against this background, this paper examines the role of the mass media in the process of democratic consolidation in Africa, including Nigeria. The objective is to identify the factors acting as constraints to the effectiveness of the mass media in ensuring democratic consolidation. It observes that the sustainability of democracy in Africa depends on several factors, some of which are located within the media itself while others are based on the prevailing political, socio-economic, legal, infrastructural, cultural and religious environment Jin the different countries. The most crucial factor for the sustenance of democracy in Africa would consist of the enthronement of a popular sovereignty that touches the daily lives of the populace, gives meaning to the notion of citizenship and goes beyond the constitutionally defined form of rule. The role of the media is facilitative, supportive and integrative.
To achieve greater media effectiveness in promoting democratic ideals and governance in Africa, there is need for private sector partnership and involvement of civil society organizations in media ownership in order to achieve a balance
1.3 Statement of the Problem
If elections have become more transparent, cases of pre- and post-election violence continue to persist (Lewis, 2011). The violence may be due in part to incitement communicated over the new media, which the state appears unable to control (Lewis, 2011; Smyth & Best, 2013; Tar & Zack-Williams, 2007). However, on other occasions, mobile phones and social media have been instrumental in fostering stability by dispelling rumors and disseminating facts (Smyth and Best, 2013). The digital media is not the only force at work in these elections. Tensions between parties and groups pose a serious challenge to this fragile democracy as manipulative politicians play voters off against each other in a bid to cling onto power (Berman, Eyoh, and Kymlicka, 2004; Nyamnjoh, 2005b).
Two bodies of literature may offer understanding as to why the digital media has not had a transformational effect on democracy on the African continent, even though this media has greatly improved the logistical coordination for elections and political campaigns. Firstly, mainstream African political science literature advances that ethnic tensions, intense competition for state power and resources, and weak state institutions are responsible for electoral violence and the fragile democracies of many African countries (see Berman et al., 2004). Another body of literature focuses on the use of digital media in African elections. According to these various studies, the effect of the digital media on democracy varies greatly. In some instances, it seems to create efficiency and transparency in the electoral process (Bailard and Livingston, Forthcoming; Smyth and Best, 2013); in other instances, it contributes to widespread disillusionment resulting in the refusal by many citizens to vote in elections (Bailard, 2012). The study of digital media is still a developing field and there is no agreement about the overall effects of it on elections or democratization.
But these two bodies of literature, studying the old and new media respectively, have generally not interacted, and as a result a significant knowledge gap exists. Yet, it is clear that the media has played a decisive role in African politics. Nationalists who fought for independence made extensive use of the media, and postcolonial governments generally used the media to promote development policies and programs. So both political science and digital media research will mutually benefit from incorporating existing socio-political factors into the analyses of how new digital media technologies are utilized for political advantage in Sub-Saharan Africa. This paper assumes that technology and society are constantly at work on each other. Technology brings new opportunities to the political process, but its use is strongly influenced by historical and social realities.
Two aspects of the election campaign process are of particular interest. Firstly, the way the elites framed digital media use in public discourse as compared to its actual use in the campaigns, and, secondly, what the campaigns perceived as the best use for digital media: political bargaining or reaching voters with their message.
1.4 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of this research work are to:
Bridge the gap between political science and digital media literature in Sub-Saharan African. Explore how the use of digital media by political elites has interacted with socio-political and historical factors, and ultimately shaped the outcome of the governorship election in Nigeria’s Ekiti state. Ekiti has a low rate of Internet use, but high mobile phone use. Investigate how politicians adopted these new digital media and other traditional channels of communication for political campaigning, internal campaign communication, and inter-elite bargaining.
1.5 Research Questions
The following research questions have been developed:
During campaigning, how did the elites’ public discourse about digital media use compare with their actual digital media practices?
How do politicians communicate with their constituencies and supporters during an election?
To what extent does the choice of a media channel correspond with the type of message politicians want to send?
1.6 Significance of the Research Study
This research work has much significance but some of them are:
This research work will improve and expand the knowledge and understanding of the researcher on issues surrounding or pertaining to the concept of democracy It will provide relevant information for understanding the role of the media in democratic consolidation in Africa and Nigeria. It will help in seeking solution to all problems that the mass media faces in democratic consolidation. It will serve as reference material to any scholar/student who is willing to know or to add to his/her knowledge and insight of the role of the social media in democratic consolidation in Nigeria.
1.7 Scope of the Study
It is generally known that the social media covers a wide range area, but for the purpose of this research work, it will be limited to the gubernatorial elections held in Ekiti State of South Western Nigeria on June 21, 2014
1.8 Historical Background of the Study
Ekiti state held an election for governor on June 21, 2014 with two main contestants – incumbent Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress and Ayodele Fayose of the People’s Democratic Party. Nigeria’s federal system is patterned after the US system with state governors serving as the chief executives of their states. Campaign strategies in the lead up to the election were discussed in the national media as contests between the three senatorial districts in the state with the current governor’s performance taking a backseat as he sought reelection (Nwaoko, 2014). The state is ethnically homogenous but the three senatorial districts contest for the governor’s seat. The opposition candidate, Fayose, won the election and the incumbent Kayode Fayemi conceded defeat once the results were officially announced. Observers, journalists, and most citizens agree that the election was free and credible even if its fairness was questionable due to the excessive use of security forces that Fayemi’s party alleged was meant to intimidate its supporters.
The election was one of the best in Nigeria’s recent electoral history. Yet, in the run up to the election, there were reports that security forces harassed supporters of the APC party, which ruled in Ekiti, but was in opposition on the federal level. The APC accused the federal government of using the pretext of security concerns to deploy over 12,000 security forces to intimidate its supporters not to vote. For some APC members, this deployment tipped the election in favor of Fayose after security forces disrupted their efforts to reach voters in the final days of campaigning. The security forces denied partisan involvement, and challenged critics to present evidence. Several citizens interviewed acknowledged receiving gifts of money and foodstuff from both parties in the run up to the election, but it is unclear if the disruption of any party’s gift-giving strategy negatively affected its chances..