Nigeria's 2019 Elections: Can Social Media Influence The Outcomes?

As Nigeria prepares for its general elections in a few days, with the rise of social media, fake news and online influencing, will social media exert significant influence on the outcome of the 2019 elections?

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation with most recent estimations putting the figures at 197 million, with the largest percentage of these resident in seven cities namely Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin City, and Maiduguri.

The top contenders in this year's election are the following:
  • Incumbent and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, running alongside Yemi Osinbajo
  • Opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, running alongside Peter Obi
  • Former Nigerian Apex bank Director and Young People's Party's (YPP) Presidential candidate, Kingsley Moghalu
  • Media Entreprenuer and Activist Omoyele Sowore
  • other candidates who were billed to contest but either stepped out of the race or were caught in some electoral complexities ultimately hindering their participation include Bring Back Our Girls Co-Founder and Ex-Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, Former Governor Donald Duke of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) Fela Durotoye among others.

Based on the most recent data available on internet users in Nigeria, how much influence can the social media have on the offline numbers at Nigeria's most critical polls yet?

2015 VS 2019

During the 2015 elections, then opposition party and now ruling party APC, utilized social media to their advantage. 

In addition to traditional media, the APC had effectively utilized social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp Messages to push their anti-corruption stance and grand campaign promises.

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Some of the APC's campaign promises (all of which have been denied by President Muhammadu Buhari's government) covered some of the following areas: 

Constant Electricity

Reducing the Naira to Dollar Exchange Rate

End Insurgency and a host of others which included free education for all, one new refinery every year for four years, among others

This time around, the APC's social media strategy and anti-corruption stance seems to have lost its grip on Nigerians. Also, considering President Muhammadu Buhari's poor performance on the economy, security and job creation, the pendulum looks to swing away from him this time. 

Most of the new (2019) campaign promises and in some cases pseudo project achievement photos and social media updates shared online by agents of Buhari's administration have so far been met with stiff rebuttals and fact-checks. A good number of such posts end up being deemed as  political propaganda or in social media terms, #fakenews.

Social media users, and by extension, the general Nigerian public seem to be a lot more politically conscious, less gullible and more likely to fact-check information, data, and facts shared by politicians than they were pre-election in 2015.

This, in my opinion has been critical in shaping political discourse and will quite certainly impact on voter choices at the polls, as they are more likely to vote for candidates based on facts, figures, performance or expectation rather than propaganda.

Opinion Polls Give Subtle Hints

Within the last couple of months, several opinion polls have been run by different persons, including media organizations and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to feel the pulse of Nigerians ahead of the elections.

A number of interesting and curious observations can be made as regards candidates that are very likely to come out tops at the polls.

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As regards the presidential elections, some of these polls seem to suggest that the more popular ticket is that of the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), fielding former Vice President Atiku Abubakar alongside ex-governor Peter Obi.

See some of the polls below:

Poll 1: 

Poll 2: AMD Polls

Poll 3: Dr Joe Abah

1 Week 1 2nd week of January

2 Week 2 3rd week of january

Poll 3: Week 3

Poll 4:  Mister Judah

Hashtag Trends to watch

To get a sense of the general conversation on all sides, from supporters of the ruling APC, opposition PDP, as well as other 3rd Force Contenders, one can search and read through social media posts tagged with certain hashtags. 

Some of the most popular and engaged hashtags include the following:

Threat to Internet Access A Real Concern

Although Nigeria is yet to achieve 100% internet penetration rate (current figures estimate less than 50% in 2019), internet access exists in most urban centers and major cities across the country.

With governments across the world, and more specifically, across Africa, beginning to recognize the power of social media, more reports of internet shutdowns have emerged from across Africa. African governments have used internet shutdowns as a way to curb dissent, limit spread of news and foreign interference/access in their respective countries. Key cases in point being Cameroon, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe among others. 

In recent weeks, there have been concerns and social media narratives suggesting that an internet shutdown may be imminent due to perceptions that seem not to favor the candidacy of incumbent Muhammadu Buhari.

Tweets by a certain popular twitter user, Mr Aye Dee posted a tweet which seemed to suggest that the Buhari-led government might indeed shutdown internet services in Nigeria ahead of the elections.

Gratefully, information has been shared by Qz Africa on how to escape an internet shut down and still have internet access using a VPN service.

Predictions And Prophecies

Going into speculative territory, unlike as happened in 2015, it is a bit more diffcult and complicated predicting correctly the outcome of Nigeria's 2019 presidential elections.

Considering the fact that the two top contenders are both of Northern extraction, both are Muslims, and both are fulani, it becomes even more complex.

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However, it is worthy of note that, Buhari, unlike as in 2015 where he forged strategic alliances across party lines and regional interests has stuck with the same fragmented party which has had a not-so-impressive showing in the campaign run across stronghold states of opposition PDP, including the much coveted Lagos (See Tweet below) and Kano. 

Several international as well as local media entities, personalities as well as individuals have shared their predictions of the outcome of the polls.

Some of these predictions have been in favour of President Buhari. Interestingly, most of the predictions coming from the international media (including The Economist  seem to predict a win for the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

In conclusion, in spite of the predictions, considering the peculiarities of the Nigerian state and the idiosyncrasies of the Nigerian voters, what happens at the poll may be a significant deviation from popular opinion and largely held perspectives.

The real decider will be how well Nigerian voters are able to defy voter apathy, security concerns, PVC collection challenges, etc and show up en masse at their polling booths on election day and vote decisively.

In your view, do you think that social media can (and ultimately will) influence or have any significant impact on the outcomes of Nigeria's 2019 general elections?

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