Attahiru Jega, chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Monday said the success of the 2011 general elections was partly due to the influence of the internet and the social media.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of a two-day conference on ‘New Media and Governance: Tools and Trends’ held at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, he said internet platform “provided a vehicle for the unprecedented mobilisation of the emergent generation of youths in the political process.”
The INEC boss said this was “crucial because youths between the ages 18 and 35 constituted 62.4 percent of the 73.5 million people registered by INEC during the voter registration exercise conducted early in 2011. There is no doubt that the level of interest shown by the younger generation in the 2011 elections was never before witnessed in Nigeria’s political history. But I believe that the most gratifying dimension of this development is the patriotic zeal demonstrated by corps of young technophiles who volunteer to man our new media platforms every time we open the Situation Room for election. They did that during the 2011 general elections and they have done so for all the state governorship elections we have conducted this year.”
Jega said there was no doubt that new media tools have added value to Nigeria’s electoral process, noting that new media has the potential to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.
On the specific benefits of the use of social media, Jega said it has enhanced transparency in the electoral process and made INEC more accountable to the public in the conduct of elections.
He said it has strengthened INEC’s power of oversight on the electoral process by empowering the public to alert the commission of incidents requiring swift security intervention.
In addition, new media, Jega said, has helped to mobilise the public especially the younger generation who in the past stayed aloof to the political process.
Lastly, he said it has helped to integrate Nigeria into a community networked in real time.
However, he said new media tools could also be used as vehicle for misinformation, saying that INEC had received alarms many times in its Situation Room during elections that turned out to be false.
Speaking at the occasion, Michael Best, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, said his laboratory in America was receiving an average of 50 messages per second through social media during the 2011 general elections in Nigeria, adding that his laboratory worked with some civil society groups to monitor the election.