Nigeria’s civic space is evolving with the application of new technologies and methods to strengthen advocacy and foster active citizenship. The rise of new media has also impacted new organizations that are reaching out to citizens to demand accountability from the government with results. EIE Nigeria, BudgIT, Paradigm Initiative are organizations that effectively use digital media to drive social impact, creating societal change across different contexts.
Leveraging its early success as a movement that transformed into an organization, EiE Nigeria, partnered with Shehu Musa Yar’adua Foundation to host the maiden event of the New Media and Governance Conference in 2012. The conference focused on new tools and trends. BudgIT, Paradigm Initiative, Co-Creation Hub and several budding civic-tech organizations made presentations at the event, sparking conversations and partnerships.
In 2016, EiE Nigeria resuscitated the event finding new partners in BudgIT and Paradigm Initiative with a particular focus on ‘citizen’ as the bridge between the new media tools and governance outcomes. The conference was held in the context of a new government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who profited immensely from the use of new media to rebrand his authoritarian image. The conference is now a bi-annual pan-African conference.
The 2016 Conference – #NMCG2016: Rights and Responsibilities
The 2016 conference highlighted the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders – citizens, civil society groups and the government in using new media in a mutually beneficial way.
The keynote address was delivered by Mrs Oby Ezekwesili titled Office of the Citizen and New Media. The two-day event had 41 speakers/panelists (from Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya) speaking in 13 different sessions. The conference recorded 195 physical attendees and a social media reach of 3.4 million.
Key recommendations were made to the government and its agencies, citizens and civil society organizations. A 45-paged report was distributed online and offline with a formal presentation to announce the 2018 conference.
The 2018 Conference – #NMCG2018: Government, New Media and Civic Spaces
The 2018 conference was held four months before the 2019 elections in Nigeria. The conference provided a vibrant platform to discuss the role of new media as a tool for civic engagement, advocacy, sex education and tracking government projects. There was also a robust discussion on how to optimally utilize new media in the wave of fake news and hate speech. Emphasis was laid on the “Office of the Citizen” as a medium for citizens to demand improved service delivery, public accountability, and good governance.
The keynote address was delivered by Dr Chidi Odinkalu, Senior Managing Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative. The conference had 46 speakers/panelists from 7 countries (Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo and Uganda), 8-panel sessions, 142 physical attendees, and a social media reach of over 3.5 million with live participants in 7 countries.
Recommendations were made to stakeholders (government and its agencies, civil society organizations, and citizens). A 40-page report is available online.
The 2020 Conference – New Media & Voice: People, Action & Hashtags
The 2020 conference was held in a challenging period when the continent battled with concurrent events, including a pandemic, a demand for an end to police brutality in Nigeria and protests in Namibia among others.
This unusual atmosphere rightly set the tone for an enlightening conversation that fits into the conference’s theme – People, Action & Hashtags. The hashtag has become the symbol of dialogue and a tool of advocacy. However, there is still the challenge of whether it ever stimulates action in a continent where apathy to governance abounds daily. Nigeria witnessed the biggest protests since #OccupyNigeria, and this unit of conversation can be narrowed down to #EndSARS. The hashtag has become a rallying tool for the oppressed, a voice to the silenced, and energy to everyone trying to demand a society that works for all.
#NMCG2020 had 16 speakers from 4 African countries with thematic experiences on justice, accountability, social mobilization, media and marketing. The theme of the conference can be summarized in 4 lessons:
- All voices matter
- It’s not just new media: Free speech is under assault
- Self-cleansing power of social media
- Issues are connected.
Major Outcomes of Previous Conferences
- EiE commenced the Constitution 101 project after the 2016 conference. During the conference, it was decided that the Nigerian 1999 Constitution should be transcribed from its legalese terms to layman’s English for easy comprehension. The first edition of Constitution 101 was published and launched at the 2018 conference.
- EiE also leveraged celebrities to drive advocacy after the 2018 conference. EiE supported Nigerian rapper, Jude Abaga (MI) to organize a roundtable discussion with other celebrities with the aim to advocate for good governance and promote civic engagement.
- BudgIT also developed an election monitoring mobile application for the 2019 general elections.
The 2022 Conference – Protecting Digital Rights in Closing Spaces
With about 191 million users of social media in Africa in 2018, the role of new media in promoting accountability and transparency cannot be overemphasized. It opened new doors of opportunities for citizens to engage and contribute towards an inclusive political process.
New media has also brought a new wave in the efficiency of election administration. The expanding use of social media to drive electoral participation can be credited to the availability of smartphones, internet connectivity and data subscription which are all at relatively affordable prices.
In recent times, there have been several attacks on digital rights in Africa. Digital rights are human rights in online spaces. These rights include but are not limited to, the right to privacy, freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of information and communication, gender rights, and the right to freedom from violence.
Citizens’ digital rights are breached if they are the subject of digital surveillance; if they are covertly targeted with disinformation to manipulate their beliefs and behavior; if their mobile or internet connection is restricted; or if they are arrested or attacked for expressing a political opinion online.
Report from a cybersecurity company Surfshark shows that Africa has become the most censorship-intensive continent across the globe, responsible for 10 (nearly 53%) of the cases in 2021. Africa led the social media shutdown numbers during election days (3 out of 4 total cases were in Congo, Uganda, and Zambia). Chad blocked the internet following a raid at the property of Yaya Dillo, a representative of Chad’s government opposition. This event took place on February 28th, around two months before the presidential election. Ethiopia claimed their social media blackout was due to leaked 12-grade exam papers. However, most people believe the internet was blocked when rebel forces claimed to have seized strategic towns. On June 4, 2021, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter in Nigeria and the suspension was lifted on January 13, 2022. Violation of digital rights in Africa has become a prevalent issue and if proactive steps are not taken, it may persist.
The 2023 general election is around the corner in Nigeria and there are also upcoming 2022 presidential elections in Angola, Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Somalia, Guinea, Kenya, Chad and Somaliland. It is therefore imperative to have an intellectual conversation on safeguarding the digital rights of African citizens before, during and after elections.
#NMCG2022 will provide a platform for analysts, policymakers, and citizens to discuss these issues from various perspectives with the purpose of proffering solutions and strategizing pathways to mitigate some of these challenges.