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Young Nigerians, Twitter and Politics

It’s been three years since I submitted my dissertation titled “Visualising the voices of Nigerian youths: Motivations to participate in politics on Twitter”. It was a revolutionary  time to write, because for the first time in history an opposition party won the presidential elections. The electoral body, politicians and citizens used Twitter to discuss major campaigns and issues concerned with the nation at the time. Flash forward to 2019 elections just around the corner and it’s no different, the economy, our conversation, the corruption most importantly how we participate in politics. 

I was intrigued at how social networking sites and young citizens in Nigeria use social media in the political arena. More specifically how micro-blogging sites such as Twitter is being used and what motivates young Nigerians to use it to participate in politics. Over the years this is what I have come to observe; young people in developing countries are more willing to participate in politics than young people in developed country. After all what does a 17 year old American boy worry about? The least of his problems are far from electricity or food, at least the majority of them. Our country is conditioned for politics to be the centre of almost every conversation however the concern is still how many educated people will take the conversation from Twitter to the ballot box. 

The way Nigerians use online platforms for political discussions demonstrates a desire to be part of meaningful conversations. While this is not always the case, at least young audiences are challenging media professionals and political structures through participating in politics online. Some positive influences of using Twitter by young Nigerians is the #ArewaMeToo movement that’s been trending on Twitter. While the hashtag was centred around women from Northern Nigeria who have been sexual abused and not politics, the response shows a promising ripple effect on how participating on Twitter can bring about positive action. Maryam Awaisu, a writer and activist was arrested by SARS in her office in Kaduna for her involvement in seeking justice for victims of sexual assault in Nigeria following the #ArewaMeToo movement but was released shortly after audiences on Twitter demanded her release. When will this call for action in politics be lead through Twitter conversations? 

It is unclear if the Internet harms or benefits the diversity of political opinion, which is considered a practice of deliberative democracy. Nigerians have always shown high levels of commitment to improve democracy. However, religious and cultural tensions and generally flawed elections are still recurrent challenges. The increasing use of social media sites, such as Twitter, for political campaigning and discussions may represent a growing culture that can help facilitate participation leading to a healthier democracy. 

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my participants from my dissertation;

Well there has to be an understanding that as much hype as Twitter has gotten it cannot replace certain things, for example in Africa, internet penetration in places like Eritrea is just 1% in places like Nigeria it’s about 50% but then what happens to the other 50%.”

The biggest criticisms about using Twitter to participate in politics is the a lack of credibility with news content shared, and political arguments. Many Nigerians view political participation on Twitter as an extension of offline political participation or sometimes as a kind of participation, in a country where elections are usually followed by violence, Twitter had provided young Nigerians with opportunities to safely organise protests, voice their opinions on politics and even improve election processes. 

Nigeria is slowly moving to a more democratic political system, however it is important to remember that the population of people online in Nigeria is just a small percentage of the entire country. Notably, the potential of Twitter to facilitate productive discussions helping citizens deliberate on political issues is yet to fully reach its potential.

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