I have always thought it would be exciting and prestigious to be an international election observer with one of the international organisations. At least it would be an opportunity to travel for free, get to know a country and most importantly be witnesses to a very important decision people have to make-choosing their leaders. That dream has not materialized yet unfortunately. However, I have come to realize that I don’t have to travel outside my bedroom nor be approved by any international organisation or local government in order to get a good insight thanks to modern technology and social networks such as Twitter.
The recent and still ongoing elections in Nigeria have hugely benefited from this. A huge Twitter community has mobilized itself to give the latest commentary, updates and instantaneous results of the elections. As a distant election observer in front of my laptop, I was able to gauge the mood of this online community passionate about the whole democratic process and ardent to broadcast to the whole world by posting very useful links, pictures and quotes. The presence of hash tags in Twitter makes it easier to follow and connect. The comments range from support for individual candidates and parties to attack on various personalities including family members.
There were however a few things that really surprised me. One was that this online community do not fully represent the electorate. Take the presidential debates for example. The online community was outraged by the refusal of President Jonathan to participate and were beginning to write a death sentence to his presidency. However, when I raised the issue with a friend on the ground, he was not even aware that there was such a debate. Could the explanation be that the online community have set a higher standard of democracy than the others? Could it be that this online community are likely to be close observers of elections in the US and UK through the mass media and therefore expected the same?
The second surprise was that most of the updates were from South Western Nigerian. I remember somebody pleading through a tweet for an update from other parts of the country. Interestingly, the published result of the House and Senate elections reflected these tweets as the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) swept most of the western states while the other parts remained more or less the same. Could it be that this hyper activism in the South West was also present on the ground?
It was particularly exciting to see that after learning the lessons from the tweets of the House elections, the tactics of the participants changed. The tweets during the presidential elections became more analytical leaving rooms for different possible outcomes. For example, many commentators agreed that people were likely to vote for personalities rather that for parties. That obviously brought huge success for the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Unfortunately, when the results of the presidential election started coming in, things turned sour with some tweets openly calling for violence. There is so much to be said about this election as you must have read elsewhere in the press. However, I am very happy that there has been an undeniably conclusive result in an election which both international and local observers have described as free and fair!
I have to conclude that it is equally exciting to be an electronic election observer, but as someone tweeted during the elections:
DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ON TWITTER!