The Role of Technology in Nigeria’s 2019 Elections

According to Quartz, it is estimated that about 500,000 Nigerian students graduate from tertiary institutions every year.

The Nigerian National Youth Policy (2009) defines youths as those between the ages of 18–35 years, (contrary to the global trend of 15–35 years). Unofficially for Nigeria, we can also extend that range to 45 to accommodate our uncles and aunties who claim to be youthful–Come one, come all 🙂

So, 18–45.

Now, let’s assume that the average person gains some measure of political awareness at age 20.

Accounting for all the graduate youths between age 20–45, we have a 25-year aggregate population of graduate youths i.e. basically we have a voting population of graduate youths in the range of 500,000 graduates per year x 25. Which gives us 12.5 million Nigerians.

Hold this number for a second.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported that less than 30 million people voted across Nigeria during the 2015 elections. I can’t tell the exact percentage of that number that consists of graduate youths but if you visited a polling booth during that period, your guess is a good as mine.

But… but… but…

If you are a graduate above 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume that you have a strong influence over at least two uneducated youths around you— your mechanic, gateman, domestic help, vulcanizer, someone.

Let’s estimate that at least 5 million graduate youths have to influence over 2 uneducated youths around them — that’s 10 million people who can be directly influenced by the educated. If you add this 10 million person to the 12.5 million people I calculated earlier, you will find that you have a combined force of 22.5 million people who can and should vote!

PLEASE, don’t let anyone SELL you the narrative that only the poor, uneducated people e.g. touts, area boys and so on can swing the vote in this country. Or that the people who vote are not online or on social media. It is a BIG LIE to keep you indoors on voting day. I fell for it myself once. So no judgement here.

My point is, we have the power to elect the next president of this country. This very rough calculation I just did paints a picture of how possible it is for us to swing the vote however we want.

Go and get your PVC. They have insulted us enough.

So, where am I going with this, you may ask. My thoughts revolve around the role of technology in Nigeria’s 2019 elections and how we can all chip in.

Technology and Politics in Nigeria, come 2019

I speak for most people when I say we all want better elections for Nigeria in 2019. Fortunately, the technology that can help make this happen is already available.

First and foremost, no political campaign can be successful without huge numbers. We have to figure out a way to build and communicate with a large base of people, garnering support and coordinating movements and rallies.

So we have communication — WhatsApp, Facebook and perhaps Twitter are the most effective means of achieving this. The diffusion of social media across Africa has blessed us with an opportunity to reach millions of people with minimal capital investment. Most of the time, all you need to do is include a disclaimer saying, share this with your contacts if you really care about so so and so to get the message to go viral. This time, it would be for a good cause.

African political leaders are realizing just how much potential social media has in the right hands hence the recent shutdown of social media (and sometimes, entire internet access) in different African countries, especially during elections. However, that won’t stop us from doing what we need to do.

Having identified a demography — educated youths — the next step is to get our story straight and decide on messaging. This requires an evidence base on which to build our communication. Having excellent rhetoric is good but backing them up with facts is even better. Thankfully, we have startups like Budgit providing hard data and stats on government projects, progress and budgets.

As for funding, we have the power of the collective. Crowdfunding offers a technological hack to a barrier every political campaign faces — raising money. Crowdfunding platforms became a thing over the past decade but no time has the usefulness become more important than recently.

Credible political aspirants don’t have to grovel at the altar of the cabal lords or sell out their soul in order to secure adequate funding. With crowdfunding, instead of raising a huge chunk of the campaign funds from a few wealthy people, the general public participates at scale.

When I read that Nigerians in diaspora sent home close to $22 billion last year, that’s when I realised, “Yeah, there’s no way we are doing this alone.” With crowdfunding, Nigerians in the diaspora can get in on the action and put their money where their heart is. By pooling together financial resources, we can raise enough money to rally a significant part of the population.

If we can get 90 percent of all youth graduates between the ages of 20 and 45 to come out and vote on election day, it would be a big win, regardless of the outcome. If we can, through sheer ingenuity and a stroke of good fortune, swing the vote and elect someone we want, even better!

It would send a clear message — that power truly does belong to the people and tech helped make that happen. It would also drive home the point to the ruling class that we educated people will not be intimidated or silenced.

For accountability, it would have been nice if we could have a totally digital election process. A blockchain powered election would be awesome seeing as the Sierra Leonean government has come out to declare that rumours of their blockchain election were greatly exaggerated. However, with our underdeveloped and incomplete national identity database, it won’t be feasible. Maybe during our next elections in 2023.

Lastly, I can’t end this without touching on the hot topic of fake news. This is 2018 and fake news is a big deal. We’ve seen its impact on the politics of one of the world’s superpowers. With the recent episode of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, it is now public knowledge that several parties use (and have been using) our data to manipulate us even here in Nigeria. At least, 271,000 people were compromised. What they were using this information for is still anyone’s guess but it just goes to show that everyone is aware of the role technology can play in swaying people and winning votes. We need to have our guard up.

Originally published on Edmund Olotu’s Medium.

Edmund Olotu

Edmund Olotu is a serial entrepreneur with companies including Novira Therapeutics, sold to Johnson & Johnson for $600M and TechAdvance: a utility payment company processing more than ₦21 billion annually.


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