Nigeria’s election in April promises to be full of surprises – and I am worried for the people in Nigeria and the region that it may not go well and descend the country into chaos. A Nigerian friend who should know has already said the country has only a 50/50 chance of getting through this unscathed. I don’t think he’s exaggerating, considering the rather shocking reports coming out of the country, such as this recent Amnesty International Urgent Action alert about another old friend, Anyakwee Nsirimovu. The organization Anyakwee started in Port Harcourt, Institute for Humanitarian and International Law, is one of the first 10 members of Kabissa. Here’s a quote from the AI alert:
Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) in Rivers State, in the Niger delta, was attacked on 4 March, a week after an apparent threat to kill his family if he did not stop his human rights activities. Amnesty International believes that his life may be in danger.
There will no doubt be more reports of incidents like this as we get closer to the elections, which is discouraging to contemplate. However, I am heartened by the strong solidarity shown by members of the African Democracy Forum in response to a posting on their e-network of the AI alert about Anyakwee. People around Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world unequivocally stated their support and readiness.
One way to perhaps help to prevent widescale abuses might be to make this solidarity more readily visible on the Internet through a Nigerian Civil Society Election Blog. I did an Internet search and while there are some bloggers (like this and this and this) discussing the election and Global Voices and Pambazuka News have been covering the elections, I did not see any clear effort to use blogging specifically to prevent violence during the election.
Perhaps I am being naive and there are good reasons for this – I’d love to hear them. But I’m very enthusiastic about the blogosphere and am always wondering how it might be applied to the important work of civil society organizations in Africa. I have jotted down some ideas below that perhaps others might pick up on or that might spur a collaboration. And if not in Nigeria, maybe it will be useful for someone trying to do the same in another “emerging democracy”. Read on, and let me know what you think.
Even if such a coordinated effort does not take off, I’d like to encourage everyone that knows anything at all about what is going on in Nigeria these days to blog actively about it and to tag blog postings at Technorati, Del.icio.us and other social networking sites. The election must be carried out as much as possible in public view, and Nigeria must know the world is watching. If you are concerned for your own safety, you can always blog under a pseudonym at WordPress.com or one of the many other free blogging sites out there.
As I see it, the goal for this Nigerian Civil Society Election Blog would not be to attempt to create a replacement for existing media sources or even to create a particularly reliable source of news about the election. Instead, the goal would be simply to provide a space in the blogosphere where Nigerian citizens and others involved in the Nigerian election process can post their stories (anonymously or with their real name). The sharing of insights and experiences on the ground would shed light on abuses and thereby hopefully prevent them in the future. When credible sources like leading Nigerian civil society organizations or international organizations such as the World Organization Against Torture, Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch publish reports on their websites, they could be linked to through the blog. With all of these things coming together, the blog might then become an important gathering place, and might well make a real impact on the outcome of the election.
Ideally this blog would be set up and maintained by Nigerian civil society organizations, with the help of bloggers. Here are some thoughts on how it might be set up:
- Create a dedicated blog, perhaps using the same open source WordPress blog tool used to create saidia.org
- Give the blog a compelling name – something like NigeriaFreeElections.org – and register and use the domain name for the blog
- Create instructions on the blog for using the same compelling name to tag relevant Nigeria election news and content where you find it using social networking and bridge blog sites like Global Voices, Muti, Flickr, YouTube, Del.icio.us, Technorati, etc
- Create feeds on the blog from the above sites to display tagged headlines, photos, videos etc relevant to the Nigerian elections
- Create a badge like this for likeminded bloggers and organizations to place on their websites to spread the word and create solidarity around the issue of free and fair elections in Nigeria
- Configure the blog to accept not just direct web submissions but also submissions via email (including photos) and SMS
- Tag postings with meaningful names of Nigerian States, Cities as well as topics (e.g. Rivers State, Port Harcourt and police). If the blog is then successful, a tag cloud on the site might become a powerful way to visualize what is happening
Once the site is set up, advertise it widely on African e-mail groups, newsletters and blogs to encourage Nigerians, and in particular Nigerian civil society groups, to participate. For civil society groups engaged in voter education, election monitoring, etc, they could incorporate the blog into their efforts and prepare by training up staff and volunteers on how to contribute to the blog before election activities even begin
Here are some ways people might participate, anonymously or as registered users:
- Post to the blog
- Comment on posts
- Add links to other trusted sources on the web as the election nears and takes place
- Help others find their way to the blog and guide them through the blogging interfaces
- Help spread the word about the blog through their networks
- Post photos to flickr and videos to youtube, using the blog name as a tag so that they can then be linked to via the blog
And as a final word: other social networking tools and sites might be activated in support of this cause. For example, Twitter is a new service that enables the public and private sharing of short messages via web, SMS and instant messenger (google, yahoo etc). It is possible to sign up and find friends to “follow” via SMS (you get their SMS messages sent to Twitter) and also set up a badge on your website to show most recent twitter messages. It is being used by videobloggers and enthusiasts now to follow each other for fun, but as I’ve wondered already and Andy Carvin discusses cogently in his blog, perhaps Twitter can be used to save lives. If so, and if it is technically feasible to use it from Nigeria, it might also be used to cost effectively show signs of life or blow by blow accounts of election activities in April.