Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nigerians Mobilize for Free and Fair Elections


Posted by Ken Banks of National Geographic Emerging Explorer April 12, 2011
ReclaimNaija advertIn today’s installment of the special series Mobile Message, Florence Scialom shares news of how Nigerian grassroots organizations and agencies have joined together to encourage citizens from communities all over the country to use mobile technology to amplify the voice of Nigerian citizens, making their opinions impossible to ignore.
Mobile Message is a series of blog posts about how mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives.
By Florence Scialom, Community Support Coordinator, FrontlineSMS
A group of Nigerian grassroots organizations and agencies have joined together to formReclaimNaija, in an effort to provide the Nigerian electorate a way to report on the elections as they happen. ReclaimNaija documents how citizens are experiencing the elections by using FrontlineSMS to receive and send text message reports, andUshahidi to visually map the election reports received. It is very exciting to see FrontlineSMS being used in this way, especially because one of the first public use cases of the software was during the last Nigerian elections in 2007. As Community Support Coordinator at FrontlineSMS I have had the privilege of speaking to Ngozi Iwere from Community Life Project, one of the promoters of ReclaimNaija, as well as others who have been involved in helping with and using the platform. I have learned about how Community Life Project are encouraging citizens from grassroots communities all over the country to use mobile technology to amplify the voice of Nigerian citizens, making their opinions impossible to ignore.
Amidst the confusion of date changes surrounding the Nigerian elections one thing remains clear; the people of Nigeria are ready to vote. The 2011 Nigerian elections got off to an uncertain start; with the National Assembly elections due on April 2nd 2011 having to be pushed back as a result of many problems, leading to the rescheduling of the whole two week election process. Amongst the commotion of date changes it is more important than ever for the Nigerian public to feel they have a way to speak out about any election problems they experience, and know they are being heard.
Over the years, elections in Nigeria have been surrounded by controversy. “Since the return to civil rule in 1999, all the elections conducted in Nigeria have been marred by massive fraud and violence,” says Ngozi Iwere.
It is clear speaking with Nigerian citizens about ReclaimNaija that people are keen to actively challenge the problems previously accompanying their elections. “On election days, citizens have been frustrated by a number of things; missing names, seeing ballot boxes stuffed or even stolen and other electoral fraud and yet being unable to do anything about this. This time however, is the time to speak out” says Femi Taiwo, a member of INITS Limited, a Nigerian company that helped set up the technical side of ReclaimNaija’s monitoring system.