By Atiku Abubakar (AA)
Social media may yet change governance in Africa
I have recently had to answer many questions from friends and contemporaries, seeking to understand why I decided to join social media and expose myself to potential fire from young Nigerians. This is mostly because people who have known me for a long time know me to be a rather quiet person.
But the reality is that over the last months, I have learned that the positives of social media participation far outweigh the negatives.
Social media is where young people, the bulk of Nigeria’s population, gather to share their thoughts, often venting their frustrations with the inefficiencies of the country.
I may not always like what is written about me; indeed some commenters could be very insulting. Our society has always been one where older people expect a lot of respect from younger people, so the relative equality of voice that social media provides may shock newcomers to the platforms.
Overall, social media has allowed me to listen a diverse array of Nigerian voices without filters.
I am going to guess that colleagues in public service may see social media as a threat, and indeed seek to censor social media networks. But I think such an attempt would be a mistake.
Instead of censoring social media, governments need to see them as an opportunity to listen directly to their constituency. The conversations on social media represent a gold mine of data and reference for performance. The reality is that leaders can test opinions using social media, and more importantly, can generate and collate ideas and solutions from their constituency by putting their thoughts out in social media.
Not all ideas on social media are good, and leaders sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions which are unpopular. Indeed that is the point of being a leader, being able to filter through multitudes of voices to make the right decision. However, it is good to see social media as a resource. A 24-hour focus group, which can yield fine ideas for every political leader.
Leadership can only improve where there is an active participation of the led. The active participation of young people on social media, and the continuous interest in how the nation is governed can only lead to improvements in government. I am personally more conscious of my public actions of late, because my presence on social media means I have to give an account of my actions – a responsibility which is self regulated simply because I am aware of the access that the platforms have how provided.
I am now spending most of my free time reading, writing and engaging on social media, and learning. The responses surely is providing feedback which is helping me to make decisions, including my recent scholarship competition.
In the last few months, what I have learned is that this social media rise is happening across Africa. That can only be a good thing. It is very possible that this generation will change the future of Africa because of the availability of more information.
However, young people also must learn to be patient and strategic in the use of their social media. Driving change will need a continuous push and pull on the leadership. If the pressure is not consistent, the leaders young people are seeking to influence will become dense and disregard social media voices as noise, without action. To drive change through social media, the key qualities young people will also need to learn are consistency and doggedness, because politically, that is the only way to survive.
Social media is a powerful organizing tool in perfecting and protecting our democracy moving forward. Together we can ensure dignity for all Nigerians by combatting corruption, creating economic opportunity for our youth and securing our communities. I look forward to continuing my engagement and listening to Nigerians (yes, even the critics!) as we strive for a brighter future.
Atiku Abubakar is the former Vice-President of Nigeria 1999 to 2007 and writes from Abuja.