LIVE UPDATES: #NMCG2018: Communications experts, influencers hold new media conference in Abuja

Chidi Odinkalu delivering a keynote at the event.
Chidi Odinkalu delivering a keynote at the event.

The 2018 edition of New Media, Citizens & Governance Conference opens today in Abuja. Speakers from across Africa and beyond would be speaking during the two-day event, which closes tomorrow evening.

The conference has dissected issues around new media since 2012 when citizens’ advocacy think-tank, Enough Is Enough, and Shehu Yar’Adua Foundation partnered to host the first edition. The second held in 2016, with Oby Ezekwesili as one of the top speakers.

Chidi Odinkalu, a rights advocate who once led Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission in Abuja, would deliver the keynote once the event opens at the Nigerian Air Force Conference Centre by 9:00.

A series of strategic engagements and panel discussions would follow until 3:30 p.m. when organisers planned to wrap up the first day. Those expected to participate in different sessions include Farida Noubremma, outspoken Togolese political activist; Chris Ihidero, writer and filmmaker; Samson Itodo, the convener of #NotTooYoungToRun; Demola Olarewaju, a political strategist; and Idayat Hassan of Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa.

Enough Is Enough, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria and BudgIT Nigeria — the major partners for the conference — plan to use this year’s edition to highlight the broadening function of new media platforms, especially social media, in facilitating discourse between government and the governed, with particular reference to Africa.

Follow this page for PREMIUM TIMES’ live updates from the event.

Mr Odinkalu said the new media has made it easy to access the innermost corners of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Places like the Presidential Villa where people are being barred from taking pictures already exist in Google Maps.

But what people must be careful about is wielding influence on social media without responsibility. Social media is not a place where people take permission to do things. Vitriolic messages that are totally unjust and inexcusable are being pushed on social media.

Mr Odinkalu said “there is an assumption that social media is an instrument of transparency. It could be. But it could also be an instrument for obfuscation.”

He adds that there are some individuals who have 100 accounts each. That is not messaging, that is obfuscation.

The United States State Department’s 2017 report on Nigeria showed how bloggers are facing difficulties. The state is now taking adverse measures against bloggers.

Those who are being hounded should be defended because if you do not defend those with whom you disagree, then some day it could be your turn.

The 2019 elections are coming, under which context this event is holding, and things that happen before elections usually predict what would happen after elections.

We should watch out for violence against women and children in the upcoming elections.

The biggest single category of complaints we got while I was the chairman of National Human Rights Commission was violent against women. We are in a society that tolerates and incentivise violence against women and children.

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The analogue space is not happy that there is a new digital space that is picking on those who are carrying out violence against women and children.

Violence does have consequences for live opportunities.

A woman spent 12 years in the university because the husband of the vice-chancellor decided he was going to sleep with her or she would not graduate.

It is our responsibility to ensure that the new media space does not allow violence against women to fester.

Going into the elections, thousands of people would have to be elected into different positions.

Our electoral arithmetic does not make sense when you compare it with out demographics. Our population is booming but the rate of voters is dancing makosa.

My father who died in 2015 is still on the electoral roll. One of the biggest issues we have in our elections is that the numbers do not make sense. How do we get dead people off the role so that our elections could make sense?

People who want things to work are interested in the numbers that make sense. Politicians in quest of power look for things that do not make so that they can remain in power. We need to use social media to introduce sense into our elections. BudgIT has done that with out finances.

This year, the APC has given itself 14 million primary voters. It is nonsensical because it demeans our president, our political system and we should not tolerate that.

Some people are afraid to say this because a bunch of paid people are going to attack us if we call them out.

Responsibility has a place in democratic politics. Good manners have a place in democratic politics.

What has happened with social media is that many of us are running around naked with each other. Some people are okay running naked, but those who were properly brought up should not get involved. Dignity does matter even in the digital age.

When debate is diluted with undignified comments, it loses its capacity to mediate between competing interest groups. It is not that a democracy cannot thrive, it is that a participating democracy cannot sustain itself upwards.

How do we on social media help in toning down electoral violence? Also how do we ensure proper collation?

The problem with Nigeria’s elections is in the collation. Our collation is deliberately designed to be opaque and easily manipulated.

Elections have always been won in two places: The creeks of the Niger-Delta and the Nigeria’s Sahelian plate.

You can police Anambra State, but you cannot police Borno State because of its sheer size. A local government area in Borno State is bigger than Anambra State.

Imo State is not even up to one local government area in Niger State.

Our people get leaders that we do not deserve. Every day, I see reasons that make Nigeria worth fighting for. There is no part of Nigeria that has monopoly of goodness. There is no part of Nigeria that has monopoly of stupidity.

We should make social media a safe place to properly put our narrative for a better cohesion. That for me, and that for us, should be the challenge.

That is where the demographic that was born into the digital generation has got to lead us into.

Mr Odinkalu has now concluded his keynote to a thundering applause from the audience.

A participant asks Mr Odinkalu: Considering the challenges of finances and human resources, how do you think we could address the concerns you raised about collation?

In his response, Mr Odinkalu said there are 119,973 polling units under 9,000 wards in 774 local government areas across the 36 states of the country with only one presidential election.

But it is only at the polling unit that counting takes place. What happens afterwards is addition and subtraction. The party agents are asked to sign at polling units and ward collation centres to confirm manual addition of figures. Then the electoral officials take it from there to the national level.

In the creeks for instance, the journey from a polling unit to to collation centre might require using a boat. Some people could write a different result to the electoral officers or they would not be allowed to cross water.

It is the same thing in the Sahelian parts of the country. Ballot stuffing is outdated because nobody needs it anymore. Every part of the country has coverage for data transmission, we could transmit data to a secure channels and eliminate all the opportunities to manipulate results.

They would say the Electoral Act does not allow for electronic voting. But this is not voting. This is about transmission of result, it is like a vehicle. It is not a configuration of the election.

The first panel discussion, themed: Are Elections Won on the Timeline?, opens with Chioma Agwuegbo as the moderator.

Discussants: Habiba Balogun, KOWA; Sesugh Akume, ANRP; and Demola Olarewaju, a political strategist.

Asked to weigh in on the 2019 elections in his opening remarks, Mr Olarewaju said the 2015 election was a reflection of national mood. Ahead of 2019, people are afraid afraid because they have seen what happened in Ekiti and Osun where it seemed like the will of the people did not prevail.

Asked whether elections are won on the timeline, Ms Balogun said she was more concerned about the Independent National Electoral Commission. She said INEC has a key role to play in understanding that when people mount pressure on electoral officials to do the right thing, such should not be seen as negative.

Mr Akume said he recently tried to get the physical copy of election results from INEC, but the physical copy was different from soft copy.

He also accused electoral officials of not responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

He said social media is a tool to communicate, not necessarily to vote. But the social media could make impact in convincing people.

Mr Olarewaju in his contribution said 2011 election was an improvement and 2015 poll was an improvement over 2015. But this was achieved because Attahiru Jega, who was a career academic and unionist wanted to build further on his credibility.

Mr Olarewaju said politicians would be desperate, they would try to buy votes and cause violence. And that was the reason why INEC was placed in charge of conducting elections rather than politicians.

He added that Mr Jega was put on the spot repeatedly prior to the elections, unlike the current chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who hardly talks in public, could not be accessible and could not be easily questioned and held accountable like his predecessor.

Mr Olarewaju acknowleges that the PDP also uses bots to propagate its messages, but said the All Progressives Congress has far more.

“I have blocked thousands of bots,” he said.

Ms Balogun said citizens should regulate the use of bots before government catches up. “But in Kowa Party, we are not bothered about” the use of bots for now.

Mr Akume said following the role of social media in the 2012 OccupyNigeria protest signifcantly reduced the political influence of the PDP which was the ruling party at the time.

The big political parties are more organised and able to ram information down the throats of citizens.

Ms Agwuegbo introduces a new theme that should be addressed: fake news, propaganda and the truth in the context of 2019 elections.

Mr Akume said some politicians only care about their interest. They have no values. But citizens should be concerned about their values around truth and honesty by fact-checking whatever information they get rather than being incurious for the most part.

Ms Balogun said the APC and PDP have weaponised the social media. The responsibility should be on the big parties, not everyday Nigerians.

The citizens are not equipped to engage in the warfare the APC and PDP have unleashed. Some citizens are already flagging postings that are fake news, but we need regulators to regulate institutions, whether formal or informal, who engage in such practices.

We need regulators to ensure that when bad postings are flagged, people should be held responsible.

Mr Olarewaju agrees that the two major political parties are responsible. He said Kowa, which has BlackBerry as its logo, should be ready to counter fake news online.

He said only yesterday, some APC bots allegedly tweeted that Atiku Abubakar was hospitalised abroad. Some real persons now retweeted this to circulate it fast, which prompted Mr Abubakar to put out a video showing he remained hale and hearty.

In PDP, we are not used to propaganda. I apologised when I put up fake news recently, because it destroys your credibility, Mr Olarewaju said.

Mr Olarewaju also said some PDP voices on social media like himself regularly takle the party whenever it goes wrong. For instance, our party handle tweeted the order day that ‘Atiku would jail looters’, we had to go after the party that this is wrong, you cannot say a president would jail someone. Security agencies under him could only make arrests and prosecute, but it is left for the courts in a democratic setting to convict and jail.

Ms Balogun insists electronic voting is not as difficult as INEC currently makes it seem. She said KOWA pioneered multi-channel electronic voting durint its last primaries, people voted from their localities via text messages and Internet and duplicated numbers or IP addresses are automatically detected and winnowed out.

During question and answer session, a participant asked Mr Olarewaju how serious an issue vote-buying has become.

Mr Olarewaju said politicians are now reducing budgets for campaign posters and consultants while increasing budgets for vote buying. A politician with N5 million naira would prefer to spend it buying a huge number of votes.

Ms Balogun said people should develop themselves and ignore attempts to be induced by politicians to sell their votes.

Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough Is Enough Nigeria, said political parties could start building structures by running for office early and taking lower seats before building their way up.

The 2019 elections may not be won on the timeline, but in 2013 the dynamics would be different.

The mid-day break for lunch commences…

After lunch break, the panel, themed: Who Is Afraid of New Media? Fake News and Hate Speech, is now on with Gbenga Sesan as the moderator.

Panelists include Armsfree Ajanaku of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Theophilus Abah, the editor of Daily Trust and Ronald Kekembo, a digital training expert from Uganda.

Mr Kekembo said individuals have a responsibility to be curious. That they should look at things critically before beliving them rather than taking anything on social media.

Those that are against the freedom of speech in Uganda are usually bigger than those who are against it. Those in power are usually afraid, but a new code of conduct law is now improving the situation.

Mr Abah said journalists have been dealing with fake news for decades. We have always had people in the beer parlour, but they could not get any message out because whatever they say must be processed in the newsroom before being published.

But today, people in beer parlour could conjure information in their imagination and post it on the social media. They are even able to manipulate pictures, that is the problem with social media.

That is why verification has now become a whole new industry. Information being put out in other countries would be verified and debunked. In the United States, Fox News is pro-Trump; while CNN tends to be more against Trump.

But in Nigeria, people are being arrested and charged for cyberstalking whenever they post things, which is the wrong approach.

A lot of things are flying on social media daily, but government should heighten efforts to counter those things that are not true rather than arresting people anyhow.

Mr Sesan said Cybercrime Act has never been used to prosecute anyone for cybercrime, but has been used to clampdown on people. They call it cyberstalking and they go against people.

There is a need for the civil society to be more proactive than being reactive around the way security agencies are clamping down on people.

Mr Ajanaku said the disinformation campaign is now in full force across the world. For civil society, what we face is about voices: you cannot stifle voices in the public space.

Our role as a civil society is to find a balance in the public space. People must be discouraged from concocting things in order not to set the country on fire.

Mr Kekembo said the biggest perpetrators of fake news often ply their trade behind anonymity. But despite the crackdown on people, those who are genuinely seeking information are beginning to devise new ways of protecting themselves from fake news.

Mr Abah said newsrooms are now trying to catch up with the high-speed information age. Newsrooms now look for accounts that are verified on social media and also do reverse image search to be sure an information is correct before publication.

When an information if flying, we try to verify before we publish. If it is not true after our verification, we also put it out to let people know it is not true.

Mr Abah said convention media platforms tend to do better at verifying information than social media and people should read them instead.

And that ends the panel.

The next panel on ‘Checks and Balances: Holding our Elected Representatives Accountable’ commences. It is the last panel for the day.

Hamzat Lawal of Connected Development is the moderator. Uadamen Ilevbaoje of BudgIT, Safiyanu Lawal of Kano Budget Working Group, Isa Mustapha of Project Monitoring Partnership and Oladayo Olaide of MacArthur Foundation are the discussants.

Mr Ilevbaoje said the level of work completed on projects across the country does not measure up to funds that have already been released.

Mr Mustapha said his organisation has been able to catch contractors who were paid for standard materials but used substandard materials in execution of projects. In order cases, contractors would be given a specific measure of road to construct but would abandon after near completion.

But in the 2018 budget, changes have been noticed in the manner contractors handle projects and his organisation hopes things get better gradually.

Mr Olaide said following intervention of MacArthur, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the Federal Ministry of Power now partner to ensure that energy distribution companies now measure electricity consumed in districts across the country.

He said they have also tried to improve the capacity of media organisations to expose corruption. He said citizens are often bombarded with too many scandals, making it difficult for them to follow up on everything.

Mr Olaide said MacArthur Foundation has also empowered civic groups to follow up on reports that media houses have already published and demand action on them.

Mr Mustapha said his organisation regularly shares information with people on social media to take action. And the responses have had good impact on the work his organisation does.

Mr Olaide said for people to be able to fight corruption, there must be evidence of corruption, which is why media houses are being supported by MacArthur Foundation to adequately uncover fraud in public service and then the citizens can engage to check further manifestations.

Mr Olaide said there is an ongoing transition of how information is disseminated and the people must flow along with the age. He also said anti-corruption must be a critical aspect of any government’s policy.

On that note, the panel discussions for today close. Thank you for being a part of today’s live updates. NMCG2018 continues tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

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