Conversations on digital security, fake news and the integrity of elections in Africa dominated the just concluded New Media, Citizens and Governance (NMCG) conference, held in Abuja on October 24 and 25. The conference, hosted by Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Paradigm Initiative and BudgIT, provided participants and speakers from seven African countries to deliberate on the theme, “Government, New Media, and Civic Spaces.”
According to Adeolu Adekola, EiE’s Program Manager “Part of the recommendations from the NMCG2016 conference was the need to bridge the knowledge gap most Nigerian citizens have of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). This is because fundamentally, rights and responsibilities of citizens are contained in the constitution but unfortunately, most people have never gone through the constitution to understand its content due to its volume and language complexity”
“Constitution 101 was thus conceptualized to improve citizens’ access to essential parts of the constitution. After the first 2 phases, identification of the most essential sections of the constitution which is the third phase is ongoing and a 1st draft (for feedback and reviews) was launched after the Closing Civic spaces & Constitution 101 – What Every Citizen Should Know session at NMCG2018,” Adekola added.
Speaking at a session titled Digital Security-Is Social Media Really Friendly, Akua Gyekye, Facebook’s Public Affairs Manager for Africa, said that the global technology firm was working hard to keep their platform safe and free of hate speech and fake news. She urged users to take their digital security seriously while using any digital tools while assuring the audience that Facebook remained dedicated to safeguarding the data users submit to them.
Ronald Kakembo, a digital security expert, ask users to consider digital security as digital safety. “You need to protect your digital assets, your accounts, your passwords, the same way you secure your home. This is more of a process than tools, and you have to be deliberate about your security.”
When asked about the role of social media influencers and public relations agency in the 2015 general elections, Adebola Williams, the co-founder of Red Media, said it was the duty of every voter to do their research and vote for the candidates of their choice. Williams added that it was important that voters hold their elected officials accountable instead of focusing on fellow citizens who campaigned for the officials.
Kwami Ahiabenu, the executive director of Penplusbytes, hailed the role social media has played in the elections in Africa, saying the medium enabled citizens to ensure the integrity of the 2016 elections in Ghana. Ahiabenu added that it was important that citizens resist any attempt to ban social media during elections as Ghanaians did when the government broached the idea of banning social media during the 2016 elections in the country.
Commenting on the importance of social media, Farida Nobourema, a Togolese activist, lauded the medium as an important tool of mobilisation, education and a platform for resistance against government overreach. Nobourema, said, “in Togo, where all institutions have been politicised, including the Supreme Court, social media remains an effective platform for citizens to fight back”
While speaking at the conference, Dr Garba Abari, the director general of the National Orientation Agency, commented on the vote-buying practice currently sweeping Nigeria, condemning it as “a big threat to our society and the quality of governance we get.” He called on citizens to be actively engaged in the governance process.
Speakers at the conference include Hamzat Lawal, Olumide Babalola, Chioma Agwuegbo, Laila Johnson-Salami, Chris Ihidero and Megan Chapman. Others are Chizobam Ofoegbu, Oluwatoyin Bayegun (Woli Arole), Sani Michael (MC Lively) and Gabriel Okeowo.
Supported by Facebook, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate & Palladium (through its ECP-PERL program), the NMCG is a biennial event that was last held in 2016. The next edition of the conference will hold October 20 and 21, 2020.