As the 2019 general elections draw closer, EMAMEH GABRIEL writes on the activities and political campaigns of Nigeria politicians on social media

In the build up to the 2015 presidential election, perhaps not really familiar with the clout of the social media, erstwhile president, Goodluck Jonathan, had told Nigerians that ‘’elections are not won on social media’’. His comment was greeted with outright criticisms by Nigerians who had a broader knowledge of the potentials of the heated social media debates between critics of the then government of the day and its supporters.

This was coming few weeks after Jonathan had lost a social media polls conducted by his former new media aide, Reno Omokri, perhaps to test the waters for his principal in his second term ambition.

It was clear that the former President was not conscious of the fact that those engaged on political debates on social media are not only voters but also opinion makers and shapers with large followers, such that they could influence the psych of the electorate by a stroke on the keyboard.

While it was reported by Aljazeera that social media played a significant role in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, election analysts said President Goodluck Jonathan’s comment about social media was one of his biggest solecisms as a president.

However, conscious of this today even when most have refused to embrace it, the narrative is gradually changing among those who were initially thought won’t be able to adapt to the social media age as they gradually sync in line with the reality before them, such that it is now helping them reach out to their audience and supporters while increasing their support base.

Ahead of 2019, the election fever is here again and campaigns are on top gear. The focus is again shifted to social media, with politicians flocking to Facebook and twitter to market themselves to the electorate with different strategies. While some have adopted the critics’ model to win sympathy without clear cut vision and political ideology, others are banking on developments they have attracted to the people to be returned to power.

The social media has created a shift and future for political marketing such that has left political strategists thinking that social media is the latest powerful electioneering tool.

This is becoming so because times and things are changing from where posters, doorstep visit and campaign grounds used to be the major platforms that decided elections. With the social media, messages and action go viral at the speed of light, thus the rites of rally, procedures of campaigns have been transferred to social networking.              

The Nigerian political class, particularly those who have in the past taken the back seat in networking and marketing their political idea perhaps due to their social or religion background, have joined the bandwagon social media fans and now tapping from potential facebook and twitter offer.

No one had thought that President Buhari who before the 2015 general elections, defeated his arch opponent, erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan on a social media polls would, as seen today, be regular facebook user.

Nigerians had made jest of the President Buhari the first time he was spotted with a tablet, same period he first appeared on facebook. In fact, it was the talk of the town all through that week. Some had even jokingly said the President turned the tablet upside down while trying to navigate the internet. However today, he is a lover of the concept as he often relates to his supporters through his facebook account through which he updates his followers on the developments in his government.

Former vice president Atiku Abubakar who has been a regular social media user has risen to the bar in the electioneering when he took a direct swipe on President Muhammadu Buhari on facebook after the report on the President’s 800 metres walk from the prayer ground in his home town, Daura, to his house during the Sallah.

‘’I regularly jog more than a mile and exercise, but it will be pedestrian of me to ask Nigerians to vote me because of that …..’’ twitted the former vice president who posted a picture of himself exercising in a gym on facebook after the incident. He was however severely criticised by Nigerians for becoming unnecessarily obsessed against the president.

Still in the spirit of campaign, Atiku recently posted again after the president offered to pay the medical bill of a blind youth corps member.

‘’I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for paying the medical bill of a blind corps member five months to the 2019 election, but I remind him that if he had invested the public funds he spends on his London medicals on public healthcare, he won’t need to do this.”

In reaction, Nigerians didn’t spared him a breath and they descended on him, describing him as an hypocrite who must learn how to use the social media to campaign if he wanted to win public sympathy.

The former VP has in the last one week been in exchange of words with vice president Yemi Osinbajo over restructuring. In one of his last tweets, Atiku was quoted saying: “The President & his VP have asymmetrical views on restructuring. Thus, explains the lack of forthrightness on the matter by this government. This is a failed promise that I intend on redeeming”, Atiku had replied Osinbajo after the vice president’s response to his position on restructuring.

Bukola Saraki, has despite criticisms from the public to run an open Senate, made legislative activities much more interesting though his regular updates on the activities of the Senate.

The Senate President has five hundred and six thousand followers on facebook and over a million on twitter.

Since the 2019 general election took the centre stage and with his recent declaration to run for the county’s number one job, his appearance on facebook has been increasingly regular.

Saraki, from all indications, started his campaign on facebook from the inauguration of the 8th NASS. His regular update about his activities both in the red chamber, his constituency activities and humanitarian activities, speak volumes.

“I have decided to answer the call of teeming youth who have asked me to run for President. Accordingly, I hereby announce my intention to run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. #GrowNigeria”, Saraki had posted recently after declaring his intention to run for president in 2019 at an event organised by the Not Too Young To Run group.

The sympathy he gets from his social media fans, is enough to earn him the presidential ticket of the PDP if the party opts for an open primary

Governor Ibrahim Dankwanbo of Gombe State is one of PDP’s leading presidential aspirants who have suddenly become a constant social media commentator. Within the month of August alone, Dankwambo had made over 50 posts on facebook, making it the minimum of one post a day; most of which are all about his campaign tour across the country.

He had joined Atiku on facebook to make skit of President Buhari’s 800 metre walk. He posted: ‘’Reducing governance to mere ‘Walk’ is tragic! 2019 we must raise the bar.

Like Atiku, the Gombe State governor got a fair share of bitter criticisms from his followers on facebook who were particular about his inability to raise his electioneering strategies to a higher level.

Dankwanbo had recently raised a question on his facebook page that may set the PDP on the part of sentimental division. He had called on the PDP not only to reward aspirants who have remained in the party during the stormy weather instead of those who left it in tatters only to come back because of their presidential ambition.

“We have sacrificed everything for PDP. Loyalty to party must mean something,” the Gombe State Governor had posted.

Senator Dino Melaye has been very consistent and active on social media. His activities on social media in the past have earned him popularity among Nigerians. Melaye, though very engaging on various national discourses, has adopted the criticism strategy against the government to earn public sympathy.

He is described as one of the best social media campaign strategists. His constant attack on the Buhari-led federal government has earned him widespread sympathy from the Nigerian populace.

Senator Melaye started his campaign on social media earlier than his peers but this was unknown to most Nigerians and his followers. His performance on social media and one of his songs (Aje kun iya ni’oje) and his popular words (You speak the truth, you die, you don’t speak the truth, you) are part of his winning strategy and they all worked well for him and he eventually won the hearts of other Nigerians who sympathised with his stand against the government.

However, he almost lost the confidence of his supporters when he allegedly escaped a kidnap attempt while on his way to his state to face a criminal trial.  

Ahmed Makarfi, only opened an official facebook account in December 2017 and joined twitter in July 2016, an account that is no longer active. The former PDP caretaker national chairman has not fully embraced the social media family. On facebook, his official account became really active when his ambition to run for president in 2019 became public.

Ikedi Ohakim, former Imo State Governor and aspirant for the same office in 2019 has been on social media trying to defend his stewardship and sponsored allegations against him by his successor, Rochas Okorocha in the last one year after indicating interest to contest. He spends two hours daily interacting with his supporters.

The former Imo State governor has said in one of his recent posts on faceebook that he no longer looks to those who attacked or blackmailed him in order to enslave the people of Imo State but would rather stay focused to redeem the state from the hands of the APC.

Not till recently, Ifeanyi Ubah has not really been active on social media after losing the Anambra State governorship election in 2017. The Capital Oil CEO has returned to facebook again after declaring interest to run for the Anambra South Senatorial District, though his facebook page is currently being managed by his supporters who update it daily with his campaign activities.