Conversations on digital security, fake news and the integrity of elections in Africa dominated the two-day conference on New Media, Citizens and Governance (NMCG), held in Abuja on October 24 and 25.
The event hosted by Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Paradigm Initiative and BudgIT, drew participants and speakers from seven African countries to deliberate on the theme, “Government, New Media, and Civic Spaces.”
Keynote speaker Chidi Odinkalu, the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in his address praised the role new media has played in ensuring dissemination of information and demystifying the aura around power.
“The power of 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,” Odinkalu said.
Also speaking 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.”
Digital media expert, Demola Olarewaju while speaking on the topic, “Are Elections Won on the Timeline?,” considered digital tools as crucial to the success of Nigeria’s democracy, saying “by leveraging the tools of the internet, we can confront rigging and limit its impact on our elections.”
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. She assured the audience that Facebook remained dedicated to safeguarding the data users submit to it.
The director of Programmes at Paradigm Initiative, Tope Ogundipe, said the organisers are pleased with the turnout for the conference and hope “the conversations will help provide clarity to the issues raised here while also energising citizens to take their role in the democratic process more seriously.”
Director general, National Orientation Agency, Dr Garba Abari in his comments on vote-buying practice currently sweeping Nigeria, condemned 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.
According to Adeolu Adekola, EiE’s Programme 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.”
The NMCG, a biennial event last held in 2016 and is supported by Facebook, MacArthur Foundation, Luminate & Palladium.
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