Paper Presented at The Digital Sense Africa, Forum 2012.
Thursday 8th March, 2012. | GOLDEN GATE, IKOYI, LAGOS
INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA AS TOOLS FOR DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA
As much as I am tempted to just have a go at the topic without going through the conventional process of defining the major terms, I’d go ahead with term definition just so we are clear. All the definitions of terms are as they relate to what this paper is about. Other connotations remain valid for when they are useful. I think all the words in the topic are worthy of being defined apart from “as” and “for.” Who defines ‘as’? You just know what it is isn’t it? If you are not reading along with us, your mind would be telling you funny things right about now. But I was speaking about the “as” “of” our topic.
The Internet: The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to serve billions of users worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless and optical networking technologies. The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents of the World Wide Web (WWW) and the infrastructure to support email.
Most traditional communications media including telephone, music, film, and television are reshaped or redefined by the Internet, giving birth to new services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). Newspaper, book and other print publishing are adapting to Web site technology, or are reshaped into blogging and web feeds. The Internet has enabled or accelerated new forms of human interactions through instant messaging, Internet forums, and social networking. Online shopping has boomed both for major retail outlets and small artisans and traders. Business-to-business and financial services on the Internet affect supply chains across entire industries. In defining the internet, you must always be conscious of the fact that your definition of the internet will always be limited by what the internet essentially is because it is a limitless world of possibilities.
Social Media: This is a combination of two words. One describes the other. In essence, social media is a form of media. What is “media” and what is “social?” Media derives from medium, being a way through which you can communicate with others. Talk about letters, emails, posters, hand bills, physical meetings and all. There is also mass media that allows one to communicate with a large number of people. Here you have radio, television, newspapers, internet et al. If media is an instrument of communication, social media would be a social instrument of communication.
In Web 2.0 terms, this would be a website that doesn’t just give you information, but interacts with you while giving you that information. This interaction can be as simple as asking for your comments or letting you vote on an article, or it can be as effective as Vconnect recommending businesses to you based on the reviews of other people who had experienced what you sought to.
Regular media gives you information. It is a one way street. You read a newspaper but you are limited by your inability to at least immediately give your own thoughts. Social Media essentially exists for you to communicate.
What is a tool: A tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process.
What is development: Development has been defined differently by various scholars depending in the context the term is used. It has been defined to refer to transforming of the people’s ways of living/doing things for the better. Development involves changing people’s attitudes positively. It is also defined as a specified state of growth or advancement. In this context, development means positive transformation/ change of the people’s ways of living, attitudes, behaviours among others as a result of their accessing relevant, adequate and timely information services courtesy of the prevailing digital age.
How do all these terms affect Nigeria is what this is all about.
The internet and social media as tools of national development will be analysed on three broad fronts;
Because this is essentially about development in Nigeria, I’d prefer to focus our attention on how much of a tool the internet and social media can be useful in the development of Nigeria. When development and Nigeria are mentioned in the same breath, you just know it has nothing to do with the fact that it is a Nigerian reality. It is often about how that becomes our reality or when you want to ask what the latest happenings are. What is the latest development? For Nigeria now, that would be the tit for tat with South Africa. As for that, the latest development is that Nigeria just discovered about 28 South African prostitutes who should be on their way home as we speak if not already home. Considering how South Africa shot to the top of the table at 125 deportees (supposedly including a serving Nigerian Senator), Nigeria has not done badly narrowing it down to about 41 having already scored 84 deportees to South Africa. At least Nigerians have a more interesting national distraction that does not include the loss of lives. Let us leave that and focus on real matters of national development.
Question: Where is the first place you get your news Television, Newspapers, BlackBerry, Internet (social media) , Radio? In an audience of city dwelling young adults, I’d expect about 80 per cent of them to pick twitter. That for me is where the news breaks. Twitter breaks the news so well it breaks the news of people’s death long before they are aware of their own death.
Internet and Social Media as Tools of Socio-Political Development of Nigeria:
Social Development encompasses a commitment to individual well-being and volunteerism, and the opportunity for citizens to determine their own needs and to influence decisions that affect them. Social development incorporates public concerns in developing social policy and economic initiatives.
Until relatively recently, social development was conceived in terms of a set of desirable results – higher incomes, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, more education. Recently, emphasis has shifted from the results to the enabling conditions, strategies and public policies for achieving those results – peace, democracy, good governance, social freedoms, equal access, laws, institutions, markets, infrastructure, education and technology. But still little attention has been placed on the underlying social process of development that determines how society formulates, adopts, initiates, and organises, and few attempts have been made to formulate such a framework.
The internet and social media have advanced social development by helping to curb the challenges of corruption, terrorism, security, public education and the likes. More critically, social media is helping to bridge the divide amongst Nigeria’s millennial generation. Young Nigerians are talking. We do that every day and this is a phenomenon the government is well aware of. I have not been to Adamawa yet I have friends there whom I have never seen yet gave directions as to what the real issues of the January protests were all about. While Nigerians based in Nigeria did not appreciate the mind shift brought about by the internet as a result of the January protests, other sub-saharan Africans saw that as a pointer to the way forward. In January, the internet served us well. It took the click of “publish” on a blog to tell every Nigerian with access to the internet that the #OccupyNigeria #Abuja protests would be at Ascon filling station or that Fuel Subsidy was not the issue but corruption, mismanagement, cronyism and all the known and unknown vices of those in power. It was about the way Nigerians defined the issues and set the government on the defensive path. The government had to be sent scampering for ad-hoc solutions. Even though these solutions meant the formation of committees to the government, the bottom line is they at least tried to solve a problem because a collection of young Nigerians from across the world dictated the issues. They said it was not about fuel subsidy and a government who had thrown N1.3 trillion as the cost of subsidizing petrol as a way of justifying its removal suddenly started getting used to things it never imagined.
That Nigerians would ask how N640 billion (the previous peak) of subsidy costs in a year could suddenly become N1.3 trillion. 20 souls lost their lives, committees upon committees and eventually the latest story is that just above N2 trillion was supposedly spent on subsiding petroleum. Everybody knows something is wrong with the number they just don’t understand that the fact that no one had lost a job despite being apparently proven that about a third of our national income was spent without appropriation and for something that has not been accounted for even months after.
I do not know about the folks of the outgoing generation, ours did not just find out about all of these on social media, we created the content. The Nigerian awakening was influenced by the internet and a renewed quest to be there for Nigeria when her call gets sounded has to be credited to the internet and social media.
There is a shift in Nigeria’s politics that is being run and defined by the internet and social media. The loud speakers of the president for instance have had to rebuff mainly internet generated news and content. The government is bothered about what it calls the “disruptive tendencies” of social media. To get in the groove of this social media quest for control, the President had one of his Special Advisers recruit a Twitter and Facebook assistant. Forget the fact that while the twitter account of the president’s aide serves as the plate where hatred and anger are served to the president, his Facebook page has placed him at an unenviable position. What you will see are agitations of the people powered by their passion for change and angered by the seemingly nonchalant attitude of the government to the needs.
How are these tools for the Socio-Political Development of Nigeria?
The internet and social media affect politics and our culture. The internet in Nigeria has influenced institutional change and set the nation on the path of trying to do the right thing (better than not trying at all). Democracy is about the people. The internet and social media today offer Nigerians the unique opportunity of expressing themselves freely without the censorship suffered by conventional media houses. It allows everyone to debate and we have had a lot of attempts by government to get along through tweet meets for instance. Nigeria’s Minister of Power Prof. Bart Nnaji would be in the best position to describe what it felt like. He was bombarded by Nigerians on twitter and had to silently exit the virtual meeting. The exercise of free expression allows everyone and all sectors to debate and outline solutions for political problems.
This helps to promote and improve our democracy and sets about the process of Good Governance. The internet and social media have become the crucial bridge through which the governed and the government reach out to one another.
The Internet and Social Media as Tools of Economic Development:
Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. Such actions can involve multiple areas including development of human capital, critical infrastructure, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy, and other initiatives. Economic development differs from economic growth. Whereas economic development is a policy intervention endeavour with aims of economic and social well-being of people, economic growth is a phenomenon of market productivity and rise in GDP. Consequently, as economist Amartya Sen points out: “economic growth is one aspect of the process of economic development.”
In a poll done by the Fund for American Studies asking whether people would give up the Internet for a million dollars, the answer was a resounding ‘no’. When asked why, people said the two main reasons were that a million dollars was not enough money and that the Internet had become too integrated with their lives for them to be able to part with it. I don’t know how many Nigerians would say “no” but I know I certainly would because what the internet can do for me as a person and what I can use it to do for our country in the future if valued monetarily will absolutely not be in the class of millions of dollars.
Last night I reported less than 10 minutes late to an American class and my dashboard read “behind” and then I realised “going” late to my online classes would never escape my tutors. My experience in these same classes show that apart from the unplanned learning that can be done on the internet, online classes are just as useful and as effective as their conventional ones. Considering the fact that I can be in class despite being on my toilet seat is added advantage amongst other advantages. Without the internet, there would be no commerce as we know it today even in our relatively less integrated Nigeria. I bank with GTBank for my regular banking needs. I know the pains I go through when I hear the words “the server is down.” It means virtually nothing can get done even though they do not rely on the internet to collect my money – that only requires the stretch of a hand. GTBank has revolutionised banking in Nigeria!
The day the world wide web goes down is the day we will truly appreciate the worth and usefulness of the internet as a tool not just for economic development but for our existence. The day that happens is the day some call DOOM DAY or Armageddon in a more religious language. The engine of globalisation is the internet. The earth rotates on its axis but that rotation is being powered by the internet.
Between 1999 and 2009 10.5 million Nigerians were rejected by Universities. Where are these rejects? Some of them most likely returned to school but there is always this pool of rejects from our Universities every year that are forced to stay at home. Whenever we complain about youth restiveness, I remember these rejects and understand that even getting the whole nation to fast for 50 years will not alter the course of cause and effect. Idle hands must get busy. The reason our schools turn down down prospective applicants has everything to do with available infrastructure. The essence of JAMB is essentially to control the use of these infrastructures. What if we had online Universities fully backed by law? Do not tell me about the National Open University because that is as much a regular school that depends on having physical sites in at least six regions of the country. I am talking about at least 80 per cent run online schools. We would have fewer rejects, we would have a fewer pool for terrorists, insurgents and kidnappers
Young people are not just 70 % of the Nigerian population, they also have the tools and the means to effect changes from their population strength. I no longer need to pay 250k to place job vacancies in a Newspaper, I can tweet it and get real live responses.
Ours is an empowered generation. We never had a voice but the dynamics have radically changed. We now have the loudest voice. We must now look to make sure we are not just making noise. We must harness our strength in number and align with the power of the internet and social media to birth the change we need. One day the National New Media Commission (NNMC) (or something in that line) will be set up by a government afraid of the force of our social media power and pull, hence we must be quick to dispense with the jests and lack of focus and instead focus on taking the message of liberty, equity, patriotism, unity, justice and progress to our brothers and friends in yet unreached villages and forgotten hoods of Nigeria.
The population of Africa in 2011 was 1,037,524,058 with 139,875,242 Internet Users on the 31st December, 2011. That is a 13.5% penetration. There were 37,739,380 Facebook users by December 31 2011, at 3.6% penetration.
Nigeria: 155,215,573 (2011 est) with 45,039,711 Internet Users on December 31, 2011 29% of population. There were 4,369,740 Facebook users as at December 31 2011 a 2.8% penetration.