May 30, 2013

Ex Vice President on Twitter

The former vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, has become very active on the social network, Twitter. Here is aAtiku Abubarkar reaction to his use of the platform, from another Nigerian user:

Abubakar took to the platform yesterdaty to tell a Nigerian story. Here are the tweets as curated by Akin Akintayo on Storify. He told the story of military and democratic rule in Nigeria. What I found interesting about his use of social media is that he seems to be engaging with other tweeti-zens (citizens on Twitter). See below:

May 20, 2013

Nigerian Newspapers on Twitter

I am in the middle of seeking respondents for my research; like Alice in Wonderland, it's led me into the territory of checking out Nigerian newspaper houses and their Twitter follower counts.

Vaguely, I am assuming this is indicative of popularity, at least online (you never know what their sales figures are).

In addition, I am looking at Follow 2 Followercount . To me, this is telling on the willingness/priority of that newspaper house to engage with the online audiences (another index would be Twitter mentions& responses to followers). A prime example is BBC Africa's twitter account. As at this date, May 20th, 2013, it is @ 1, 984 (follows) to 194, 698 followers. BBC Africa also has a BBC Africa Have Your Sayaccount, that is more generous with following, and is even more active in interacting with listeners, at 6, 0238 to 34, 908.
My research is on new digital media and democratic culture in Nigeria, a sphere where journalism plays a huge role - in informing the public, publishing public opinion, providing rich analysis of public issues etc.! I am curious as to how they use this online space. I will start by scratching the surface of what I see, their Twitter Accounts.
Let's get on with filling the table below - the list is in no particular order, and note that this is the count as at today, May 20, 2013:
Newspaper Twitter Following Twitter Followers
Vanguard 79 204, 850
The Guardian 7 79, 986
ThisDay Live 1 77, 513
Punch 2, 548 176, 055
The Sun 60 324, 597
Nigerian Tribune 31 9, 698
The Nation 569 42, 131
Leadership 140 41, 978
Compass 56 520
Daily Trust 19 67, 803
Daly Independent 17 682
Daily Times(0 Tweets) 84 100

For more information on Nigerian Newspapers on the Internet, visit this page.
Do you have a favourite Nigerian newspaper? Why?
P.S. If there is any newspaper organisation missing (especially in the national category) please drop a comment also.

Media Junkie

April 18, 2013

Nigeria Bans "Oil" Documentary; Alternative?

Fueling povertyThe Committee for Protecting Journalists (CPJ), an international organisation committed to protecting the freedom of journalists worldwide, recently condemnedthe decision made by the Nigerian Government to ban the airing and distribution of a 30-minute documentary film on Nigeria's oil wealth, corruption and the state's management of funds. The documentary is titled, Fuelling Poverty. It was directed by award-winning Ishaya Bako (see interview with him on Diary of a Media Junkie).

According to CPJ, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), an agency run by the federal government, described the film as
highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security
This ban implies that no Nigerian cinemas or TV station is permitted to air the film. However, the responses from Twitter (see below) aptly answer my question (in the title) as to what the alternative is:

that's why the producer can release in on YouTube if the govt vex make dem ban goggle so what?
Let's see them 'ban' the internet, youtube, etc, then i'll know they're serious

Democracy thrives among an informed populace. The public sphere, the gathering together of people to discuss issues that concern them in order to arrive at a rational conclusion, is made vibrant where there is sufficient (accurate) information upon which agendas can be formed. If any aspect of Bako's documentary had been untrue, that is, slanderous in anyway, he may have been held liable - but this is not the case.

However, the DIGITAL public sphere, where people form discussions on online forums, blogs etc. has somewhat sidestepped the challenge banning the documentary would have posed to Nigeria's democracy. An 'uninformed' citizenry is a problem for any democracy. Hence, since it is not banned on YouTube (the alternative medium), people may still have access to this information, and form discussions around it. The online sphere generates enough buzz to get the conversation going, but the digital divide is still a huge issue.
I am simply using this to illustrate how digital media is revitalising the public sphere - this is a part of my research on Nigeria's democratic culture and what roles new media technologies affords citizens and public officials play, to foster democracy in the country.

Note: "Fuelling Poverty"currently has over 40,000 views on YouTube.
What do you think of the Federal Government's claim that the documentary is Provocative, likely to Incite, and UNDERMINE national security? Please share your comments.

February 06, 2013

New Media Use in Africa [Resources]

Online Resources:

Tanzania:Old Media, New Media

New Media and Activism- Africa is a Country Blog

New Media Among Youth in South Africa(PDF available for download) - GenderLinks. Org. Za

Social Change and New Media in Africa- International Business Times [blog]

New Media in West Africa- MIT Forum [downloadable]

Teach New Media in Africa- New Media Lab [presentation slides]

The rise of social media in Ghana- The African Business Journal

January 02, 2013

"Old" and "New" Participation in Democracy (Part 1)

People participation is essential in Democracy.

Hang on! Democracy is such a slippery concept that defining how essential participation is to its nature is dependent upon the form or model it takes. Where democracy promotes individualism, communitarianism or deliberation, the corresponding expectation for participation flunctuates.

In this series, I intend to think through Democracy to define Participation. Many of the thinkers who consider the Internet (digital media generally) a breath of fresh air for democratic culture, mostly ride on the idea that these tools provide people with a means to contribute to how they are being governed by the state. Where media elites dominate and dictate the agenda (or set the agenda as it is in Agenda-Setting theory), the web provides the platform for a plurality of voices - men and women alike, minorities, subaltern, counter-publics etc (Kellner, 2000). Where states and corporate powers trampled on the people, the rise of the Internet has given them a voice to come together and fight back (Shirky, 2008). These a just a few of the optimistic examples.

I thought since we fling this term, participation, around so generously in discussing democratic culture and the public sphere, it is perhaps hightime one investigated what it once meant (pre-digital age) and what it means now. How has it changed? What does the change mean, if it has?

I casually threw the question out on Twitter some weeks back:

"What exactly is political participation in this digital age? Clicking, commenting, blogging?"

I received a range of responses. @Payme2cents said, "I'd take all those as social participation which are necessary. For political ones, you'd actually need to be in a functioning group". Similarly, Perkins Onome (@operko) responded thus: "'Political Participation?' Get on the van of politics, get your hands on the things of politics and decision making."

However, this on the other hand is a random tweet I found (not in response to my question):

My further search on the web yielded a few other people's thoughts about democratic-participation via digital media. Here is a blog post by Dyawhie on Indonesia: Why Democracy and Why Social Media. She said:

I have concluded some aspects that made combination of writing and social networking as the best personal way to promote democracy in a country like Indonesia...One of my friends purchased a plane ticket back to her hometown to vote in the general election. Some clicked their “like this” icon in Facebook. Some people told me that they enjoyed my writings and were waiting for more. Some other thought that the arguments are quite logical and informative...The fact that Indonesia has recently become the third largest user of Facebook is only strengthening my conclusion...

In India, social media is credited with exposing government's mishandling of the truth in the Delhi gang rape case; and in the Times of India, social media is democracy's direct pipeline. Here is an excerpt from this article:

Social media not only gives each individual a voice, it gives him a direct pipeline to people who matter. The sense of having an opinion that counts, of being able to reach out to the void beyond and find an echo in a kindred spirit, of being able to galvanise others and in turn be galvanised creates a new feeling of significance and belonging. Social media both individuates and aggregates. It makes the abstract real, the impersonal personal and the individual collective. The sense of being part of a growing and increasingly noisier crowd, of feeling the heat of one`s own passion and the gathering of strength from others like oneself, and the knowledge that the collective upsurge is visible to others, particularly those against whom the anger is directed is a potent and almost tactile experience of power. By the time the movement spills over into the streets, it already exists in a pre-cooked form in that there is already an assurance that many others feel the same way.

In the heat of all these discussions, there is a need for one to understand what has happened to participation. A public sphere thrives on participation, people deliberating with one another on issues of common concern - whether at a coffee shop or in a forum online. Is there a boundary to what is or not participation in democratic culture? Has the definition of participation changed - shrank or expanded?

These are the questions I will be asking (and searching for answers to in literature) in the second part of this post. First of all, I would identify how the different perceptions of democracy influence the expectations of how people should participate; followed by examples of what used to be participation (old) and what can we call participation today (new).

What would you describe as participation is in this age? Pleaase comment.


Kellner, D. (2000) Habermas, the public sphere and democracy: A critical intervention. [online] Available from: (Accessed November 29, 2012).

Shirky, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody - How Change Happens When People Come Together. London: Penguin Books.

December 07, 2012

The Citizen asked the Governor…

This post is inspired by a quick exchange I witnessed on Twitter on December 7, 2012, between a Nigerian citizen and a Northern state governor in Nigeria, Governor Aliyu Wamakko.
To me, it is a very potent illustration of what I would like to describe as the democratic digital public sphere.
The prelude to this exchange is this:sokoto_governor.png
On October 23rd, 2012, news organisations in Nigeria carried reports that the Sokoto State governor Wamakko, allegedly flogged a PHCN manager for failure to supply power to his community. Some of the news organisations include, PM News, Osun Defender, Nigerian Tribune to mention a few.
The Nigerian blogosphere, citizen media were not to be left out of the sensation. Forums like the Nigerian Village Square, Linda Ikeji's blog, NairaLand, made this a topic of discussion. Members of Nigeria's digital sphere discussed the issue inside-out online (see comments section of hyperlinks).
Nigerian blogosphere is not a new development, it is indeed a growing community. However, what's new is the gradual openness of public officials to relate with citizens online. Public policy is not quite certain how handle itself in the digital sphere.
America has been more adventurous about this idea.
The following points struck me about the exchange between Alkay and Wamakko:
  • Digital (new) media was being used to bridge the gap between the government and the governed
  • In old media, Alkay would have needed to call in to a radio or TV program where Wamakko was being interviewed to pose this question (what are the chances of that?)
  • Alkay may have needed to write an open-letter to the governor, or letter to the editor in a newspaper to get this question off his chest (too much trouble for such a simple question don't you think?)
  • What was democratic about Alkay's tweet and Wamakko's response? Everything.
  • Asking such a question required someone who was an informed member of the citizenry, who was conscious of his status as a citizen and most importantly, was willing to take action.
As Douglas Kellner puts it, after old media have failed in their democratic functions of informing the populace, asking the right questions with the right analysis and generating genuine public opinion for the state to act on, "new media technologies such as the Internet are...serving as a new basis for participatory democratic communication politics."
It is not my concern here whether Governor Wamakko is speaking the truth or otherwise. When Nigeria's digital public sphere develops to the point where public officials are willing to engage with citizens directly online in order to access public opinion, the fledgling democracy would mark a milestone on the way to recovery.
I am aware that there are many questions heralding that position. For instance, how many Nigerians are online, how public (of general interest) would the opinion generated be...?
These and more questions I ask myself as I go on this research journey.

November 28, 2012

Tribalism & Nigeria's Democracy

I recently read a Viewpoint by Professor Calestous Juma (International Development, Harvard) on the BBC website, How Tribalism Stunts African Democracy. In this article, he was very clear about the infamous role of tribal sentiments in Africa's stunted socio-political progress, and how its influence in Africa politics is somewhat underestimated whilst we beam our spotlight on theelection process.

As a quick recap, my research is on building democratic culture through an effective (digital) public sphere, and a few questions are currently guiding my study. They are:
  • What is the new digital public sphere?
  • In what ways has digital media facilitated democracy?
  • What new culture, social and political changes have been affected by this digital public sphere?
  • What existing societal forces are disadvantageous to its development?
  • What strategies can be found to to be instrumental in developing a fully effective public sphere?
(More on my profile)

I have highlighted the question that best addresses the issue of tribalism.

Nigeria is the focus of my study. Since the Professor illustrated his points with mainly Kenya and Somalia, I thought I'll do a blog post on how tribalism is also a big issue in Nigeria's democracy.

I have not begun to tackle this question in detail (i'm still on the first two questions), however, I feel it is necessary for me to touch upon it albeit briefly here. Let me call this post a mini-preptowards the real deal. I have no doubt that in the course of research, I will find other social forces that are detrimental to the creation of the digital public sphere. Hypothetically, tribalism may be on the list of findings. As a researcher, I am often self-reminded not to go into the field with ready-made assumptions.

Moving on, I have a few texts that aptly capture how tribalism began to rear its head in Nigeria's social-sphere, especially in Journalism; not being nipped in the bud, it gradually sipped into party-politics and found a clear pathway to strongly impact on the country's democracy. If not so, in late 2000s, we wouldn't still be talking about the concept of zoning the presidency in Nigeria.

Where did this start?

Once upon a time, Nigeria and the people within it had a common enemy, colonialism. The race was on to get colonialists off the land and secure political independence. Unlike others, it was a bloodless war fought on the pages of newspapers.

The first newspaper in the country was founded in Abeokuta (a thriving centre of missionary activity) by Rev. Henry Townsend. It was called Iwe Iroyin fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba (the newspaper for the people of Egba and Yoruba).

Albeit that this newspaper was primarily a religious pamphlet, carrying news on missionary activity, it also published content on local politics. Fred Omu (1978) says Iwe Iroyin must have had a robust editorial policy because it was reprimanded by the British Colonial Office, for "aggravating problems of foreign policy".

The birth of a radical press emerged in the 1880s, the kind of press that had no affiliation to the church. These were newspapers by educated Africans, returnees. By 1937 there were no less than 51 newspapers in existence (Olatunji Dare, 2000:12). Here are a few names of the pioneers: Richard Beale Blaize (Lagos Times), Benjamin Blackall (The Observer), Owen Emerick Macaulay (The Eagle and Lagos Critic), John Payne Jackson (Lagos Weekly Record)...

Herbert Macaulay, regarded as the Father of Nationalism took over Nigeria's first daily in 1927, Lagos Daily News and transformed it into 'a ferocious anti-government news paper and a political springboard, and the organ of his political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party" (Dare, 2000:14-5).

In 1937, Nnamdi Azikwe also joined the league of journalists when he set up West African Pilot, and proceeded to establish Nigeria's first newspaper chain. Azikwe's newspaper chain even 'secured a foothold in Northern Nigeria,' with the publication Daily Comet.

It was about fighting the idea of colonialism, hence tribal differences were kept aside.

In the North, the first newspaper was the Hausa language, Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo, established in 1939 by the colonial authorities.

In 1949, Obafemi Awolowo also set up the Nigerian Tribune to serve as a vehicle for his political party, the Action Group.

As Dare (2000) puts it, a distinct feature of the press in Nigeria before independence was that it was almost entirely owned and controlled by individuals or political parties.

This was the foundation of journalism in Nigeria. Given the significant role journalism plays in the democracy of any society, it's quite evident the road Nigeria's was headed.

I can't put the description of events that occurred after Nigeria's independence any better than Dare (2000 citing Omu (1978):
With the attainment of political independence in 1960, the cleavages that had been subsumed by the nationalist struggle came into bold relief. Britain, the "common enemy", had departed. The regions, the ethnic groups and the political parties around which they were organised, turned inwards on themselves. So intense was the rivalry and the bitterness among the contending political groups that editors and staffers working on newspapers of different political persuasions, were hardly on speaking terms...

In summary, the Nigerian press was already divided along party lines (pre-independence), and the parties were equally divided along ethnic lines. Hence, tribalism became enshrined in Nigeria's democracy even before practice or perhaps I should say attempted practice.

Professor Calestous suggests that concerted effort to build modern political parties founded on development ideas and not tribal bonds is needed to counter this cankerworm of tribalism. Also, that building clear party platforms requires effective intellectual input, usually provided through think-tanks and other research institutions.

Ironically, the intellectuals-of-old in Nigeria were the players in the history I have attempted to narrate in brief. One would have thought they would know better than to than to allow tribal differences fester in politics - there has been no end to it since then. However, there can be an end to it.

How do you suppose tribalism can be eradicated from Nigeria's democracy? What steps would you take?

Your suggestions are welcome. Please comment.

September 29, 2012

Nigerian Twitter

Journal Article: Mapping the Twitterverse in the Developing World: An Analysis of Social Media Use in Nigeria (2012)

Authors: Clayton Fink, Jonathan Kopecky, Nathan Bos, and Max Thomas

Social media research is increasingly becoming popular in developing societies due to the influence it wields in the socio-economic and political sphere as tools for information sharing (in election campaigns for instance), public discussions (among citizens), social movement(s) organisation among other uses.

These authors therefore attempted to explain some of the methodological issues researchers may encounter when analysing social media and its users. Nigeria and Twitter were the cases in focus. Fink et al (2012) explored possible techniques that could be used in determining the demographic characteristics of Twitter users, especially ethnicity and location.

In analysing social media in Nigeria, they provided the geographic distribution of Twitter users, the contribution of mobile phone users to 'Nigerian Twitter' and an estimate of the ethnicity of these users. The significance of their research bears upon the fact that social media users are not representative of the entire populace. In fact, social media is often considered elitist in terms of access and uses. Thus, it is important to have an understanding of who is represented online (and who is neglected).


In summary, their findings indicate that in Nigerian-Twitter use, of the three major ethnic groups (Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa), one is under-represented - the Hausas who live in the Northern part of Nigeria. It is however important to note that there are estimated to be over 250 languages and ethnic groups in Nigeria.

According to the authors, Hausas 'have strikingly different views than other Nigerians (for instance Hausas tend to be proponents of the traditional Islamic law, Sharia).' This translates to the fact that when analysing Twitter content, researchers need to be aware that we might be under-representing certain views.

Fink et al (2012) also found that mobile devices made a significant contribution to Twitter usage in the Nigeria. This finding has been buttressed in many articles, news reports and features - CNN(7 ways mobile phone has changed Africa), TNW (Nigerian activist use mobile technology to prevent electoral fraud), World Future Review[PDF] (Africa's mobile phone revolution), among others.

In determining the ethnicity of Nigerian Twitter users, the authors worked with the assumption that a person's name is an indicator of ethnicity, thus employed machine learning (Support Vector Machines) in classifying user names as belonging to one of the three ethnicities. They created a fourth category, "other", comprising names from other Latin-script-based languages.


Fink et al (2012) conclude that social media is indeed a potential source for social and cultural data in studying developing societies. They however stress the importance of recognising whether the views on social media are of the educated elite or mainstream populace. This paper made an effort to address the issue through attempting to characterise online population.


My thesis is on developing a culture of democracy through an effective digital public sphere (in Nigeria). Previous posts on this blog have introduced my research to some extent , but I am yet to do a full post on just the public sphere (coming soon).

The relevance of Fink's study to my research is that Twitter (among other social network sites) is one of those platforms where citizens do come together online to interact and deliberate; whether they do so on issues of common concern or public good (as is Habermas's criteria) is open to debate. However, Fink et al (2012) have suggested a possible methodological technique(s) I could pursue in the future.

They have also provided me with interesting primary data on Nigeria's ethnic representation online. This is significant because democracy is particular about (seemingly) equal representation of voices. In fact, the Internet is perceived to be the enabler of a plurality of voices - where this is lacking, one might begin to appreciate the limitation of the Internet as a democratisation tool.

Please share your thoughts on this post in the comment box below and also kindly suggest similar literature you have come across on Nigeria or any other country's Twittersphere.

August 28, 2012

African Palm–Wine Joints vs. French Cafes: Public Sphere

Journal Article|| Awasom, F. N. (2012) 'The emergence of public spheres in colonial Cameroon: palm wine drinking joints in Bamenda Township' Africa Development, Vol XXXVII, no. 1, pp69-84

This article is an interesting study that attempts to draw a parallel between Habermas's conception of the public sphere and the African situation. Using the Paris Cafes (1789-1914), Awasom explains how the Palm Wine drinking joints in the Bamenda Township of Cameroon equally served as public spheres.

To the author, the public sphere is any area in social life where people congregate, identify and freely discuss societal problems, where through that discussion political action is influenced. Although Habermas's conception of the public sphere implies the existence of political legitimacy, in whch the state is sensitive to public opinion to the point that it influences government policy or action, Awasom argues otherwise in the case of Africa. He says, 'the political sensitivty of African governments is to issues which might provoke their ouster, and that is where the importance of the public sphere may lie under such circumstances.'

Awasom finds the basic premise of Habermas's public sphere (private people coming together to form a public) 'useful in capturing the scenario in Africa, represented by the periodic congregation of people in various sites to socialise and indulge in discourses, not necessarily orderly discourse, but any interaction whereby the interested members of the public engage themselves while relaxing in various ways, including drinking, playing cards, eating or dancing.'

Features of the Bamenda Palm Wine Joints:
  • They were similar to open spaces under the baobab trees in The Gambia where men congregate on a daily basis to discuss and debate for hours
  • Similar to the coffee shops of early bourgeois Europe, 'the joints served as places of artistic creation, public opinion moulding, dangerous opposition politics, gossips, sinful behaviour, or the redefinition of public morality'
  • The joints specialised in the sale of native liquor, especially palm wine; the day, nightfall and weekends being key periods
  • As a public sphere, the palm wine joints developed and functioned as regular meeting and discursive places for men and women -such places became news and rumour generating machines
  • The palm-wine-drinking joints were also public spaces for the appropriation and reproduction of modernity through the bottle dance, an alternative form of high life music, and the centre for the discussion of the politics of independence
  • These joints were a distinct African model of the public sphere, as little regard was given to social differences or privileges. 'They were sites for the people of all backgrounds'
Features of the French Cafes:
  • The Paris Cafes, like the palm wine joints, were privately owned places open to the public for relaxation
  • The cafes had a remarkable presence in the political, social, cultural, and intellectual life of eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris
  • The Paris cafes were important public spheres in French history owing to their importance as incubators of France's 18th and 19th century revolutions
  • During the repression, the cafes were spaces where the working class could express themselves by insulting government officials and police
  • The point of parity according to Awasom is that, both the palm wine joints and French cafes shared an equally historical role in impacting public opinion and the political orientation of Cameroon's path to independence.
In the article, Awasom further explains the historical context of the colonial Bamenda township and how modernity and political discourses were reproduced (via the joints) within it. He concludes that 'at the penultimate stage of British Cameroon's independence, when a merger with either Francophone Cameroon or Nigeria was hotly contested, the palm wine joints became the centre stage of politics. However, the changing economic fortunes of Cameroon in the 1970s, reflected in the boom of export products, witnessed the emergence of alternative public spheres with a completely different culture that competed effectively with palm wine drinking joints.

My Thoughts
In its most simplistic form, the palm wine joints of the Bamenda Township do share close similarities with Habermas's account of the bourgoise public sphere, and Awasom (2012) has highlighted the characteristics. However, there are also points of disparity which he did not quite explore especially in relation to existing criticisms of the public sphere theory.

The normative ideal in Habermas's account of the public sphere was that everyone could participate, it was open to all and status differentials were to be bracketed or totally forgotten if possible. However, this was not the case. This ideal was not realised. It's been argued that potential members of the public sphere were excluded on account of race, property ownership (plebeian men) and gender (women).
In Awasom's account of Bamenda on the other hand, he reiterates how the palm wine joints were a distinct African model of the public sphere, as little regard was given to social differences or privileges. He says, 'they were sites for the people of all background.'
This is a significant difference between the bourgeois public sphere and that of the Bamenda Township. It is worth investigating further why status differentials were 'succesfully' ignored at the Palm wine joints, even when every participant couldn't have been social equals.
Gender has been hotly debated in public sphere theory. Nancy Fraser (1985, 1990) criticised Habermas's account of the public sphere for his failure to thematise gender in his critical theory. Calhoun buttressed her point where he also mentioned that Habermas's public sphere neglects gender, and even where he does mention it, Habermas 'has difficulty with the notion that the exclusion of women (from the public sphere) raises more basic categorical issues' (1993:274).
In the Bamenda Township on the other hand, something interesting is going on. Women are NOT excluded. Rather, they play the following a number of roles in the African public sphere:
  • The palm wine joints were places man and WOMEN regularly congregated (2012:81)
  • 'The palm wine leisure joints developed from the private initiative of women who followed the emerging town to cater for the needs of its cosmopolitan population' (2012:74). They were also run exclusively by women (2012:75)
  • In the 1930s and 1940s, an enterprising woman, Mama Ngum, is credited to have commenced the first palm wine joint in a haphazard manner that paved the way for other women to join the trade (2012:74)
  • The explanation for the monopoly of the trade by women is the food also had to be provided at the joints, and this was the culturally assigned domain to women. Men restricted themselves to tapping and transporting the palm wine.
On an end note, it would be interesting to further investigate if the women, though present at the joints, did in fact contribute to public discourse. Did they participate/interact in the public sphere, or were expected to be quiet and serve the food & wine?
Another point to note is where Awasom mentions that the changing economic fortunes of the country impacted on the nature of the public sphere, birthing alternative spheres with a different culture that competed effectively with the palm wine sphere. Although this is not directly related to the kind of strucutural transformation that led to the collapse of Habermas's public sphere, it is once again worth identifying the key role of economy and civil society in the existence and development of any public sphere.

This research surely opens up empirical questions about the public sphere theory in relation to Africa, as there are thinkers arguing against the relevance of the theory in Africa, considering its theoretical roots in Western liberal thinking.
I look forward to doing more posts on the public sphere theory in relation to Africa and other related areas.
CALHOUN, C. 1993. Civil Society and the Public Sphere. Public Culture, 5, 267-280
FRASER, N. 1985 What’s critical about critical theory? The case of Habermas and gender. New German Critique, 35, 97-131
FRASER, N. 1990 Rethinking the public sphere: a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social Text, 25, 56-80
HABERMAS, J. 1962. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeoisie Society, Cambridge, M.I.T Press

July 27, 2012

Social Media "worries" Nigerian Government

Writing about web page

This is a news story published in a Nigerian daily newspaper online, Daily Independent, on July 27th, 2012

Excerpts from the report go:

Senate President David Mark on Thursday called for measures to check the negative tendencies of the social media to respect national security and values and encourage patriotism, just as he saluted the courage, doggedness and steadfastness of the Nigerian media.

“The emergence of social media like Facebook, twitter, blackberry messenger, YouTube, etc, have changed the face of media practice by making information sharing easier, faster and quicker.

“But, this is not without its demerits. Social media has become a threat to the ethics of media practice and good governance because of its accessibility and absolute freedom”, he said.

On his own, the Abia State governor, Thedore Orji, urged journalists to encourage Nigerian leaders by writing something good about them.

He advised them not to base their stories on internet information, which cannot be verified, but on the facts on ground available to them.

Social media is known to be used by citizens to articulate their views about governments - some have led to nationwide and transnational protests. The power of voices on these platforms has been so significant that governments have long abandoned attempts to ignore opinions expressed by the people. NYC Mayor Bloomberg says, "social media have made democratic polities more accessible to direct interventions by the populace. Social media are as close as it is possible to get to vox populi, the holy grail of democracy."

In strong or ideal democracies, people's voices should not be a threat, yet what authorities can't control threatens them.

This just reinforces Papacharissi's (2010:11) point on democracy. She says,

Democracy is often treated as a static concept that we either practice effectively, live up to honourably, or are unable to attain. Democracy, however, is imaginary. It is an abstraction. It is based on an ideal , subject to many interpretations, which then influence how the abstraction is practiced by nation-centric political systems.

Papacharissi's argument, simply put, is that democracy is an evolving and fluid term.Nations define its tenets as they deem fit to their respective socio-cultural frame. Therefore once we accept that, the nation-centric definition of what democracy is for Nigeria becomes more obvious when we attempt to thematise it from what is unsaid in Mark's articulation of social media and governance in Nigeria.

On what grounds according to this report does the Nigerian Senate President consider social media a "threat" to governance in Nigeria:

  • Social media (users) do not respect national security
  • Social media (users) do not respect national values
  • Use of social media does not encourage patriotism

Are these reasons sufficient to curb the freedom of expression?

The accessibilty and absolute freedom of expression are his main concerns.

Given the fact that only about twenty-three million Nigerians out of a population of approx one hundred and forty million people have access to the Internet, how access has become a concern is worth investigating. Could it be that the few talking are really making the government squirm? What would be the case if more people get talking (access is increased)?

This simply demonstrates the power of reasoning and deliberation among citizens, where criticism of the government often occurs (public sphere). An effective (liberal) public sphere chcecks the government and pushes it to stay accountable to the people through the medium of talk.

As I am a researcher just asking questions at the moment, I have a few more:

  1. Is access that is already limited to Nigerians, going to be further limited? How would that work?
  2. Is freedom of expression (online) going to be curtailed? and how? what about Nigerians in diaspora?

In some countries, people get jailed for tweets and numerous bloggers have been arrested - in both developed and developing democracies)

This articulation of the Nigerian senate president's take on social media and national governance is of significant interest to me because my thesis is on how a culture of democracy may be developed in Nigeria (developing nations), through an effective digital public sphere.

Papacharissi, Zizi. (2010) A Private Sphere - Democracy in a Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity Press

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