As Nigerians go to the polls this month to decide who would lead Africa’s largest economy into the next decade, promoters of new democracy app, Rate Your Leader, Joel Popoola, are alarmed that the rise in anti-establishment candidates, fake news and foreign interference in other large democracies could hit Nigeria too.
President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition leader, Atiku Abubakar, lead a field of over 10 presidential candidates in the February 16 poll, with elections for governors of 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states taking place later in March.
In the run-up to the forthcoming elections, social media giant, Facebook, had announced that it would not accept political advertisements from outside Nigeria during the elections, in an effort to prevent ‘foreign interference’ while misinformation or fake news on social media during the campaign has already seen President Buhari forced to deny that he had died and was replaced with a clone.
In the same vein, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has been vocal throughout the campaign, including accusing the incumbent of planning to rig the elections among other malfeasances.
Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party was also seen as the victor in recent televised debates.
Given these scenarios, Poopola, Nigerian tech entrepreneur, launched recently in Nigeria to connect politicians with verified local electors using abuse-proof technology with a mission to ‘take back democracy with technology’.
He said, “Both Abubakar and Buhari are well-known to Nigerians, having held high office since the 80s and 90s. As a result, some commentators have described the contest as a ‘two horse race between uninspiring candidates’.”
According to him, “Experience counts for a lot in Nigerian elections, but if you’re a voter who wants to see change, you might not be inclined to trust someone who has already had nearly 40 years to deliver it with your vote and might be attracted by an anti-establishment candidate.
“When you add to the fact that security concerns relating to Boko Haram and herder/settler clashes are bound to play a huge role in this election, the fact that a former President has arguably already undermined the credibility of the poll, and fake reports that one of the candidates was dead, you’ve got the perfect recipe for the rise of anti-establishment sentiments.”
Popoola said further that the experiences of other large and more-established democracies in the last few years like Brexit in Britain, the emergence of Donald Trump in America, Le Pen in France – alongside the rise of ‘fake news’ on social media and foreign inference in elections have shown that anything can happen in Nigeria too.
“Nigerian democracy has made huge strides, with the 2015 elections seeing markedly less electoral violence than previous contests. But there is a risk that new technology could bring about a return of the bad old days. That’s why politicians need to take advantage of a technology like Rate Your Leader to really engage with the people they serve,” he added.
Rate Your Leader is a global online platform which helps politicians to engage only with voters in their constituencies in an abuse-proof way.
The technology allows elected leaders to truly understand what matters most to the people who elect them while allowing local people to identify and contact their representatives at the touch of a button, direct from their phones or tablets.
The app, which also allows people to check to see if they are registered to vote and identify their elected representatives at the touch of a button, is free to download from the App store and other app marketplaces.