A study into Nigeria’s progress towards becoming Africa’s first digital democracy has ranked our nation’s use of digital technology to enhance our political system as “improving”.
The first Digital Democracy Dashboard, conducted by the campaign I lead, analyses African nations’ efforts in using information and communication technology to improve their political and governance processes.
The dashboard gives nations scores out of five in four categories, leading to an overall score out of 20, corresponding to the following rankings.
Emerging – 0-7
As 2020 draws to a close Nigeria has been given a score of 11/20 and rated as “Improving”.
The study rates nations against four benchmarks – digital transparency, equal access to the internet, political engagement and modern and robust electoral systems.
Nigeria has been evaluated as follows:
Digital transparency – 3
During the Covid-19 lockdown the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, piloted digital payments to get money to people who needed it
Using digital technology to distribute these funds isn’t just faster and safer in a time of social distancing it also makes it much easier to see where it has gone, make sure it has arrived, and ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
It is clear that good progress is being made towards achieving this benchmark.
Equal access to the internet – 2
Nigeria has still to achieve significant 4G penetration. Government projections state that by 2025 only 70% of Nigerians will have any sort of internet.
The Nigerian government was also unwilling to respond to calls to give Nigerian children data free access to educational resources to help them catch up on education lost as a result of Covid-19.
Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami has announced government ambitions for a 40% cut in data prices by 2025.
Progress continues to be slow towards achieving equal access to the internet for all Nigerians.
Political Engagement – 2
Nigerian citizens have led the world in using social media to build relationships, build trust and to communicate internationally, as demonstrated in the #EndSARS protests.
Nigerian politicians however continue to fail to seize the potential of social media to truly engage with voters as equals, treating social media as a purely broadcast medium instead of using the platforms to reach out to voters on a personal basis.
Much online political dialogue remains antagonistic in nature.
It is unclear how much progress is being made on achieving this benchmark.
Modern and robust voting systems – 2
The Independent National Electoral Commission has announced that it intends to “pilot the use of Electronic Voting Machines at the earliest possible time… (and) work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.”
Using electronic voting machines, Nigerian voters can have much more confidence that the vote really was cast for their candidate they intended to vote for – or has been counted at all. Ballot-stuffing could also become a thing of the past under a truly transparent system where every vote can be electronically accounted for.
It is clear that some progress is being made towards achieving this benchmark.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we are aiming to harness the potential of digital technology to improve political engagement and processes across Africa .
We have developed a free app called Rate Your Leader to help local leaders engage directly, on a one-to-one basis, with verified local voters, letting decision makers show themselves to be accessible, accountable and responsive to the people who decide whether or not they’ll have a job after the next election. Rate Your Leader also allows local representatives to get a real-time insight into the things that matter most to the people who elect them – and how to address them.
Rate Your Leader also lets local people get their voices heard by putting them in direct contact with local decision makers.
Our app is also abuse-proof, making uncivil or aggressive communication impossible.
Communication between the authorities and the public has never been more critical. We are a nation in recession, with many months – or years – before vaccination against the coronavirus becomes widespread.
Positive progress had been made in 2020 – in spite of everything – to make Nigeria Africa’s first truly digital democracy. But this work will have to accelerate in 2021 if our nation if to achieve its colossal potential.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the free Rate Your Leader mobile app. You can follow Joel on Twitter via his handle @JOPopoola