2019 Social Media Epic War, Atiku vs Buhari - SyCtRenDs



Sunday, December 9, 2018

2019 Social Media Epic War, Atiku vs Buhari

With less than 85 days to the 2019 general elections, political parties and candidates have intensified their social media war. The one between candidates of the APC and the PDP, however, looks more epic. Here’s a look into it.

Information, disinformation, and counter-information are being shared on the various social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, with the sole aim of capturing the electorate, especially the younger generation. The total number of internet users in Nigeria is estimated to be 94.8 million, while about 19 million are active on social media.

Facebook boasts of 2.23 billion monthly active users as at October and micro-blogging site, Twitter, averages 326 million monthly active users, according to Statista, a database company.

StatCounter states that Facebook controls 78.71 per cent while Twitter dominates 7.88 per cent of social media usage in Nigeria. Most social media users are between 16 and 34 years. Available data has revealed that this demography is the most crucial during election

In a daring move, Former Vice President and the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar on Monday launched his presidential campaign for the 2019 election via social media, live on both Facebook and Twitter.

This came a day after President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), officially launched his campaign at the State House Abuja to seek a second term.

Atiku is not the first to launch his campaign on social media in Nigeria. Former president Goodluck Jonathan also declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2011 via a video he posted on Facebook in September, 2010. He won that election and it was believed that his ability to mobilise the youths via social media made a difference.

In 2015, with the merger of parties that formed the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was the candidate of the party won and social media played a significant role in his emergence.

In recent times, the handlers of President Buhari’s social media have been forced to defend some of his actions and policies. Going to the election, this trend is expected to continue as social media users query what has been achieved since the government came into power.

Bashir Ahmad, Personal Assistant on New Media to President Buhari said social media will be used to showcase the ‘numerous achievements’ of Buhari and what he intends to do when re-elected. He said the centre has no intention of attacking the candidate of the PDP.

Bashir, also the coordinator of Buhari New Media Centre, claimed that the centre, with six regional coordinators, one in every state and the FCT, is self-funded and populated by volunteers.

While it is unlikely that President Buhari and his main challenger, Atiku, will attack each other on social media, their foot soldiers are already fighting dirty.

Director, Strategic Communications of President Buhari 2019 Presidential Campaign, Festus Keyamo (SAN), pinned a post he made on October 19 on his verified Twitter handle, @fkeyamo. The post reads, “Because they are targeting the younger voters who don’t know their record, they say there was no suffering at all during their tenure. This publication was in 2002, which was exactly 3 years into their first term”. The publication he was referring to was an edition of Daily Trust of August 12 with the headline, ‘Nigerians are suffering, IBB tells Obasanjo’.

Then on November 11, he made a post, in apparent reference to the allegation that Atiku is being denied US visa over allegations of corruption.

Segun Sowunmi, spokesperson of Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organization, and a former New Media aide to ex-president Jonathan, Reno Omokri, along with former minister of aviation Osita Chidoka are among those leading the social media war for Atiku.

In projecting the plans of Atiku, his media handlers have also faced criticism about what he did in the past, and corruption allegations. There is no doubt that more questions would be asked as the election approaches.

Paul Ibe, head of the Atiku Media Office said Atiku understands the importance of social media in the 21st century. “The majority of people we are trying to reach are between the ages of 18 and 35, hence the social media is the preferred mode of communication for them. If you are defining any plan that does not include the social media, you are not in the 21st century.”

“We will use it to reach the highest percentage of people we intend to reach. We are running an issue-based campaign so we are not interested in attacks,” noted Ibe. He said the campaign will deploy the right resources to reach every sector, including the social media.

Mr. Chude Jideonwo, who led African Media group, RED Media Africa Group for 13 years, working on national elections

in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Liberia, said social media is a powerful tool and that politicians have understood its significance in winning elections.

RED successfully managed communications for three successful African presidential campaigns, including that of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

The team had over 500 young influencers who were able to propagate Buhari’s message as well as debunk any misinformation. “Social media is going to be a very powerful tool.  I wrote in my last book ‘How To Win Elections In Africa’ that social media doesn’t yet determine who will win election but with every subsequent Nigerian election, it’s going to grow more and more powerful,” Jideonwo said.

Jideonwo who said the potential of the social media is yet to be maximised, advised politicians to concentrate on the authenticity of what they say on social media.

A Professor of Film and Media studies from University of Abuja, Kwaghkondo Agber said that the social media in the last few years has played very crucial roles in election starting with the way Obama utilized it in the United States of America.

In Nigeria, Prof. Agber said, “Judging from what has happened so far, people are gradually looking towards social media as a source of mobilisation,” adding that “a significant number of Nigerians are online”.

Dr. Yahaya Tanko Baba, Head of Political Science Department, Usman Dan Fodio University Sokoto, put forward that those targeted via the social media are the “enlightened public who have near-unlimited access to social media”. He explained that there are “certain information that has to do with the electioneering campaign that target only the enlightened populace.”

Dr Monday Ekpe, a visiting lecturer at the university of Abuja who teaches Media in Africa, Media laws and Screen Education said the social media would affect the election. “I think it will have some impact because the whole world in any case is going the way of social media as no part of the world has any protection against the social media,” he proffered.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and some civil societies make use of social media to mobilise and educate the voting population. It is also used by security agencies and election observers to provide real-time updates during voting and respond to queries from electorates.

Underscoring the importance of this, Prof. Agber added that social media has led to development of what is now called ‘situation rooms’ as “during elections social media are used to tell people what is happening, situations across the country”.

The director of Digital Media and Research Centre of the Lagos State University, LASU, Dr. Tunde Akanni said social media can also help the less prominent political parties to engage with the electorates. He counselled that they should not be concerned about the number but the efficiency of their messages and the reactions of netizens.

Dr Ekpe sees the impact of social media as “a cocktail” of good and bad. He said the impact is bad because “It helps to propagate fake news,” while good because “it also complements the efforts of the conventional media in trying to highlight the strong and weak points of the various candidates”.

In a poll conducted on Daily Trust’s verified Twitter handle, @daily_trust, 56 per cent of the respondents said social media will play a role in their voting pattern at the 2019 election.

In a similar poll on Daily Trust Facebook page, 61 per cent of the respondents said social media will influence their choice in 2019 election while 54 per cent agreed that social media influenced their choice in 2015 elections.

Mr. Paul Alaje, Senior economist of SPM Professionals argued that politicians will spend more money on social media during the 2019 elections. He said the social media took about 2 per cent of the N50bn that was officially captured as election spending in 2015 elections, but a projection of about 6 per cent of 2019 elections spending is expected to go to social media.

“2 per cent of N50bn is a huge sum and we are expecting more this time around because everybody has come to recognise the effectiveness of the social media in election. Election spending this year is expected to exceed N50bn with over 6 per cent of it going to social media campaigns,” he said.

On budgeting for social media campaign, Dr. Ekpe said it would be wise for candidates and political parties to vote more resources to matters relating to the social media

“I don’t know how much percentage of their fund is so far committed for social media. You cannot seriously operate now in this decade without given much to social media,” he said.

Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg noting the possible impact social media can have on elections said they are investing on research so that they can know its effect.

One of the main goals of the online battlefields is to command people’s attention and to go viral. and from the amount of social media activity on Buhari and Atiku camps, the battle for the presidency will be fought on the internet as well.

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