Analysing the 2019 general elections, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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#TrackNigeria: Yesterday, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) launched its Election Analysis Centre (EAC) before a packed audience of politicians, media, international observers and diplomats. The Centre is a one-shop store for information, trend analysis, observation and tracking of political and voting patterns for the elections. CDD has recruited and trained 2,642 polling unit observers to be stationed in 30% of the 8804 wards in the country. They will be assisted by 800 roving observers, 500 of whom are journalism students from our higher institutions. At the headquarters in Abuja, ten leading election experts have been assembled from all geopolitical zones in the country under the leadership of Professor Adele Jinadu with members such as Professors Nuhu Yakub and my humble self, Drs Joe Abah a development practitioner, Jumoke Yacob-Haliso of Babcock University, Abubakar Kari from the University of Abuja, Christiana Omorede from the University of Benin, Plangsat Dayil of University of Jos, Jideafor Adibe of Nasarawa State University and Kelechi Iwuamadi of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  They would be working with 40 data analysts to provide continuous analysis of the elections. The Centre has also partnered with ARISE TV but also very many other media organs with broadcast, print, on-line and social media capacity so please tune in. The Centre would counter fake news and provide Nigerians with objective and high-quality analysis.

Nigerians have been waiting for tomorrow’s election with different emotions including anxiety, anticipation, excitement, foreboding and why not, even happiness. Our task is to work to ensure that the sentiment of happiness prevails. As we vote tomorrow, it is important to outline the context and some of the trends that the Election Analysis Centre has been compiling. Regarding the context, we should look beyond the challenges of fractious party primaries, fanned by deepening deficits in their internal democracy processes since 1999. Rather, we need to begin to focus, as recent events underscore, on the implications of the anti-corruption war on our electoral politics, particularly for party political and campaign financing, electoral adjudication, and the excessive political embeddedness of the judiciary.

One of the biggest positives of this election has been the huge number of contestants that have entered the political fray. There are 23,316 people contesting for the 1,558 constituency positions in the elections. Many of them are young and have been inspired by the “not too young to run” law and movement. They may not go very far this time but the future for them is bright as many Nigerians are saying that this is the last time they would vote for old 70-year candidates represented by the leading contenders for the presidency, Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari. Hopefully, the 71 other candidates for the presidency are preparing for many more contests before some of them successfully enter Aso Rock.

In his opening address yesterday, Professor Adele Jinadu drew attention to a recent observation by Professor Ladipo Adamolekun: “a polity that seeks judicial answers to political questions runs the risk of undermining its judiciary while simultaneously perpetuating its underdevelopment of its political process.” The inundation of our courts by politicians seeking to affirm anti-democratic or even non-existing party congresses and or nominations or seeking redress from perceived injustice has led to massive increase in judicial corruption and non-resolution of internal party crises. Jinadu strongly advised that the heart of the country’s electoral adjudication jurisprudence called for the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for addressing elections disputes.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been subjected to massive negative attacks, a lot of them unfair, on their will and  preparedness to organise free, fair and credible elections. It is important for Nigerians to take on board the fact that there has been considerable investment by INEC in technology solutions and administrative systems that have to a significant extent irrevocable improved the integrity of Nigerian elections. It is impossible to slide back to the Maurice Iwu days when an INEC Chairman can sit in Abuja and announce fictitious election results.

The Analysis Centre has prepared extensive documentation on trends in Nigeria’s electoral history and politics since 1999. They provide insight on themes such as identity and electoral politics; registration of political parties; voter registration; voter turnout; voter literacy; battle ground and swing states; and electoral security and electoral violence. They draw attention to the impact of the proliferation of registered political parties on the electoral process, if not on the dominance of the two leading parties but on the complication and growth in size of the ballot paper with all its implications for complicating balloting and counting as well as in increasing the number of spoilt ballots.

One huge theme that has been affecting the 2019 elections is the phenomenon of fake news. Fake news is not a new concept in Nigeria, but the exponential growth in the use and availability of mobile Internet, as well as the sheer amount of information accessible in the age of digital media, has made the task of filtering out false information far more difficult. To gain a deeper understanding of the problem, the Centre for Democracy and Development has conducted a study of the online information landscape in order to paint a clearer picture of how information flows and understand the precise nature of disinformation (information shared with the intent to mislead), misinformation (information not necessarily shared with intent), hateful or dangerous speech, propaganda and other harmful forms of content in Nigeria. The  analysis focused primarily on Facebook and Twitter, with some data collection and fact checking through WhatsApp. The initial results of the analysis presented at the Centre yesterday revealed a number of interesting issues.

CDD collected tweets and related metadata for accounts of major politicians, parties, media and political organizations as well as hashtags related to the campaign, candidates and the general political process. The Twitter dataset contained 118,649 tweets collected from December 31 2018 to January 30, 2019 and revealed a dense and interconnected landscape with an above-average prevalence of automated accounts – roughly 19.5% of collected accounts show signs of automation, which suggests a high level of bot activity around the hashtags, accounts and subjects collected. This means that certain persons are investing resources for the manipulation political events and issues. For example, one observable trend was that accounts with bot like tendencies promoted messages concerning Biafra and calls to boycott the elections. False news sites and Facebook groups are sharing false or questionable content across platforms, in some cases to hundreds of thousands of users. Examples of content found include false stories about the supposed death and subsequent cloning of President Buhari, a false invasion of Nigeria and Ghana by North Korea, as well as satirical items that users are often sharing as true stories.

WhatsApp is by far the most common information sharing platform today in Nigeria according to a report by WeAreSocial, a social analytics firm, and this penetration is growing. The nature of WhatsApp’s closed, end to end encrypted platform means that it is difficult to capture data from WhatsApp, and researchers can only collect information, messages and content manually for analysis. The manually collected data from WhatsApp combined with the automated collections from Facebook and Twitter will help the CDD Election Analysis Centre track what’s happening and advice Nigerians appropriately on the dangers of manipulation and promotion of hateful content that is lurking and how best each and every one of us can retain our critical faculties and not succumb to false and hateful content that could create violence in our society. Let’s all contribute our quota to a free, fair, credible and violence-free elections over the next two weeks to three weeks.

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