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In Your Face

Nigeria’s future president wants to be your friend.

On Facebook, that is.

Well, it’s complicated. You see, he needs you to join his fan page on Facebook so he can gain popularity by numbers, sell you his spiel, participate in your discussions, convince you and your friends to vote for him. Then he might become Nigeria’s president.

(Then he might forget you.) But let’s not dwell on the future.

Let’s talk about now. How about these inspirational tomes and captions, and the Photoshopped beaming faces on your Facebook page? The adverts started showing up in the right-hand bar of my Facebook page during summer last year. So-and-So cares about you and wants to be your president. Whats-His-Name is cool, in touch with youth, and can lead our country in a new direction. Forget the fact that a significant number of you is unemployed; that you learned to say “NEPA” before you learned to say “Mummy;” that before today, your voice was ignored. Okay, I never saw this latter statement in an advert…or did I?

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t have anything against riding the trends. In truth, I commend our would-be leaders for paying attention to the times and utilizing technology to communicate with their constituents. One CNN article dubs Goodluck Jonathan “The Facebook President,” with his huge fan base (now close to half a million) and regular activity on Facebook. Give the man some props. Others who have joined the bandwagon include former Heads of State Obasanjo and the infamous Babangida, governors of Kaduna and Bauchi states, and randomly, Waziri, Chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria (Weekly Trust). Hmm.

It’s a legitimate strategy, really. We saw young Americans wield the power of Facebook to participate in the democratic process in 2008. (For an interesting treatise on this subject, see the following article). And in recent months, we have all been soundly assured of the power of web 2.0 and social media to topple regimes. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that youth are the power brokers of today (have always been, though not always recognized), and our social spaces are our virtual Wall Street. Not to mention—Facebook also offers a cheap means of reaching a broad audience, albeit a niche audience.

So, of course the bigwigs want to hang out in your space. Of course they’ll wave their manifestos in your face. Hey, at least, you are not being ignored, right!? You are receiving more attention from our leaders now than you did when you were sick or hungry or deprived of education [insert here what your own unique socioeconomic trial has been].

Like I said, I have nothing against political candidates playing their cards right. It’s just … there’s something … how shall I say this? … brashly in-your-face, yet suspiciously underhand about the whole thing. Quite frankly, I’m feeling patronized. And pandered to. Like I’ve been labelled “target market” on someone’s marketing strategy (a marketing strategy for which that someone probably received a handsome payment, but that’s beside the point). You know what I mean?

I have nothing against smiling faces and fan page requests, but I want to know—do these candidates want our voices, or just our votes?

In case our friends out there were wondering, Nigeria’s youth are not sitting down passively, waiting for the elections to “happen to us.” Enough is Enough, a coalition of young Nigerians and nonprofits, is commandeering a technology-based campaign challenging Nigerians to “Register, Select, Vote, Protect” (R.S.V.P.) In Google Search, or Facebook, or YouTube, type “Youth Nigeria 2011 Election” in the search box and prepare to make a day of it. Nigerian youth are talking, blogging, singing; and it’s making sense.

And back to you, young Nigerians. Whatever your views are on the “in-your-face” on-your-Facebook-page campaign strategy of our 2011 electoral candidates, don’t forget to remember that your voice and your vote cannot be separated. What are your dreams for Nigeria? Have you had enough of corruption, poverty, poor infrastructure, the declining education system?

When you cast your ballot in April, make sure you’ve had your say.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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