Reclaimnaija is a broad-based citizens’ platform, which was set up to enhance the participation of grassroots people, organizations and local institutions in promoting electoral transparency, accountability and democratic governance in Nigeria.
A look at the history of elections in Nigeria shows that there is weak public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process due to previous experience of massive electoral fraud in the country. The way the business of electioneering is conducted by the politicians makes it difficult for citizens to make informed choices about candidates running for office. There is paucity of information on the candidates and most candidates do not engage politically with the electorate. The campaigns are not ideologically driven nor do they focus on issues and programmes. Rather they are more focused on personalities, intra/inter party rivalries, inducement and gratification of the electorate, especially the rural and urban-poor communities. It became imperative to build the capacity of the citizens and grassroots people to engage proactively with the electoral process and outcomes. ReclaimNaija was, therefore, created to provide such empowerment through in-depth voter education and the promotion of citizen action. To this end, Community Life Project and its key partners, Community Development Departments nationwide and Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), the promoters of ReclaimNaija, carried out 193 civic and voter education forums for community and grassroots leaders spread across the 36 States of the country and the Federal Capital Territory. An average of 120 leaders was in attendance at all the forums. Participants were drawn from existing networks with viable structures such as Artisan and Trade-Based associations, Faith-Based Organisations, Community Development Associations, Youth Organisations, Okada (Commercial Motor Bike) Riders and Owners and Associations of Persons with Disabilities. This broad scale education of community leaders was strategic in getting a buy – in from the grassroots. The trained leaders took ownership of the platform. They effectively became the faces and voices of reclaimnaija, as they went ahead to carry out public awareness activities. For instance, the Okada Riders and Owners Associations mobilised their membership and organised week-long carnivals in several cities across the 6 geopolitical zones of the country distributing fliers with the reporting numbers; while the Association of Hairdressers educated their members, put up posters in their salons and also distributed fliers to their clients.
These outreach activities contributed significantly to the effectiveness of reclaimnaija.net platform.
The reclaimnaija platform, which is driven by the Ushahidi web engine, is a reporting platform set up as a mechanism for grassroots people to get their voices heard on issues of electoral transparency and governance. The platform makes it possible for citizens to monitor the electoral process and report incidents of electoral fraud and other malpractices simply by sending text messages or calling dedicated numbers in four major languages (Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin). For the text messages,FrontlineSMS is what has been used as the SMS gateway. Citizens can also report to the platform via email, direct reporting on the site and twitter. Community Life Project successfully deployed the platform for promoting electoral transparency in the pre-election phase of the 2011 elections.
ReclaimNaija.Net and the 2011 Elections: The Journey So Far
The platform was effectively used by the citizens and grassroots people from all over the country to report incidents during the voter registration exercise. The reports were collated real time and fed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This assisted INEC in troubleshooting in many locations across the country. They were also useful to the media in monitoring and publishing stories on the voter registration exercise thereby helping to amplify the voice of the people. In addition, the reclaimnaija.net website serves as a one-stop online resource for information on the 2011 elections. It features all the polling units, senatorial districts and wards, the Nigerian Constitution, information on candidates, the 2010 electoral act, the election timetable, electoral guidelines, certified voters’ registration figures, political parties as well as civic and voter education modules. For the first time in our history, citizens of this country have a formidable platform for promoting electoral transparency and popular participation. Citizens were able to positively influence the electoral process. For instance, a lot of reports came from communities with limited access to registration centres and a couple of such communities had the deadline for voter registration extended by two days. Reclaimnaija.net has already succeeded in redefining the paradigm of election monitoring in Nigeria.