The 53 year old Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is a serious Facebooker! And if you are trying to guess where he chose to announce his candidacy for the pending Nigerian presidential elections try Facebook! As far as the Nigerian president is concerned, the social networking world represents a formidable nation building tool.
What Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wanted was a spectacular entry into the presidential race. On Wednesday, facebook granted him that wish when he announced his desire to hand over power to himself in the upcoming January 2011 presidential elections.
It all began when the Nigerian President announced the creation of his facebook profile at a conference at the University of Port Harcourt on May 15, 2010. And since the day Goodluck Jonathan created his Facebook profile, about three months ago, on June 28, 2010 to be precise, the president of over 100 million Africans is hooked.
He posts nearly one message per day: A rarity among his age group who count for only 1 percent of all facebook users in Nigeria.
But, Goodluck’s facebook profile is not for idle gossip. In fact, for him, it is to encourage interaction between Nigerians and their government, whilst bridging the ever-growing fissure between government officials and the people they are supposed to serve.
And the idea seems to have caught on as Goodluck’s facebook fans grow by the hour. Standing at 216,389 “fans” on Thursday afternoon, the president’s profile had increased to 220,000 fans by Friday afternoon.
The Nigerian president’s step has seen thousands of people sending messages to outline their ideas or even inform him on stories that would otherwise never have reached him.
Demagogy or a real desire to listen?
But the question of whether his social networking profile was being used for demagogy came up soon after Jonathan became a full fledged member of the facebook community. It concerned the status of the national football team, the “Super Eagles”.
It will be recalled that after their elimination from the first round games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Nigerian president had taken a unilateral decision to suspend the national team from all international competitions for two years, before finally deciding to withdraw his threat.
He had argued that the hundreds of messages posted on his Facebook wall had pushed him to rescind his decision. But of course, those who were well aware of FIFA regulations had described Goodluck as a toothless bulldog on that subject in particular, a pure bluff.
In fact, FIFA had threatened sanctions if Nigeria ever dared to politically interfere in the affairs of the Nigeria Football Association. With such a threat it is likely that the president’s decision would have carried nothing but air. He would have been forced to rescind anyway.
Nonetheless, in order to salvage his image after having spoken too soon before weighing the non-impact of his strong words, Goodluck Jonathan explained on his facebook “wall” that he had “listened” to the opinions of hundreds of Nigerians who had expressed themselves on the affair. He even went on to cite some people who had persuaded him to rescind his decision.
Although it would be difficult to believe that all comments posted on his wall by his fans are read by the President, or his team as it were, — considering that 5000 comments were posted only a few hours after his announcement to run as President — the initiative is definitely noteworthy.
Counting about 1,757,720 facebookers, that is 1.15% of the Nigerian population (Facebakers statistics for September 10, 2010), Nigeria is ranked as facebook’s third biggest country in Africa.
And although Goodluck comes from a continent where new technologies are still struggling to impose themselves, his audacious gamble to trust the power of social networking may play a significant role in the upcoming elections.