Written by Eromo Egbejule
Information is power. It was powerful when only governments and media owners controlled its dissemination, ant it is becoming more powerful every day as millions of cellphone-toting private citizens hold it in their hands and share it with each other.
The #occupyNigeria and #bringbackourgirls viral campaigns on Twitter in 2012 and 2014 had such a global reach because they combined the voices of millions. In Nigeria, as in other parts of the globe, local developers have created applications offer users the political and cultural power of collaboration.
These selected apps share two fundamental characteristics:
Democracy without accountability is spineless and the web-based Tracka is a tool that is used to monitor government projects, campaign promises, issues and contracts. The app is a flagship project of BudgIT, a fiscal transparency nonprofit seeking to improve citizen inclusion in governance.
HOW IT WORKS: It takes 20 seconds or less to sign up and then anyone can post a project with pictures and updates. The parliamentarian in whose domain the project resides is then bombarded with emails and SMSs until something happens.
STANDOUT QUALITIES: It is layered on open data and also integrated with existing social media tools on a beautiful user interface. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) so there is proof by way of pictures or videos, of the status of projects, regardless of a public official’s claim to the contrary. It is essentially a social network with status updates on the dividends of democracy.
WHY SO PHENOMENAL: In a country like Nigeria where lawmakers are entitled to hefty allowances and also allocations for constituency spending, many of these projects do not get off ground - even though they are listed in the budget - and others are simply not seen through to the end. Tracka empowers citizens to use visual proof to monitor the status of projects and put pressure on their representatives, for the benefit of the constituency.
SUCCESSES: The app has been used in tracking contracts in more than a number states across the country and has received funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network.
POTENTIAL: With an increasing power to bring government to its knees, Nigeria’s social-media-savvy youth, or “the children of anger” as a former presidential spokesman labeled them, have been eager to collaborate. And with an integrated SMS platform being developed, Tracka could become a weapon mightier than its developers imagined.
APP: Gidi Traffic
Not all superheroes come with capes. Nigeria’s pioneer dedicated traffic-monitoring service started by providing real-time updates on traffic within Lagos, but has now expanded to cover the rest of Nigeria. It provides information from users in the form of text, photos and videos that help other users navigate through their city with minimal stress.
HOW IT WORKS: Gidi began as a Twitter utility service, so users can still tweet enquiries to the account, which is run by an anonymous administrator. Responses are crowd-sourced and offer directions to subscribers. Gidi’s Android and Windows (developed in partnership with Nokia) apps have upped the ante with security updates, job placements and more.
WHY SO PHENOMENAL: Lagos is one of Africa’s busiest cities and the strain on its population is quite telling. Having traffic pointers at your fingertips can save you many wasted working hours sitting helplessly in gridlock.
SUCCESSES: It has garnered recognition globally and has been nominated for awards, including a Shorty Award. In an interview, the anonymous admin told the story of a woman was in labour during an industrial strike, with no one to help. She tweeted GidiTraffic and one of the followers, a practicing midwife, came to her aid.
POTENTIAL: With a sponsorship deal from Nokia and a number of partnerships with Nigerian banks, GidiTraffic could become as ubiquitous as the famed ‘Nigerian prince’, but with a much better reputation.
This mobile phone application is a location-specific election observer tool, aiding members of the electorate in reporting the level of fairness in an election. Developed by the Enough is Enough Nigeria coalition of youth advocacy groups, it is available in two versions - ReVoDa Lite (for regular phones) and ReVoDa Smart (for smart phones).
HOW IT WORKS: Create a profile by signing up with name, phone number and polling unit code via the app or SMS. To send a report, type and send using the same modes.
WHY SO PHENOMENAL: Citizens without smartphones aren’t left out, as Revoda offers a version for not-so-smart phones. Also, user identity is kept secret to protect the citizen reporter.
SUCCESSES: It was used throughout the country in Nigeria’s 2011 and 2015 elections .
POTENTIAL: Social media were instrumental in the triumph of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections and could prove to be even more so in future elections, as Nigeria strives to carry out more free and fair polls.