By Joel Popoola
Real leaders know that self praise is no praise, but why has no-one told our politicians?
Imagine you heard that someone you knew was paying people to go around saying nice things about them. You’d think they were pretty pathetic, right?
Sadly, this kind of behaviour is becoming all-too-common in Nigerian politics.
Abubakar Malami, this week, became the latest political figure to be accused of hiring paid social media influencers to publish countless posts praising the Justice Minister for reforming the Nigerian judicial system and promoting accountability in government.
The hastag #achievementsofMalami even trended on Twitter.
I have no proof at all that these allegations are true – indeed given Nigeria’s problem with fake news being spread on social media, we all need to be savvy enough to consider that they are utterly untrue, and I welcome any effort to increase transparency and accountability amongst our political class.
But as a leading Nigerian tech entrepreneur I can certainly confirm that such behaviour is becoming endemic in Nigerian politics.
Regrettably, building an army of online mercenaries to relentlessly sing your praises online whilst simultaneously belittling and mocking your opponents has become an established electioneering tactic in Nigeria.
And it is bad for our democracy. It erodes trust and corrodes people’s willingness to engage in a political process where it appears that every politician either too good to be true, or too bad to be believed.
For politicians, the ability to pay people to broadcast your good works is a dangerous disincentive to actually having to do any good works in the first place. Real leaders know that self-praise is no praise at all especially when it is coming from rented mouths.
For voters, a well-functioning democracy depends upon a knowledgeable electorate. If voters cannot distinguish easily between fact and fiction, and are unable to trust what they read about candidates they are unable to make informed choices at the ballot box.
And the fact that so many young Nigerians are so jaded about our democracy, which in many cases, is younger than they are – that their political support, online at least, can be bought for a handful of Naira shames our nation.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we have a solution.
We have developed a free app called Rate Your Leader, which lets confirmed voters speak directly to their local leaders straight from their smartphone.
The app lets people ask direct questions to local decision makers as well as letting politicians know what matters most to the people who elected them.
And if the voters don’t think that the information they receive is believable or is excessively partisan, they can leave their leader a rating, letting their neighbours know how reliable their peers believe this source of information to be – a permanent visual mark of credibility.
The app also keeps communication courteous by blocking any offensive messages from being sent. Our goal is a new era of political engagement and accountability.
Distinguishing between fact and fiction online has never been more difficult. Just this week one of Nigeria’s major newspapers – traditionally and correctly seen as information source with the most credibility and integrity – was forced to take action to distance itself from a Facebook group trying to pass itself of as the paper’s official page and posting fake news as if it had come from the newspaper itself.
Then there is the case of Nigerian football hero, Victor Oshimen, who following his record move to Napoli in Italy was quoted online as saying:
“I am proud to join a club, who have seen great players like Maradona… I also want to go into the club’s history”.
It’s not controversial to say that Oshimen must aspire to follow in the footsteps as such a Napoli icon – one of the football greats, a World Cup winner who led the club to two league championships.
But Oshimen this week tweeted “I never said such a thing”.
When we cannot even trust a statement as uncontroversial as a footballer wanting to be as successful at his new club as one of their greatest ever players, what can we trust on the internet?
That is why a platform for verified voters to get information direct from verified politicians – and publically highlight to their neighbours the value of that information – is so vital.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur and digital democracy campaigner and is creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. Joel can be reached on Twitter @JOpopoola or firstname.lastname@example.org