By Eric Elezuo
One man has developed the appropriate app to not only link voters to their representatives, but also curb the origin and spread of fake news in its entirety. He is JOEL OYEYINKA POPOOLA. He told The Boss everything that needs to be known about the app called Rate Your Leader, due for launched in Nigeria in February 2020. Excerpts:
Joel Oyeyinka Popoola, fondly called Joel or Yinka is the Founder of Rate Your Leader Ltd and Aacle Ltd. He grew up in Gbongan, Osun State where he had his primary and post-primary education at St Paul’s Anglican Primary School and later at Gbongan Community High School. He is a British Citizen of Nigerian decent.
He says more about himself:
I studied Accounting with a background in Banking, Finance, and Insurance from The Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Osun State. I also have a Masters degree in Managerial Psychology obtained from Nigeria’s Premier University, the University of Ibadan.
“I later joined the IT world where I have practiced professional software testing consultancy for many uninterrupted and highly productive and eventful years. My earliest career path saw me traversing through two superior financial institutions based in my home country, Nigeria; they are United Bank for Africa (UBA) and the former Intercontinental Bank, which is today a part of the ever-growing Access Bank. These institutions sharpened, shaped and honed my professional skills and grounded me in distinguishing Leadership roles with excellent service delivery in Banking Operations, Branch Start-up and Management, Relationship Management, Business Development, Risk Management, and Information Technology. I am an Advance Member of the Institute of Directors, Great Britain; Associate Member of Rain Cloud, Westminster; Member, London Tech Advocates, and Various Meet Up groups in North East of England.”
His growing up days, like every typical Nigerian child, was eventful and full of adventures. He disclosed that that his was a fairly family where everyone interacted as one big family.
“I grew up in a very big compound in Gbongan with my siblings, cousins, nephews, and nieces, from my mother and father’s families. The beauty of growing up in Gbongan was that we were one big family. My mum was a food vendor with some local schools and because of that, I had many friends who were guaranteed extra food. There were quite a number of challenges though but looking back now, I realize that those challenges were part of my destiny, and they helped to pave the way to where I am now.”
Explaining what aroused his interest into developing the Rate Your Leader app, and what exactly tuned up his interest in leadership and democracy since he has a financial background, Popoola went down memory lane to bring to the present series of brief but important occurrences that is about to change the face of digital democracy.
He narrated: I joined the United Bank for Africa as a corps member in 1999/2000 and around 2001/2002, our then Managing Director, Mallam Abba Kyari (now Chief of Staff to the President) introduced a 360-appraiser system to the Bank, where customers, colleagues, line managers all have a say in your annual performance evaluation. I could remember then that, the junior staff couldn’t be trusted to give feedback on our Director’s performance, hence the question came to my mind, who appraises the Directors, Managing Directors, and our Chairman then was Hakeem Bello-Osagie.
As God would have it, I was privileged to join the Bank’s condolence team to late Justice Atinuke Ige, shortly after Chief Bola Ige was murdered. In the bank’s team were my branch manager, Busola Adebusuyi, Hakeem Bello-Osagie, Arnold Ekpe, (was coming from Eko Transnational to join UBA) Alero Otobo, from Human Capital Management and a host of others. I thought to myself that having these people in Ibadan, would proffer an answer to my question as to who appraises the Directors, and consequently the Chairman of a bank and by extension the governor of a state, a president of a country or who is qualified to appraise them. There and then, the seed of Rate Your Leader was sowed. Getting to the UK was just the icing on the cake, more often than not politicians would send flyers to houses inviting people for surgeries, to join their campaign and all what not. One day, I asked myself, why can’t the politicians reach the residents online real time through a credible platform and allow engagement within their constituencies? This would not only give back the power to the people to hold their leaders accountable, but will also help the leader to know what matters most to the people whose interest they are serving. That was the beginning of the digital democracy project- Rate Your Leader
His deep knowledge of the electoral process of the nation in comparison to what is obtainable elsewhere has propelled his thought process, and shaped him towards changing the narrative responsible for the no motion movement in the country’s democracy since 1999?
“There are a series of challenges that are responsible for this slow movement; the major one has to do with the electoral process; there is lack of internal democracy within the political parties. Here, candidates for elective positions mostly emerge as the highest bidders. More often than not, people with deep pockets get a nomination to be the flag bearers of their political parties. I think at the party level, all the party members should be allowed to vote and choose who to represent them at any election. Selecting delegates to vote for presidential candidates, state governorship candidates as over the years, laid the corrupt foundation for vote buying. This has now extended to our polling stations and even booths.
Also, sources of funding elections in Nigeria are shrouded in secrecy. It is the right of every Nigerians to know how much each political party spent in the last election, for example, and who are their contributors/donors. The National Assembly should do the needful in this regard and enact laws that will empower INEC to compel every political party to publish sources of their funding, and the amount raised for any election. This would be the first step in the right direction to effectively fight corruption. This will also kill the new waves of vote-buying and ensure a credible electioneering process at the political party level.
There’s a huge disconnect between our elected representatives, our governors, House of rep members, senators and the people who elected them. No means of reaching them at all, immediately they voted in, they disappear, only to come back after four years canvassing for votes. There are no means of holding them accountable for their campaign promises. In the UK, almost two-thirds of Britons believe the political system is “rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful” and only half believe they can influence politics. These figures cannot be significantly different if the same research is conducted in Nigeria. There are no popularly known ways of sending direct messages to our elected leaders in Nigeria. No official emails, (the majority of our elected leaders are still using yahoo email, Gmail, or Hotmail for official matters) no official phone numbers, (and where one is provided, you can’t reach them. Your call goes straight to a voicemail or answering machine)
You are the brain behind the now globally rated Rate Your Leader app, which has its base in the United Kingdom. Can you tell us what it entails?
Rate Your Leader is a cutting edge bridge between the elected representatives and their electors, The app will help politicians to listen, connect and engage with the voters within their constituencies, providing them with the tools to Improve their voter reach, Target and broadcast to voters at the touch of a button, Encourage people to register to vote, and Engage directly with voters without fear of abuse. On the flip side, it allows confirmed voters to communicate directly with the elected representatives from their phones or tablets in a way that makes abuse impossible, as well as rating them for responsiveness. It pre-populates for voters their elected representative based on their ward, local council, federal constituency, senatorial district and states after which confirmed voters can directly start a conversation with the elected leaders that serve them, constructively.”
Are there plans to replicate this novel app in Nigeria and other developing countries in order for their democracy to have a facelift?
Yes, we did a pilot in Nigeria earlier this year – January, and we are planning the launching of the app in a few weeks’ time across all the states in Nigeria. We’ll be looking at about four other Africa Counties in our first phase of expansion.
As a tech entrepreneur who has an interest in good governance, democracy, and leadership recruitment, what are the challenges you face in the course of preaching this leadership barometer app?
In all honesty, it has not been a very smooth journey – from the conception stage, to the development of the minimum viable product, to onboarding elected representatives and voters, but the crucial point is, I have tremendously enjoyed the support of various organizations and individuals in Nigeria and in the UK. For instance, The Sunderland Software City paid up to 70% for our functional specification cost, Mincoffs Solicitors, The Business Information Units of the Institute of Directors UK, handled almost all our business research, The Rain Cloud Westminster provided opportunity to meet with frontline politicians and Ministers-across the political parties, the Metropolitan Police and Jo Cox Foundation provided useful feedback, the Big Tent Ideas Festival provided the opportunity to pitch at 2019 Big Tent that attracts over 2500 participants across all sectors, The Councillors, MPs, too numerous to mention. Also, in Nigeria, our solicitors, Olawinun Ajayi LP, Chief Dele Momodu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Akin Fadeyi my good friends Riliwan Olawale Yusuf, Bolade Adesokan, Tope Agboola, Moses Adebisi, Funsho Ojo-Kayode, Tony Eluba, Abiola Joshua, my cousins Adesoji Adeyanju, Oladele Adedeji and host of others did a lot to support the pilot in Nigeria
What does the Nigerian system stand to gain if this app is enlisted in the country’s democratic system?
Crucially, as many that have lost faith in their elected representatives have just got their faith rekindled.
Recall that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo sometimes last month, called on news organisations to do more to tackle the “fake news or provocative information” he believes “can cause chaos, civil unrest, war, and even death”. He continued: “I think all of us in the media; social media, print, TV, all of us, should begin to do something serious about fake news before it begins to consume us”.
However, I am of a considered opinion that the project’s Rate Your Leader app helps politicians engage with voters in their constituencies, helping them understand what matters most to the people who elected them and build relationships of trust with the electorate. Politicians need to ask themselves why social media provides such fertile soil for dangerous rumours to take root – one of the main reasons is the lack of trust electors have for the elected.
Young Nigerians are more likely to own a Smartphone than they are to vote. That’s why it makes it so important for politicians to use that technology to built relationships of trust with the voters. Fake news of the kind we’ve seen in Nigeria in recent weeks necessitates the public having reliable source of information they can go to online, and where is a better place to go than directly to their local representatives? Nigeria voters need to know what information they can trust, and also that they can trust their local representatives.
How secured is the app from invasion or disruption, especially by politicians who have perfected means of subverting any electoral system in the country?
It will be extremely difficult for anyone either politician or voter to register multiple accounts on Rate Your Leader, We use one of the most credible platforms to verify all users, unlike most social media giants where you can create thousands (with just email address) accounts.
Do you think the Nigerian electoral system can still get it right, especially when it comes to voting the right people in public offices?
I believe our electoral system can still get it right if it is willing to do so. Our INEC needs to be truly independent and be ready to supervise the political parties’ activities effectively. INEC should query political spending and be interested in how political parties source their funding.
What is your take on the phenomenon of fake news and what impact do you think it will have on democracy, especially in developing countries?
The phenomenon of fake news and its impact on democracy all over the world needs to be nipped in the bud if nations are concerned about their unity and harmony. I urge electors to embrace new technology to ‘take back democracy’ or risk the downside. “From military rule to Africa’s biggest democracy, Nigeria has come this far in my lifetime. But fake news threatens our fledgling democracy. Fake news of fake explosions, fake massacres, fake roads and even a fake President are inimical to our growth as a society. This cannot continue. This goes beyond politics. All parties need to work together to combat a menace that endangers our international reputation and our very democracy. Independent international studies have shown the influence social media misinformation had on our most recent elections. This cannot happen again. We cannot let people be conned. Misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction, which threatens Nigeria’s democracy and we need to come together to combat it.”
How do you intend to get the youths involve in this drive since it has more to do with technology?
The recent presidential election in Africa’s most populous democracy saw the lowest turnout since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, with just a third of voters turning up at polling stations. Almost half of young Nigerians now own a Smartphone, with research from analysts Pew showing that 48% of 18-34-year-olds, and 39% of all adults, access the Internet using their mobile telephone. Young Nigerians are more likely to own a Smartphone than they are to vote. For the sake of our democracy, it’s vital that politicians think creatively about how best to use digital technology to reach out to voters, the youngest in particular.
Turnout in Nigerian elections has been decreasing since 2003, and it seems reasonable to speculate that a driving force behind that could be decreasing faith in a political establishment, which looks less and less like the electorate. We would take the news to universities, football pitches, club houses and everywhere we can draw the youth to the platform. In fact, we are set for a revolutionary structuring of voting process, and elector/elected relationship.