Digital Governance in Nigeria: Going Beyond the Hype - The Ekiti State Digital Media Case Study & Lessons for the Public Sector
Digital Governance in Nigeria: Going Beyond the Hype - The Ekiti State Digital Media Case Study & Lessons for the Public Sector by ‘Kayode Fayemi, PhD.ContextsA Brave New WorldWith the massive deployment of ICTinfrastructure across great swathes of the world, we aregradually moving towards the apotheosis of an age which has been famously described as an‘Information Society’ or a ‘Post-Industrial Society’, which is defined by increasing openness,interaction, and the popular production and dissemination of knowledge. This is a world in whichthe traditional ways and channels of generating and passing information are being re-defined andextended by no less a phenomenon than what we have all come to regard as ‘New Media’.I was born and socialised in an age in which hard and paper-bound books, newspapers,magazines were the essential media of accessing information and acquiring knowledge, thoughthe electronicchannels of radio and television occurred fairly in tandem with these, hence thegreat social changes of the 1960s to the 80s – be they political, economic or scientific – camethrough at a pace that was considered quite radical by the standards of those period. Yet, onenever lost sight of the fact that the communication then was largely one-sided, top-bottom, andbetween the producers and those of us who were ‘consumers’. These in their own manner threwup all sorts of ideological complexes that guided or shaped the nature of what we thought weknew. And certainly, there were those time-gaps and lapses between when the information wasproduced, disseminated and when we could access it.
However, starting with the great cyber-revolutions of the late 1980s down to the early days of themillennium, we have now found ourselves at the frontiers of a very brave new world– a world inwhich technologies have advanced media, and information and knowledge are produced,disseminated and accessed almost with breath-taking urgency and pace. We hardly go lookingfor information these days, it seeks us out, particularly through wireless digital equipment, suchas tablet computers, mobile phones, miniature electronic devices etc which have remodelled theway we communicate and our response patterns, once we are stitched into the interstices of thedigital world. More so, not only has information been fundamentally democratised, itsreproduction has become fully interactive and endlessly plural. As such, we have been edged intothat centrifuge of history in which not only ‘Big Men’ makehistory, but history has become aninterplay and interaction of a wide-ranging gamut of actors who can access information andrespond on these bases, almost real time, as the great events of our times are enacted.The foregoing makes it possible to agree with Sonia Livingstone that, “landscapes containingnew media are busy, contested, peopled landscapes, drawing new media into the contestation ofthe major contours, the navigable paths and the beneficial and harmful directions to betaken.”The trope of being ‘beneficial’ is brought into bolder relief when the economic andcommercial purposes of the deployment of New Media are considered.In essence, New Media relates to a set of information propagation channels that the technologyindustry has spawned from the close of the 20th Century to create a ‘volatile’ digital culture thatis at once liberating and equally capable of spinning out of control if not properly regulated. Itoffers access to information anywhere and at any time on compliant digital devices; it guaranteesinteractive user feedback and the possibility of creating virtual communities around particularcontent. Instances of New Media consist of the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, DVDs,video games, CD-ROMs, and e-commerce, etc.With the emergence of New Media, there has been an unprecedented rise of digital anduniversally connected information flowing through the backbone of the Internet infrastructure
and communications technology, which remarkably interfaces and integrates the traditionalaudio, video and electronic text modes, and is made available via channels and tools such aswebsites, blogs, webcasts and webinars, podcasts, social networking sites, RSS Feeds, QRCodes, eCards, virtual worlds, video games, etc. This has greater significance in the radicalmanner in which it has altered the notion of geographical distance by bridging far-flung spacesand allowing for huge volumes of information to be transmitted and accessed at speeds that wereerstwhile unimaginable. To many New Media pundits, this singular fact signposts a re-conceptualisation of ‘globalisation’, not only in the “death of distance”, but equally in thecreation of virtual communities across interest groups located at the farthest and nearer reachesof our world.Saliently, while this also redefines how we now perceive what is considered asthe“public sphere”, its revolutionary potential is unleashed in its great capacity for and support ofuser-generated content (as in the instance of what has come to be known as ‘citizen journalism’),which immensely transforms entrenched relationships of power involved in who is in control ofinformation.Complementing its capability as tools for enhancing the interflow of communication acrossnumerous actors, which can spark up swift social change, New Media provides platforms thathave come to revise the way in which we live and do business, such as through e-commerce, e-publishing, e-government, e-learning, e-voting, etc, and will certainly continue to serve as a keydriver of employment, opportunities, and economic growth in our present reality. It will open uphitherto unknown and new markets, and expand old ones, for our entrepreneurs, and create poolsof information for those seeking more efficient ways of going about their business. Channelssuch as interactive websites and online kiosks are becoming more important in this regard.Whether as a commercial, political or government actor, the essential feedback mechanism thatNew Media affords can be seen as a critical factor in ensuring that a participatory process isenshrined, across constituencies, in how service is delivered and more value is created in society.
The Rise and Rise of Social MediaAn integral aspect of New Media is the phenomena of Social Media, which are web and mobilebased technologies through which people networkand share information on the internet. Itsupports some of the largest virtual communities on the globe, and has its hallmark as beingsignificantly defined by user generated content, even though many governments, corporations,and businesses are increasingly harnessing the vast potential of these media in reaching out topeople to propagate their ‘more structured and official’ messages.Social Media encompasses technologies comprising micro-blogging, podcasts, photo and video-sharing sites, weblogs, internet forums, social bookmarking, etc and the power of these platformscannot be under-emphasised by virtue of the statistics that they command, as about half of theworld’s population has converged on them. In terms of the bigger social media players, it isreputed thatwhile Facebook has over 1 billion users and about 845 million of them are active,Twitter has over 465 million accounts and is growing at a rate of 11 accounts every second,whilst YouTube witnesses over 1 billion video views in a day. Also, Facebook records more than1 billion posts per day – with each post having a lifespan of about 3 hours – and over 250 millionphotos being uploaded each day, whereasTwitter users engage in about 175 million tweets in aday, and one hour of video is uploaded on YouTube every second, accounting for about 60hoursof video every minute, and 9 months (24 hours a day multiplied by thirty days, and then by9 months) in every hour.Further to these mind-boggling figures, 4 out of every 5 internet users are said to visit socialmedia sites, and there are over 2.8 billion social media profiles online (representing almost halfof the world’s internet users), 70 million WordPress blogs, and 39 million Tumblr blogs. Moreso, these figures are considered to be growing, with about 59% of internet users exhibiting someactive online social mediabehaviour. In addition, in terms of the commercial and business usagesof social media, it is claimed that whilst 75% of companies now utilise Twitter as a marketinghandle for their products and services, and that1 in 3 of small businesses engage social media intheir marketing endeavours, 36% of social media users are said to post advertising related
content online, and a growing number of people make purchasing judgements on the basis ofsocial media influence.Particularly, with regard to Nigeria, it is claimed by researchers that the more popular socialmedia use by our country folk relates to Facebook, which currently has over 4 million Nigeriansubscribers, making us the 38th most populated country on the networking site. And, this is saidto mark a penetration of 2.72% in relation to our demography, and 9.4% of the total number ofinternet users. 68% of these users are claimed to be male and 32% female, with the greaterpercentage of this demography belonging to Nigerians within the age bracket of 18 and 34.What becomes very clear from the foregoing is the awareness that social media have becomeincreasingly vital tools of convergence for people across the world and a rallying point forpurposes of sharing information – whether for marketing or social action, as such it is a veritabletool for engaging with governments, governance and public institutions. One need not look toofar to see how much its use and impact has weighed in on community organisation andmobilisation, and the demand for more accountable and open governments as it happenedbetween June 2009 and February 2012 in the interconnected series of upheavals, described as the‘Arab Uprising’ or the ‘Arab Spring’, spanning Iran, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen,etc.With the instance of Iran, the tools of social media served as powerful agents of change thatwere deployed in ways in which traditional media were incapable of, and at the vortexof thecrisis, Twitter was utilised in a way that was difficult to censor as organisers and citizens used itto mobilise each other and send out daily reports to the outside world about happenings withinthe country. It was estimated that over 221,000 tweets were exchanged within hours, 3,000videos uploaded on YouTube and 2.2 million blog entries posted online. This was instructive onthe capacity of technology and social mediato empower people in their determination to mobilisefor change within repressive contexts through innovative social evidence tools and platforms;and it was equally inspiring that this remarkably influenced Twitter’s nomination for the NobelPeace Prize.
Hence, in Ekiti, where I am Governor, our administration is deeply committed to running a veryopen and accountable government, which is why we take the issue of e-governance with allseriousness. By creating the e-portal (www.ekitistate.gov.ng), we have laid the foundations forpromoting an active interface with our people, through which they can access regular andaccurate information on our activities and seek clarification and ask questions on the processes ofgovernment, in manners that buttress the milieu of openness that we have instituted through thepassing of the Freedom of Information legislation. It is important to add that we have also avariety of digital channels, which encompass almost all the common social networking platformsincluding Twitter, Facebook, App for Nokia, iPhone, BB and android.Nigeria’s Digital LandscapeOver the past decade, Nigeria’s Internet sector has been growing in leaps and bounds, and thedigital landscape has fundamentally evolved from a previously faltering fixed-line infrastructure,with the rise of newer Internet Service Providers who are deploying cutting edge and ground-breaking technologies, and the surge in the number of data carriers, internet exchanges andgateway operators now operative within the country. Coupled with this is the significance of theincredible number of subscribers highlighting the super-growth of the fixed wireless and mobileoperators in Nigeria(put at over 90 million), a large chunk of which constitute the very densedemography populating the country’s social media and digital landscape.In terms of very recent estimates, Nigeria is ranked as having the largest number of Internet usersin Africa, with over 43 million people maintaining online presence, representing a 29%penetration in relation to the Nigerian population (taken as above 155 million people), and 32.2%of the total number of internet users on the continent. As such, Nigeria has witnessed aphenomenal growth in online activities in the past 12 years – from say, December 2000 when ithad only 200,000 internet users – to out-leap other countries on the continent having higherGDPs and GNPs than it does, like Egypt (which has over 17 million users), South Africa (5million), Morocco (10.4million), Algeria (4.7million), etc.In the absence of coherent data, I donot believe that it will be inaccurate to say that a great percentage of these users in Nigeria
are new media users in one form or the other – whether passive or active. This forms part of thebackdrop upon which some of us as government actors and change agents have been leveragingto build a critical mass of people for social transformation – either towards electoral vigilance orother community based actions.Global Tools and Local ActorsEkiti State’s Digital (R)evolutionIn executing the vision that had driven my quest for public office – which was to position Ekitiwithin a global framework and transform it into an economic hub and destination of choice forbusiness and fun seekers – my administration embarked upon the development andimplementation of a robust digital media strategy that commenced in 2011.And, Ipersonallyoversaw the putting together of an execution-minded home-grown team that couldtranslate our 8-Point Agenda into the digital ecosystem.The team’s mandate, beyond creating adigital media blueprint, was to ensure that our ventureinto the digital landscape was sustainableand continuously added value to our programmes and activities in Ekiti. Indeed, we wanted tomove beyond the hype that appears to define a number of attempts within the terrain and createsomething truly meaningful.Sustainability for us meant that we needed to have our own team within the government takeownership of our digital media investments and become drivers of its processes.Hence, wecreated a Digital Media unit within my office, which is headed by a Senior Technical Assistanton Digital Media. And subsequently, a series of capacity building trainings were held for myaides, members of the State Executive Council, as well as the Digital Media unit to ensure thatwe had the right mix of support to buoy the digital transformation that we were heralding.The main objectives of our digital transformation programme include: •Providing real-time or as near real-time as much as possibleauthentic, believableandcredibleevidenceof our service to our people;
•Creating and institutionalising effective engagement with Ekiti stakeholders across the world; •Promoting participatory democracy, inclusive governance and accountability in Ekiti State; •Making Ekiti State one of the top 3 leading public digital brands in Nigeria by June 2012.I can certainly say, without any fear of contradiction, that Ekiti State has presently become oneof the leading digital brands in Nigeria. Yet, it is worthy of a brief detour to give a situationalanalysis of how Ekiti fared within the digital landscape prior to our intervention in 2011. Beforethen: •We had only 3 digital channels – the earlier manifestations of the website (www.ekitistate.gov.ng), the Facebook and Twitter pages. The website was poorly interactive with a heavy focus on press releases, and the lack of a clear engagement strategy in relation to our social media pages. The management of these pages was ad hoc, while the channels were more of complaints warehouses. It was not surprising that our website was moribund in terms of web traffic, and was not one of the 3,000 most visited websites in Nigeria at the time. •There was the paucity of multimedia content on our digital channels. There was little evidence of what we were doing in Government on these channels, as the emphasis of content generation was for the traditional media. Digital media was almost always an after- thought, with the corresponding poor alignment and integration of our traditional and digital channels. •There was no expert ownership of and accountability for our digital channels. We had only a web master.
•There were no performance measures put in place to ensure that we had commensurate return on investments (ROI).Hence, it was clear to me that if we must succeed in carrying our message through to thegenerality of Ekiti people and stakeholders in a digital and globalised world, we had to set newground rules.First, it was not about “presence” but “effectiveness”.We were more interested inensuring that our digital media channels met the objectives that we set out to achieve.Second, weworked on the various processes needed to make our digital endeavoura win-winproposition.Third, I took on the role of being the Project Manager, and thehead of the digitalteam was submitting weekly progress reports to me.What Did We Do?In terms of channels, werecognised thatthe website (www.ekitistate.gov.ng) remains the ‘shopfront’ of the state and its digital hub, and as such we embarked on reinventing it by creating astate-of-the-art, multimedia, fully interactive, search-engine friendly and intuitive website.Wealso created a mobile version of the website (the first for any public institution in Nigeria), amore interactive Facebook page, a branded YouTube channel, a Slideshare account (for officialstate documents – another first for a state government in Nigeria), a Flickr account (for officialphotos – also the first for a state government in the country), an email newsletter (through whichwe send out weekly updates to those signed up to the newsletter), and mobile applications(equally the first by any state government in Nigeria). The integration of all these channels hascontinued to receive critical acclaim both within and outside the country. On February 29th2012, we formally launched the new digital channels, and within 3 weeks of launching thesechannels, the state website became the most visited state government website in Nigeria, as wellas one of the top 300 most visited websites in Nigeria.For a website that 3 months earlier rankedoutside the top 3,000 websites in the country, that was no mean feat.On the level ofcontent, weunderstood that the currency of attention across digital channels is inhaving content that is authentic, believable and credible. We anchored our communication
around our 8-point agenda, and working through the archives of videos, photos and documentsthat we held, we curated and uploaded hundreds of photos, videos and documents.Today, thereare almost a thousand photos on the state’s Flickr account, about 180 videos on the state’sYouTube channel and over 160 documents on Slideshare(which is a continuously growingarchive). In just 9 weeks, the photos on Flickr have been viewed over 53,000 times while thedocuments on Slideshare have been viewed over 23,000 times. Each one of the 8-point agendahas videos, photos and documents that show clearly what has been done and is being done acrossthe State.Ekiti State’s digital channels have, unarguably, one of the biggest content banks withinthe public sector in Nigeria.Quite significantly, I believe, our website www.ekitistate.gov.ng haswitnessed 101,788 page views, an average visit duration of 5 minutes and 43 seconds, and50.82% of Returning Visitors between 29th February 2012 when it was launched and 10th May2012, which was just a few days ago. These analytics reveal the growing attention that ourprogrammes and activities are receiving, not only within Nigeria, but also abroad.Yet, we have faced some challenges in curating content from our MDAs in the State. Due to theway the civil service is structured, the Press or Information Officers of the various MDAs areresponsible for the content generation around the activities of the MDAs and Bureaux. Since notall of these officers are computer literate, especially in the usage of new media, we have beenequipping them with laptops, digital cameras, Internet access and knowledge on managing digitalmedia. The State’s Digital Media unit is having ongoing engagements with the heads of thesebodies in order to ensure that the projects, programmes, initiatives of each of the MDAs are wellrepresented across the state’s digital channels.We operate from the premise that governance mustnever be essentially about the Governor or the activities of his office, but a cross-cuttingcollaboration and synergy among all the strands and organs of administration in the State. It isabout a team at work. We are determined to shine the spotlight on every MDA across our digitalchannels.
Civic EngagementMany critical government documents such as the Roadmap are now in web-based formats. Afterwe launched our new digital channels in February, there were increasing calls for transparency inour administration across social media platforms, and we responded swiftly by uploading the2012 budget. Ekiti became the first State to have its full budget online.More so,as ademonstration of the creed of openness that we have proclaimed over and again, and which weare absolutely committed to, our administration is ensuring thatall contracts being vetted by thegovernment are continuously uploaded on the State’s website. We are presently working oncreating a tender’s portal on www.ekitistate.gov.ng that will be a real-time searchable archive forpast, present and future government procurement tenders.Further to the foregoing, all the bills that have been passed into law in the State are already onthe website. And, in order to remove red tapes and allow real-time public access to myadministration, we have published the official email addresses and mobile phone numbers of allthe members of the state executive council onwww.ekitistate.gov.ng.This includes my contactdetails, those of the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and theHead of Service (HOS), etc. Also on the page on which these details are, you can click on a“send a message” link that opens up a form which when completed and submitted goesimmediately to the email address and telephone number of the particular official selected.In myview, governance is all about responsiveness to one’s constituencies, and one cannot respond ifone is inaccessible.With the fact that all my staff and aides have been equipped with fixed andmobile internet data and voice complaint devices, we are primed to be at the service of Ekitipeople at all times. As at today, we have received hundreds of feedbacks that have helped usmanage the affairs of the State better. This is one of the clear advantages that Digital Mediaoffers.What is Next for Us?Transformation is a process. Though we have made a credible start, we are continuously strivingalong the lines of good governance. One of the key areas we keep looking at is in ensuring that
we carry all stakeholders along, be it the market woman in a small village in Ekiti or theinvestment banker in Canada. Ekiti is the Land of Honour, hard-work and Integrity, and we arefocussed on positioning it as the “Bangalore” of West Africa, even if some people consider this alofty aspiration. Our digital transformation agenda is only a part of the overall ICT deepeningprogramme that is ongoing in Ekiti State. One of our main aims is to grow the state as aninvestment and tourism hub in Nigeria, and our digital media successes are definitely changingthe game in our favour.In concluding, New Media tools can be key drivers of good governance if the followingconditions exist: (1) the Leadership and Support of the Executive all through the process; (2) thepresence of the right team on the team; (3) the alignment of the Digital Strategy with the keygoals and objectives of governance; (4) the existenceof effective stakeholder engagement; (5) thealignment with traditional media.I would end with a quote by Ien Chengdu that, "the choice isnot between disrupting your business now versus later, but between disrupting it yourself orhaving it disrupted for you". At Ekiti State, we have ‘disrupted’ governance through the use ofdigital media and our citizens are better for it. This is an evolving story of how embracing thetools of innovation and ‘disruption’ are enhancing the quality of governance that is available to apeople.Ekiti has clearly shown that with the right approach, digital leadership within the publicsector is possible. Public institutions must rise up to this challenge. The game has changed.