Project Light Up Nigeria: Power In Our Hands

O’Seun Odewale

 

Looking at the concise history of the “LightUpNigeria” (LUN) movement, which started in 2009, this case study explores how a common societal challenge can galvanize people’s support and solidarity. Power failures and shortages are commonplace in Nigeria. The LUN movement, using social media campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, encouraged Nigerians around the world to see electricity not a luxury but a basic necessity, and called for making dependable power supplies a rights, governance and development issue. Since lack of electricity is a problem that affects everyone, LUN’s campaign theme was easy to understand.

 Use of social media in such a campaign agenda was ground breaking, but LUN also worked to include citizens who were not social media enabled. Town hall meetings, peaceful protests, radio shows, posters, graffiti, cartoons, pictorials, religious and cultural groups were used to reach out to the “not-so-tech-savvy” communities. The result of LUN’s campaigns was that electricity became a front-burner issue during the 2011 Nigerian general elections.

 As much as this case study would like to prove that Nigerians can galvanize around a single or common development agenda, with heavy reliance on digital platforms, it also points out both challenges and shortcomings, which eventually led to the end of the campaign. It concludes that, even though the movement did not ultimately reach its goal, LUN paved the way for other voices to speak out, digitally, across Nigeria.

 

Birth of a Movement

At midnight on July 14, 2009 a group of young Nigerians suddenly began to express their discontent with the appalling electricity situation in Nigeria. Nigeria has had extremely unreliable and continuously deteriorating electrical power for as long as much of the population can remember. In what was then a usual occurrence, the public electricity supply company, officially known as Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), had initiated a power outage around Surulere—a metropolitan residential and commercial area of Lagos—where Mr. Lanre Dabiri resides. One of Mr. Dibiri’s friends had been admitted to a nearby hospital for an undisclosed illness and was expected to undergo surgery. As the power supply had been interrupted and the standby generator normally used as a backup failed (a common feature around Nigeria), the man’s surgery was cancelled. He was very upset. Mr. Dabiri, a popular hip-hop artist and music producer, took to Twitter to vent his anger at the incessant and unbearable power outages in his area. Mr. Dabiri, whose stage name is Eldee The Don (Twitter name: @eldeethedon) asked Amara Nwakpa (@bubusn), Sheila Ojei (@mxscharles), Seye Kuyinu (@seyekuyinu) and another popular artist, Bankole Wellington (aka Banky W—@BankyW), to join in a public expression of discontent against erratic power supply.

In the course of the Twitter exchanges that ensued that same night, the slogan Light Up Nigeria (LUN) was mentioned. Within minutes, Light Up Nigeria was turned into a hashtag that later became the brand identity behind which tens of thousands of Nigerians queued to call attention to the desperate electricity situation in the country.

This small group of Twitter acquaintances started a massive demonstration on social media aimed at the frustrating electricity situation. Initially, it was carried out on Twitter with the hashtag #LightUpNigeria (also #LUN). Weeks later, a Facebook group was created carrying the description: “Are you tired of the constant excuses being given for the incompetence of PHCN? We are forming this group as a voice for our generation. It is time for something to be done; the 7th largest oil-producing nation is one of the world’s worst electricity providers. The time has come. Nigeria belongs to all of us and if we do not speak out now, it is the same burden we will all have to bear. So join, tell your friends, family, anybody you can. Enough is enough. Our voice may be small now, but as the group grows and the word is spread, the government will hear our words and something will be done. LIGHT UP NIGERIA so progress in all the other sectors can advance also.”[1]

The movement was promoted with a core mission to “advocate stable electric power supply for all Nigerian homes and businesses through effective citizen social communication and strategic involvement in civic processes”. In fewer than twelve weeks from its first appearance on Twitter more than nineteen thousand Nigerian youth around the world—who have frequently fretted over developments in Nigeria—had subscribed to the campaign on Twitter and Facebook, the two main platforms that were creatively used to amplify and curate the campaign messages. In the course of the following weeks (in mid-September 2009), the number of subscribers on Facebook and participation in the weekly Twitter debates on electricity grew by the thousands.

By targeting its social media advocacy at the Federal, State and Local levels, #LightUpNigeria became the linchpin movement advocating for constant and sustainable electric power supply to Nigerian homes and businesses. Aside from the various tiers of government, the campaign also focused advocacy efforts on businesses and investors who, according to the movement, “empowered by a new Act deregulating the electricity sector in Nigeria, can contribute profitably to help generate power to fill Nigeria’s [electricity] requirements”.

Through its campaigns, #LightUpNigeria successfully engaged Nigerians in not only demanding a sustainable solution to the electricity problem, but in ensuring that investments in the power sector do not fall prey to sabotage, incompetence or corruption—the latter being a key concern for investments and investors in Nigeria. The movement quickly established itself as free of affiliation with any political campaign or partisan organization.

In late July and through all of August 2009, the leaders of the LUN movement drew other like-minded young people—many of whom were visible on Twitter—into the group and began to reach out to people all over Nigeria. In fact, campaign leaders began to receive inquiries from outside the country asking how to participate in activities of the group. Outlets were quickly formed in the United Kingdom and the United States, two countries each with a large Nigerian presence. In the US alone, there were multiple contact groups covering major cities like New York, Atlanta, Houston and Washington.

Those who were part of the initial discussion on Twitter set out individual tasks for one another. Amara Nwakpa would write an introduction and formulate objectives for the movement; Seye Kuyinu would design a brand identity and develop a web presence; and the duo of Eldee The Don and BankyW were asked to develop marketing materials—in the form of music videos and messages—for the movement.

In a blog post from late 2009, one of the founding members, Seye Kuyinu, commented on the early challenges of the movement:

“#LightUpNigeria as I wrote in the twibbon I designed for the cause (yeah that green bulb that displays on some tweeple’s twitter avatars http://twibbon.com/Join/lightupnigeria-2), is a campaign that launched on twitter to sensitize people and the Nigerian government on the need to provide better power generation in Nigeria. Almost every naija person on twitter knows about #LightUpNigeria and probably have tweeted it. But that is where the question generates. Why hasn’t it ever trended on twitter? When the campaign started, there were a little over 4,000 Nigerians [tweeps]. The greatest number of specific hashtags per hour/per day gets to be the trending topic. How possible is it for 4,000 Nigerians to beat the whole world, especially the US with about 1,000,000 users who are also hashing out things like #Avatar, #Obama, #FollowFriday, #NowPlaying. As more and more naija users started getting accustomed to twitter, they started identifying with the culture and #LightUpNigeria became part of it. But then the number of tweets with #LightUpNigeria became less aggressive. #LightUpNigeria is only going to remain as a concept that brought a lot of Nigerians together on Twitter.”[2]

#LightUpNigeria did not only bring Nigerians together on Twitter, it brought many Nigerians to Twitter and, really brought Twitter to Nigerians.

 

Ceaselessly Broken Promises

By 2016, Nigeria is projected to overtake South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. However, Nigeria’s industrial development lags far behind South Africa’s, mainly due to the country’s inadequate infrastructure maintenance and management strategies. Until Nigeria addresses these issues South Africa, with its superior industrialization processes and well-maintained infrastructure, will continue to be the leading economy in Africa.

Frequent electrical power blackouts are a major indicator of Nigeria’s infrastructure problem and have long been an impediment to growth. In fact, economists say that solving the electricity problems could raise gross domestic product (GDP) growth from its current 7 percent a year into double-digits. Nigeria was hoping to produce 6,000 megawatts of power by the end of 2012, up from the current vacillating figure of 1,500 megawatts. This, however, would only scratch the surface of the minimum of 40,000 megawatts needed for a nation of about 160 million people.

Successive Nigerian governments have cashed-in on crude oil exports rather than investing in plants to refine fuel for domestic use or developing a natural gas system for domestic consumption, which means a large majority of the population lives in poverty and without power. Nigeria estimates it will need US$10 billion a year of investment over the next decade to meet its energy needs.[3]

After the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua came to power in May 2007, he threatened to declare a state of emergency[4] due to the nation’s failed power sector and issued an 18-month ultimatum to increase electricity generation. This declaration spurred probes by both chambers of the National Assembly, which revealed much corruption and ineptitude in managing the US$10–16 billion that had been poured into the power sector under the previous administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. President Yar’Adua went on to promise (and he repeated this several times) that by December 2009, power generation would increase to 6,000 megawatts. Despite all the money expended, and a March 2009 promise by the incumbent Minister of Powerstatingthat the 6,000 megawatt goal was “feasible and realistic”, [5]Nigerians continue to go for days—and sometimes weeks—without power. Government missed that target under the pretext that the growing militancy situation in the Niger Delta region affected the supply of gas to power generating stations located outside the region.

As noted previously, Nigeria is struggling to meet domestic electricity demands and that creates problems, not just for individuals but also for businesses of all sizes. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal,[6] “big companies like Procter & Gamble Co. and Coca-Cola Co. have resorted to running generators to provide power to 100 percent of their operations, pushing costs in Nigeria 10 percent and even 20 percent higher than in neighboring countries, executives say. Other foreign companies have pulled out of Nigeria, citing high energy costs as one of the primary reasons for doing so.” These numbers do not even reflect the energy costs spent by small business owners or individuals. Furthermore, according to the government’s 2008 estimates, the nation needed US$85 billion to revamp its power sector. That amount has undoubtedly gone up since it was announced and continues to do so.

In the first 8 years of post-military governance, President Obasanjo had spent close to US$16 billion with nothing to show for it other than promises, which were never fulfilled. Despite showing zero improvement in electricity generation during his presidency, Obasanjo continued to insist, with barely a month left in office, that he was “committed to providing Nigerians with uninterrupted electricity” and invoking the grace of God in doing so. Obasanjo’s first promise was at the inauguration of his first term in office where he committed to provide uninterrupted electricity within 6 months. A year after, he made another declaration stating, “on my honour, by the end of 2001, Nigerians would begin to enjoy regular, uninterrupted power supply”.[7]

President Umar Musa Yar’Adua wanted successes in electricity supply to be the main yardstick by which his administration is measured, and addressing the electricity crisis was one point on his vaunted seven-point agenda. He even inaugurated an Energy Council in February 2008 with a target of delivering 11,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. However, Yar’Adua did not live to meet his target of 6000 megawatts by the end of 2009. He fell seriously ill in November 2009 and never fully recovered. He was pronounced dead in May 2010.

These broken promises illustrated why the #LightUpNigeria campaign was more than crucial. In a country where the government is mostly unaccountable to the people, a campaign such as LUN helped provide hope for those who had given up on the government and no longer believed that individuals could effect change. LUN gave Nigerians a way of saying, “we are tired of empty promises by successive governments to tackle the electricity problem. So now it is time for citizens to take action and generate the popular force that can drive the political resolve to solve the problem”. Besides, the problem in Nigeria is not one of limited resources because the resources are abundantly available. In a 2010 TV interview, Mr. Nwankpa stated, “we have the oil, gas, wind and even the sun to power this country. We have enough of these resources to power our country. What we are lacking is the political will. What Light Up Nigeria aimed to do was to generate the popular will. That will [then] drive the political will to solve the problem. The power situation in the country is dire. It is stifling the economy. It is killing production and productivity and manufacturers are moving away from the country thereby further depriving the economy of much-needed jobs and employment.”[8]

Another LUN campaigner, Henry Okelue added in another interview, “the citizens of the country are suffering under the load of powering themselves either their domestic activities, business ventures or social events. Currently we generate less than a thousand megawatts of electricity for 148 million Nigerians. Ghana, a population of 20 million generates twice that amount which equates to about a 100 megawatts per capita while in Nigeria we have to settle for barely less than 7 megawatts per woman, man and child. It will be important to state that it takes 60 watts to light a domestic electricity bulb, so we are not even getting enough to power a single bulb. Sadly, a huge chunk of this is supplied to preferred quarters including government facilities (mainly seat of Federal and State Governments) and elites who could afford to bribe corrupt electricity agency officials. The paltry remainder is left to be shared among the general public.”[9]

Everyone in Nigeria is affected by the terrible power problem. If you are a student, you cannot read without electricity, and you are forced to depend on unreliable, untenable alternative sources like candles and lanterns. It is even more despicable if you find yourself as a patient in any of the government hospitals or you are undergoing surgery and power supply is interrupted. This has happened on several occasions. Those who run businesses know how much it cost to run a generator to provide the services they have advertised. If you live in an apartment, you have probably experienced the darkness or the noise of the generators from neighbors and if you own one, you have actually experienced the cost of installing and running a generator. Everyone feels it and it has crippled the Nigerian economy. As of 2009, Nigeria was poised to celebrate five decades of independence but has never had a constant supply of electricity.

It is important to note that economic development is intricately intertwined with the sustainable provision of energy, therefore the Nigerian economy has faltered along with its energy situation. So everybody was called in to be involved in various capacities.

 

Starting from Ground Zero

Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to civilian governance after almost 30 years of military rule, freedom of the press and the space for free expression have increased significantly. Online media has been comparatively free from restrictions, though a blogger was detained in January 2011 for questioning the wasteful expenses of a northern Nigerian state.[10] The Nigerian authorities do not filter online content, and while access to information technology is still limited for many Nigerians, the number of internet users nearly quadrupled between 2008 and 2011.

The number of mobile phone subscribers has also increased dramatically over the past decade from almost no users in 2001 to over 100 million as of May 2011, according to official data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).[11] The latest ITU data shows over 95 million mobile phone subscriptions in 2011, amounting to a mobile phone penetration rate of 58.58 percent.[12] Mobile Internet subscriptions reached 7.3 million users by 2008[13] and grew by over 25 percent between October 2010 and October 2011.[14]

While smartphone users can access the Internet on their mobile devices, specific handsets such as Nokia’s range of phones and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry provide bundled data services to mobile subscribers. The number of BlackBerry users appears to be growing, particularly among young Nigerians, though the service costs about US$20 per month. Nevertheless, the overall quality of mobile service remains poor, with users frequently complaining about their inability to enjoy data services. Competition has forced service providers to offer alternative plans based on time (daily, weekly, or monthly payments) or use (social media or messaging). According to credible sources in the industry, there were approximately 500,000 BlackBerry subscribers with all service providers as of October 2011.[15]

The video-sharing website YouTube, social networking site Facebook, micro-blogging application Twitter, and various international blog-hosting services are freely available and among the most popular websites in the country. As of May 2012, there were over five million Facebook users.[16] According to Alexa, a website rating company, the ten most popular websites in Nigeria as of 2011 were Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Google.com.ng, YouTube, Blogspot.com, Twitter, Vanguard Newspaper, Wikipedia, and Nairaland (a Nigerian online discussion forum).“Top Sites in Nigeria,” Alexa Web Information, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/NG. Accessed May 5, 2013.

The Nigerian blogosphere includes both Nigerians living abroad and those based within the country. While many of the former are longtime bloggers, only in the past seven years have Nigerian residents actively begun to blog,[17] with local blogging gaining momentum following a Nigerian bloggers’ conference in 2008.[18] Although two attempts to create Nigerian blog aggregators have failed,[19] GlobalVoicesOnline.org, Blogger.com, Afrigator.com, and WordPress.com are popular platforms on which Nigerian bloggers interact and learn from one another. Digital platforms have also played an important role in mobilizing people for real life protests and providing updates on unfolding events. In November 2008, a widely circulated YouTube video showed a Navy admiral and several other military officers severely beating a woman whom they deemed too slow in making way for their convoy.[20] Following public outcry, the woman received legal aid from the state government and sued the officers for assault and battery. In January 2010, a court awarded her N100 million (approximately US$613,000) in compensation.[21]

It was in this environment that the #LightUpNigeria movement was established for concerned citizens to raise awareness about the power situation in Nigeria, start a national discussion about it, and set a goal of mustering the political will to solve it. The intention was to drive movement peacefully and not, by any stretch to “blame anyone”.[22] The movement was not aiming to be a fight against corruption in any direct sense. It was purely a demand for electricity to be provided to everyone in Nigeria. It started on twitter and spread to Facebook in less than two months. Because inconsistent electricity services affects almost every Nigerian, it did not require the usual time to spread to mainstream electronic (radio and TV) and print media.

Arguably, the #LightUpNigeria campaign was the first social-media-enabled movement in Nigeria and obviously contributed to the increased number of Twitter users in Nigeria. Weekly Twitter meets (Tweetmeet) were conducted around topical issues on power, but in a humorous way that drew large participation. It was not difficult to attract an almost cult followership to the group’s agenda since nearly every Nigerian in the country had been affected by mismanagement of the power sector. The weekly topics, therefore, mainly presented a propitious forum for participants, if connected, to share their daily experiences with interrupted power.

Barely three months after it was launched, the #LightUpNigeria movement called for street protests in Nigeria to commemorate the forty-ninth independence celebrations on October 1, 2009. These protests further expressed the seriousness of the power problem thus bringing it closer to the political elites. In the movement’s determination, it was ready to push for a tangible change that, in their own words, “everyone can feel for the first time in the history of the country”.

Part of the LUN group’s demand was to push for legislation that addressed power supply, calling for both Federal and State Governments to adjust budgets in a bid to solve the electricity problem. Young Nigerians in particular could not fathom how, without resorting to the sorts of conflicts or crises in countries like Rwanda and Liberia, Nigeria could not be better than what it was when it gained independence from Britain five decades ago.  It was also the aim of the group to ensure that Nigerians who are in the habit of enjoying free services from government in what is generally described as a “sense of entitlement” turn over a new leaf by paying for public services such as electricity. They also encouraged citizens to become vigilant and prevent sabotage of power installations across the country, which official security agencies seemed unable to police adequately.

Although a theory of change was not developed nor was any structure or communications strategy defined, the nucleus of the campaign team did have a clearly defined advocacy goal or outcome: convincing the government to provide uninterrupted power supply and eliciting the support of the general public in pushing for that demand. This was critical in a Nigerian social and political context where growth and development issues are easily appropriated through religious, economic and ethnic lenses. #LightUpNigeria forums became de facto places for venting public opinion on economic, political and social issues. This is evident in comments like those of @Naijanews who ventured, “the only thing known to be stable in Nigeria is darkness”. If that were too farfetched, Olufunmike (@Olufunmike) did not offer solace when she quipped, “I know a Doctor that once operated in moonlight because the generator refused to come on!” “Obama’s campaign didn’t stop until a day before elections. Our #lightupnigeria campaign won’t stop until 24/7 electricity,” Olufunmike stated further to emphasize the determination of the campaigners.

The proxy measure of this outcome was how lighting up the country became the euphemistic call for more transparency and accountability in governance and government business because, according to Damola (@drdammie), “Nigerians leaders love darkness, cos the works of their hands are so dark, it cant stand no light”. On occasions, everything that was wrong with Nigeria could be rationalized in a conclusion demanding better electricity, which @imab believes will “help 140million Nigerians say goodnight and really look forward to having one”. The significance of the campaign success is best illustrated by one community outreach volunteer who commented, “if electricity generation and supply increase, we will have more money to build schools and hospitals and we will not have to inhale dangerous generator fumes daily”.

A fulcrum of the campaign activities was comparative research. The group undertook explorations into the various investments in power over time, and went to lengths to get data about power generation and distribution in other countries. The group also did a comparative assessment of how the economies of the different countries compared to that of Nigeria, particularly, how functional power supply influences other sectors and national economic growth.

Naturally, there were the naysayers, but also crucial were those who feared that LUN would die the same death as many other initiatives that started with the best of intentions but failed to maximize upon their success. Consequently, there were calls for long and short term planning to transform the rallying cry into one that generated concrete results. Short-term measures focused on the need for Nigerians to be educated about their right to light.

From this perspective, LUN was expected to lead the demand for fundamental rights, but also become an educational campaign. Education would help lower the complacency of many Nigerians and dispell the attitude that there was little to be done to overcome the incessant electricity shortages. It would also build a level of public support that would give LUN a lasting impact. Such education must, however, extend to Nigerians who do not have electricity, do not use the Internet, or watch television. The easiest way to reach those segments of the population would be through religious and cultural organizations. Movement leaders would need to work with such organizations to spread the message that all Nigerians, regardless of tribe, religion or income have a right to light, thereby increasing awareness of the problem and maximizing the number of potential supporters who will hopefully be empowered to demand electricity from their elected representatives.

 

A Movement in Non-Traditional Space

Beginning on Twitter, the LUN campaign set off to sensitize and mobilize Nigerians from all walks of life, breaking down confusing technical jargon and using anecdotal evidence to which people could relate. Within an eight-week period, the campaign extended to Facebook, YouTube and other new media platforms. With simple language and shared experiences across the country, it was not long before many young Nigerians signed onto the campaign. People began asking how they could help the campaign spread to other parts of Nigeria. Many volunteered their time and resources despite already having very full days.

Indeed, in one comment on a blog maintained by Archiwiz, Naughty Eyes had written:

“The #lightupnigeria campaign – to the best of my knowledge – began a few days ago when eLDee (the artiste) almost lost a relative in a hospital during childbirth. He then put up a tweet on how the lack of electricity led to an increase in maternal/infant mortality.

 From there, events have snowballed with people expressing their similar disgust at the crippling effects of power cuts, some of which you have so beautifully illustrated here.

 As I type this, the awareness still blossoms on Twitter… Let’s go there and #lightupnigeria!!!”[23]

NaughtyEyes was responding to Archiwiz’s blog post (blog name: To fit or not to fit?) in which he added his support: “The hash tag itself will not do much if the responsible parties don’t take notice and do the right thing, but this is a good first step. Awareness is always important when it comes to movements of change, and like #ThatsAfrican, #MichaelJackson, #IranElection and other twitter trending topics, the hashtag have rallied people and brought much more attention to an otherwise fairly visible subject. […] So you ask, what is #lightupnigeria? The words that make up the tag are self explanatory to any Nigerian, or anyone that has spent a good two weeks in Nigeria and has experienced, firsthand, the impact of lack of electricity in Nigeria. I can give you a long laundry list of what we lose because of lack of electricity, but a couple will suffice: money, time & productivity. [...] This movement needs to get to get to the media and to the ears of our Nigerian leaders. We cannot continue to wink at our lack of electricity.”

 

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Figure 1. Archiwiz’s flowchart representation of the effect of lack of electricity on his personal life.

 

Until Light Up Nigeria, there had been no recorded example of a campaign of this magnitude started online and, largely, remaining online. Therefore, LUN serves as the pioneer case of a digitally motivated campaign in Nigeria. Of course, there were online discussions around political developments in the country, and there was the outrage about the video of military officers molesting an innocent woman. But such discussions were mainly held on Facebook at a time when Twitter was not popular. There were few online figures whose daily routine included analyzing topical issues presented in traditional media reports. Their Facebook posts often elicited comments or responses that veered into other important, but sometimes unrelated, issues.

 

From Strategies to Tactics

The LUN group held several discussions around strategies and activity plans using Skype, Blackberry group chat, email and Twitter. The early converts formed a general assembly, which then contributing ideas into a basket. Both short-term and long-term strategies to increase visibility of the campaign were suggested. Some of the quick-win ideas were to ask all supporters to wear a black band or dress (representing the lack of electricity) on every last Friday of every month until progress could be shown. Another idea was to ask all supporters to write weekly posts on Facebook and on blogs, adding the #LightUpNigeria hashtag, and share them widely. Yet another idea  was for all volunteers to post a singular catchy header/headline on a chosen date to symbolize the collective request that everyone—including government at all levels— cooperate for the nation’s benefit.

Supporters were encouraged to discuss the matter everywhere—at their church groups, civic/religious gatherings, in online forums and anywhere that others suffering from a lack of electricity gather. One exciting idea was to ask more online supporters to change their avatars/pictures to one representative of the LUN initiative as a means to catch the attention of those who had yet to learn about the campaign. Other proposals included: regular evening meetings around the country where participants gather with torches, lanterns or other light sources in a neighborhood with no electricity. Their where photos would be taken and posted online; and also highlighting areas where local and state government manage to provide regular electricit. The goal was to put pressure on underperforming officials. Finally, group members suggested producing and selling official mementoes (clothing items, books, music albums and other merchandise) to raise funds for a committee that would manage the group’s activities, but also keep the initiative visible and allow its reach to spread further than Nigeria’s shores.

Use of Facebook    Eight weeks after the Light Up Nigeria movement held its first discussion on Twitter, the group created a Facebook profile to further amplify its campaign message. It was important to reach out to Nigerians, who in 2009 were more heavily represented on Facebook than on Twitter. Early postings on the LUN Facebook page included people who volunteered to support the movement and be part of the campaign, even though no group message was posted until many weeks after the page went up. Nigerians were naturally drawn to the concept. Almost no prompting was required.

Since most of the campaign was Twitter-based, the Facebook page was devoted mainly to sharing stories about electricity or to share campaign videos.

Radio    The Light Up Nigeria movement attracted much interest and goodwill from mainstream media agencies, particularly radio. Radio is a powerful communication tool in Nigeria because it has more penetration than most other media platforms. A 2012 report of the Broadcasting Board of Governors stated that 9 in 10 Nigerians (87.4%) in both urban and rural environments listen to radio at least once a week.[24] So it was not surprising that the LUN coordinators adopted radio as a key communication medium in its overall media relations plan. Group representatives  appeared on major FM radio stations in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Kano. There were also appearances on international radio stations, which broadcast on SW frequencies and have much wider reach. Reach is further enhanced as a result of use of the Hausa language, which is widely spoken across a large expanse of geographical space in northern Nigeria and in other parts of West Africa.

Perhaps the most important radio appearance was the appearance of Light Up Nigeria on the 30th September 2010 BBC World Service broadcast. The significance of this date on the eve of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence (October 1, 2010) cannot be overemphasized. Amara Nwankpa speaking to BBC’s Komla Dumor stated that the independence anniversary would be more of a reflection than a celebration for a majority of Nigerians. He emphasized that despite billions of dollars of sales of oil and massive degradation of the earth of the Niger Delta region where oil is extracted, Nigeria has little to show for it. In particular, those who live in the Niger Delta area have nothing to show for the oil wealth that lies beneath their feet.

Sadly, most Nigerians assumed that wealth from oil would automatically translate to useful infrastructure, development and economic growth. But because of neglect and apathy at many civic levels, these improvements have not happened. The electricity crisis is simply the most striking illustration of infrastructure failure.

Nigeria’s economy had been growing at 7 percent per annum since 2004, but that growth has not translated to any meaningful improvement in the living standards of Nigerians. To emphasize this correlation, one of the cartoonists who worked actively for the LUN campaign depicted a country that was growing in size but powered by gasoline-fuelled generators indicating a non-sustainable economic growth. This was one of the many humorous ways in which cartoons and graffiti were used as part of the campaign. Lagos-based, Mike Asukwo had several of his cartoons posted and shared on Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry in some of the LUN campaigns.

Mr. Asukwo’s cartoons were inadvertent contributions to the campaign. He was not a member and has never made any public statement in support of the movement. Nonetheless, his drawings have provided succinctly instructive depictions of the problems in Nigeria. The ones on electricity have received wider spread because of the army of volunteers who supported the campaign on several social media platforms.

 

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Figure 2. Three of the humorous drawings from Mike Asukwo who was not a direct member of the movement but whose drawings contributed to the campaign nonetheless. 

 

One picture that went viral for many days, and is still being circulated till today, depicted a man sitting on the top of an electricity pole in the middle of an unidentified town. The man, with a phone to his ear, tells a story of the struggle for a quality GSM network to make calls. Desperate to log his call, the man had climbed the pole to get a better signal. The connection of what seems like a stunt to the electricity campaign was that the man could only have climbed the pole because it carried no electricity due to the terrible power situation.

 

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Figure 3.  Olusola Aromokun (@plastiQQ) shared above picture during one of his contributions to the #LightUpNigeria campaign on Twitter. How did the man climb up there? Apparently, there could not have been electricity on this pole

 

YouTube Channels    One of the videos posted on YouTube featured Mr. Bankole Omisore talking about how young Nigerians born in the late nineties assume that having electricity is a luxury. In the video, he expressed frustration about how many areas in Nigeria go for weeks without electricity or how Nigerians return home to darkness after the workday. This, he believes, further stresses life and livelihood in Nigeria.  Henry Okelue, who had only just returned to Nigeria as the LUN campaign began, agrees with Bankole. Henry contributed his skills in editing videos and multimedia to the service of the movement. He was instrumental in creating and posting videos on YouTube. He was part of the push and planning of town hall meetings and exhibition at public events to solicit support of those not online.

These videos have a common theme running through them. They share drama, humour, research, pidgin (localized Nigerian English), and attempt to connect the group’s messages to everyday experiences of the ordinary people in Nigeria. Except for a few sponsored clips, all the videos were low-budget amateur recordings on laptop or hand devices. Sometimes the videos are produced and uploaded by volunteers using the hash tag meme, #LightUpNigeria. Videos were produced for almost every situation, highlighting the importance of electricity to everyday living. Such videos, expressing discontent, call on government to do everything possible to ensure that power supply is improved to an average of 300 watts per capita.

Beside the core campaign videos, music videos were also produced by both established and upcoming artists. Popular music videos posted on YouTube include those from Blink, EMX, DJ-618, ElDee The Don, BankyW and Sound Sultan. The songs came in variety of genres including pop, rap and core Afro hip-hop all of which had massive appeal among young Nigerians. Other actors in Nigeria television, video and theatre quickly threw their weight behind the campaign. Chief among them are Sammy Okposo, Nigger Raw, John Okafor, KC Presh, MI Abaga, Gandoki, BasketMouth, Bracket, ChuddyK and ace artiste, TuFace Idibia. The central theme of these videos was to encourage every Nigerian to join the movement and to speak up about the plight of living in darkness. The messages were nuanced for artisans, professionals and every segment of the Nigerian population. Several other videos posted on the channel tell pretty much the same story and call for citizens’ actions.

Town Hall Meetings, Exhibition and Street Protests    Nigeria is a large country and only a fraction of its 160 million population has access to social media. Instinctively, the campaign was extended to offline Nigerians. Town hall meetings were held in major cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Enugu, Kano, Minna, Calabar, Keffi and Kaduna. Lagos and Abuja had more than six town hall meetings held among them. These meetings recorded different degrees of participation. It was not a political campaign so participants found sufficient reason to attend the meetings. There was no need for any financial inducement as is the practice for most political events in Nigeria. In late 2009, the Federal University of Technology, Minna, hosted the first meeting where students were motivated to join the movement on Twitter and Facebook. Participants and participation were from everywhere possible. Since it was about electricity everyone was affected.

Entertainment celebrities as key proponents of the campaign agenda provided the opportunity to explore entertainment events and social functions as spaces to reach out to citizens. Throughout 2010, the movement was common wallpaper at nightclubs, parties and theatres. Notable among these are Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN) 2010 elections in Lagos, Silverbird and Ozone cinemas, SWE Bar Nightclub, Lagos and several outings at the Play Nightclub, Abuja. During these events or cinema shows, a representative of Light Up Nigeria is allowed a few minutes to address the audience.

Group Skype and Blackberry Meetings    As there was no source of financing for its activities, campaign coordinators relied mainly on telephone calls, exchanging emails or text messaging. On occasions where there was need for instant responses or where immediate decisions need to be finalized, the coordinators used Skype for voice or Blackberry messenger service for text. These services are quite cheap and require only modest technology hardware to set up. Use of these platforms saved a lot of time and cost, yet they were effective tools for building strong coordination and understanding among the nucleus of conveners who probably first met on Twitter and were based in far-flung locations.

 

Campaign Without Border

Nigerians from all walks of life and those in Diaspora were all involved in the online campaigns. It was not long before international media agencies like CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and VOA began to cover specific activities of the movement, giving it unprecedented attention and further expanding the the buzz around the campaign. The LUN campaign piggybacked on other campaigns of international proportions to feature some of the activities of the movement on these media agencies. Almost all international media outlets produced documentaries examining specific consequences of poor electricity; often relating it to massive corruption and Nigeria’s position as 7th largest producer of crude oil in the world. In a March 2009 feature, the VOA’s flagship “TV to Africa” program, using Nigeria as a guinea pig, suggested ways to improvise battery-powered torches.

 

Fresh Consciousness in a New Community

Light Up Nigeria proved to be successful at gaining attention online (as evidenced by the more than 20,000 group members amassed on Facebook in a span of twelve weeks, from online posts alone), on television (with artist Eldee doing a television interview on the subject), and in the traditional press and online blogs around the world. Although electricity supply tripled from a meager 1500 megawatts when the campaign started to just over 4500 megawatts by end of 2012, the campaign did not achieve its ultimate goal of ensuring a supply of uninterrupted power supply to every part of Nigeria.

One thing it achieved, however, was particular attention devoted to electricity before and after the 2011 general elections. Most likely for the first time, energy occupied the front burner in all political campaigns in any general election in Nigeria. The presidential manifestoes or campaigns of the political parties began to treat energy as more than an infrastructural agenda; it became a governance issue. All the major parties were unequivocal in their deposition that stable electricity supply is a major plank of a functional economy. Even though figures vary, there was general accord that investments should cover four areas: power generation, transmission, distribution and alternative energy. The aim was to increase generation and transmission capacity in order to provide adequate and sustainable power; intensifying rural electrification efforts in a more efficient manner; and achieving optimal energy mix using the most appropriate technology.

Even though its lofty proposals have not been met, the #LightUpNigeria buzz has since died down and is now almost dead. Just when it was time to follow up on the initial success of the campaign, the nucleus of the conveners seem to have found fresh interests in other ventures. There is no consensus on why the movement put the brakes on its own grinding wheel, even though it had assembled a combination of short and long-term strategies to move from a campaign project to an instrument of change that could affect millions of Nigerians. Evidently, this groundbreaking online movement, propelled by mid-level professionals, university graduates and tech-savvy youth in the online communities, was still dogged by lack of structure, coordination, financial sources or subscribed membership. There was no membership list and the eponymous official website set up at www.lightupnigeria.org is now defunct.

What happened? Everyone was focused on the campaign and what it could achieve, but the passage of time might have caused an erosion in energy or determination. People who volunteered usually contributed time, mementoes, spaces and other required resources. No one has accounted for the donations or supports received. There is no evidence that anyone demanded an explanation. Campaign activities devolved into a one-man show, making many of the core team to abandon ship, or so it seemed. The politics and elections of 2011 might have influenced a slight shift of focus as politicians tried to court formidable structures as the movement then represented. That stated, young people patently showed how well they could be harnessed to influence public governance; innovative social media addicts developed; new waves of interests in politics and political participation were generated and, opportunities created to identify and grow new political leaders from among youthful Nigerians. In fact, an army of political change agents began to raise their heads bringing to the fore a new thinking, concerns and breaking imaginary barriers.

Certainly, there were major challenges to the quest for progress, but LUN’s smart strategy focused on maximizing online platforms to trigger awareness and built capacity to apply pressure in a way that political actors could not ignore. As a first of its kind of collective campaign in Nigeria, LUN provided the inspiration for many other campaigns and was part of the building blocks for the Enough is Enough campaign, which led Nigerian youth to demand free, fair and credible elections in 2011. #LightUpNigeria came to reinforce and restore a sense of national ownership among individuals that galvanized a collective effort to resolve the electricity problem.[25] A new wave of online political consciousness evolved as a result of LUN. Today’s non-violent (and often online) activists have evolved their protest tactics away from anger, resentment, and rage towards a new, more incisive form of activism rooted in humor and sarcasm rather than resentment and rage, and the ominous scowls of past revolutions. The idea of an online digital campaign was born in Nigeria. Later campaigns such as Enough is Enough, have grown out of that experience and have become more organized and given voice to many who have never had such an outlet in the past.

 

About the Author

O’seun Odewale has spent nine years engaged in local and international social development work across the West African sub-region. He has worked with regional institutions like the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), the West African Bar Association (WABA) and more recently, the Economic Community of West African States as Programme Officer for Youth, Programme Officer for Governance and Human Rights, and Research Assistant for Disaster Risks Reduction. He is currently a a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

His research experience spans the academic and development sectors, covering both the natural and social sciences. In the development sector his focus areas include human rights, governance and political processes, regional integration and human security (security sector governance and architecture). He has five years of field experience in Elections Observations and Monitoring in twelve member states of ECOWAS and other parts of Africa, UNOWA youth employment mapping in West Africa and inclusion of young people in processes for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) under the United Nations Millennium Campaign African office situated in Nairobi. In addition, he has additional volunteer and extra-curricula experience in campaigning, mobilization and civic education with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the West African Students’ Union (WASU). Odewale is also a former Director of Training and Protocol to the Junior Chambers International (JCI), an international collegiate youth growth club also known as Jaycees. He is also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, O’seun holds degrees in Chemistry (Medicinal Chemistry) and Chemical Engineering Technology. He also holds professional training diplomas in Community Local Participation (UNICEF); International Elections Observation Mission (KAIPTC/ECOWAS); Mentoring Young Leaders under the Kwame Nkrumah emerging leaders training series, and the African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance (ACOTA) (ECOWAS) among others.

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  1. “Light Up Nigeria Facebook Page,” Accessed April 14, 2013, https://www.facebook.com/LightUpNigeria
  2. “Why Light Up Nigeria Didn’t Trend and Won’t Trend,” Last Modified on February 10, 2010, http://seyekuyinu.com/why-lightupnigeria-didnt-trend-and-wont-trend/ Accessed on April 14, 2013.
  3. News Article: “Nigeria: FG Targets Annual Investment of U.S.$10 Billion in Power Sector Over Next Ten Years – President Jonathan,” Modified May 8, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201305090098.html Accessed June 12, 2013
  4. News Article: “Nigeria Leader Demands Power Fix,” Modified, June 6, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6726595.stm Accessed June 12, 2013
  5. “The Mission To Light Up Nigeria,” Posted April 20, 2009, http://www.nigeriancuriosity.com/2009/07/mission-to-light-up-nigeria.html Accessed June 12, 2013.
  6. “Nigeria Moves To Address Chronic Power Outages”, Posted April 25, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124062314911155519.html Accessed June 12, 2013.
  7. “The $16 Billion Expenditure on Energy & Power Supply”, Posted March 17, 2008, http://www.nas-int.org/nas-press-releases/504-the-16-billion-expenditure-on-energy-a-power-supply.html Accessed June 12, 2013.
  8. “What Is Light Up Nigeria About?”, Posted August 18, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFGodep1WWk Accessed June 14, 2013.
  9. “Light Up Nigeria Independence Day Interview 01/10/2009”, Posted October 2, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNaHZG9wYkg&list=TLR_dsdtDjrJA Accessed, June 14, 2013.
  10. The Freedom House “Freedom on Net 2012 – Nigeria Report” published on http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Nigeria%202012.pdf Accessed April 26, 2013.
  11. “Subscriber Data – Monthly Subscriber Data,” Nigerian Communications Commission, http://www.ncc.gov.ng/industry-statistics/subscriber-data.html. Accessed May 5, 2013.
  12. International Telecommunication Union (ITU),”Mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions,” 2011, http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#.  Accessed May 5, 2013.
  13. Charlie Fripp, “Mobile Internet Usage Soars in Nigeria,” IT News Africa, December 4, 2008, http://www.itnewsafrica.com/?p=1906. Accessed May 5, 2013.
  14. Jayne Augoye, “Why More Internet Users Prefer Mobile Browsers to Desktop,” Nigerian Best Forum, November 10, 2011, http://www.nigerianbestforum.com/generaltopics/?p=108283. Accessed May 5, 2013.
  15. The Freedom House “Freedom on Net 2012 – Nigeria Report” published on http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Nigeria%202012.pdf Accessed May 5, 2013.
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  17. Remmy Nweke, “Nigeria: Blogging as a Trend in Nigeria,” Daily Champion, January 12, 2006, http://allafrica.com/stories/200601120144.html.
  18. ‘Gbenga Sesan, “The Nigerian Bloggers’ Forum,” Oro (blog), September 22, 2005, http://www.gbengasesan.com/blog/?p=10.
  19. The Nigerian Blog Aggregator is available at http://www.nigerianbloggers.com and the Nigerian Weblog Ring at http://nwr.cowblock.net.
  20. “Brutalization of Uzoma Okere,” YouTube, November 10, 2008, 1 min., 40 sec., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHdkyvn41us.
  21. “Uzoma Okere Won N 100 Million,” Nigerian Curiosity (blog), January 29, 2010, http://www.nigeriancuriosity.com/2010/01/uzoma-okere-won-n100-mn-video.html.
  22. “Light Up Nigeria Independence Day Interview 01/10/2009”, Posted October 2, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNaHZG9wYkg&list=TLR_dsdtDjrJA Accessed, June 14, 2013.
  23. Naughty Eyes, July 14, 2009 (1:16pm), comment on Real Archiwiz’s “#LightUpNigeria – Twitter as a Force of Change,” To Fit Or Not To Fit Blog, http://therealarchiwiz.blogspot.com/2009/07/lightupnigeria-twitter-as-force-of.html Accessed May 7, 2013.
  24. Broadcasting Board of Governors, “Nigeria Media Use 2012”. Downloaded as pdf document from http://www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2012/08/gallup-nigeria-brief.pdf. Accessed May 5, 2013.
  25. Nigerian Curiosity Blog, “The Mission to Light Up Nigeria” –http://www.nigeriancuriosity.com/2009/07/mission-to-light-up-nigeria.html Accessed June 12, 2013.

One Response to Project Light Up Nigeria: Power In Our Hands

  1. Momegha chukwuemeka on July 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm says:

    A very powerful truth… When are we going to be treated with love in this country… The corruption in this country is like cancer..keeps metastasising.
    If an average or even below average nigerian should settle down to think or ponder on the issue of corruption and how it affects his/her future generations, he or she can’t help but cry and fear for what might be if there is no miracle forthcoming in his/her generation.
    Let’s start somewhere ie LUN I mean and build up an anti-suffering attitude in this generation.
    God bless our hustle…. LUN.