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Twitterers watch Nigeria's notorious vote

By Christian Purefoy, CNN
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Election reform via Twitter in Nigeria
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activists armed with Twitter accounts hope to keep Nigerian election clean
  • Amara Nwankpa said they are encouraging participation and watching for flaws
  • The EU said the 2007 election was the worst it had observed anywhere
  • National assembly vote scheduled for Saturday and presidential election for next weekend

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- At the center of grass roots efforts to keep Nigeria's notorious election process clean is a small, indistinguishable man armed with a cell phone.

Voters on Saturday are scheduled to vote for the national assembly after the date was pushed back from last weekend because of late delivery and printing flaws in the ballots. And a presidential election will be held April 16.

During last weekend's aborted voting Amara Nwankpa visited polling stations in Lagos to encourage participation and to watch for potential flaws.

Amara, wearing a t-shirt with the phrase "Light Up Nigeria" and with his mobile phone always close by, is perhaps Nigeria's best-known Twitter activist.

"What we're doing essentially is encouraging young people to participate and to do the right thing," Amara said as he introduces himself to the crowd and election officials at the polling station. "This election in Nigeria -- the vote, it's all of us -- government is us too."

The European Union described Nigeria's last elections in 2007 as the worst they had ever witnessed anywhere in the world. The process was marred by violence, fraud, and intimidation.

Nigeria's new electoral chairman has promised that national elections in April will be "free and fair."

But as Amara tours polling stations across Lagos, he is leaving nothing to chance. He uses the internet as a platform to encourage as many people to get involved in the voting process as possible.

"In the end, it is not the bodyguards or guns, or the aircrafts or bombs that give you power. It is the people," he tweets.

Nigeria has 43 million Internet users -- the largest in Africa -- and they are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook and blogs, such as Nigeria's Saharareporters.com, to access information and make their views heard.

"It's new," Amara explains. "It would have been impossible to do this a year ago."

The majority of Nigerians -- the 2006 census put the population at 140,431,790 -- still do not have access to the internet, but Amara believes this does not stop his message from being heard.

"There is a creaming of the top with the population in Nigeria -- radio presenters, writers, newspapers and so on," Amara explains. "So there's a high probability that stuff that happens on our timelines ends up on the news."

Despite domestic and international pressure, Nigeria's Electoral Commission was forced to postpone the elections by a week after a nationwide logistical disaster -- many voting materials were not even in the country until voting day and party logos were missing from ballot papers.

It was a huge setback, reminiscent of the problems of Nigeria's 2007 elections. However, last week Nigeria's elections were trending on Twitter as across the country people tweeted delays and problems in their voting area.

"Saturday was an #epicfail. We won't lower our standards for credible elections tho," Amara tweets.

If nothing else he's certainly got people talking.

"It makes me feel we can make a change. We can move things in the right direction," Amara smiles. "It's not perfect yet. Our democracy is still young but there's only one way to grow it and that's participation."