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Science

Nigerian president draws a new online following on Facebook

President Goodluck Jonathan has attracted over 144,000 Facebook fans in just a few short weeks, and he writes his own posts every day, in English, drawing thousands of comments.

President Goodluck Jonathan

Each of President Goodluck Jonathan's posts draw between 1,000 and 2,000 comments

Last week, Facebook announced that it had passed 500 million member mark.

But one of its newer members is Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is posting up a storm on his Facebook page. Over 144,000 people have said that they like his Facebook page, where he posts in English about his daily political activities.

President Jonathan is more popular on Facebook than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who only has around 42,000 fans, but still significantly trails the world’s most popular online politician, Barack Obama, who has over 11.5 million fans.

Online Nigerians seem to be very excited at their president’s adoption of the popular social networking site as he seems to be riding the wave of increasing popularity for the site in Nigeria.

"This is a real change, but a good change," said a woman in an Internet café in Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria.

"It allows all of Nigeria the ability to give their opinions directly to the politicians. When there are problems, then they can set them straight. Before the president there were already a few other politicians on Facebook. They give their opinions on various topics, just like we do, without being afraid of being arrested. This reduces the gulf between the politicians and the people."

Already, around one million Nigerians have signed up for Facebook. With that kind of audience, the social networking site has become very attractive to many politicians. They see it as a way to get into discussions with their fellow countrymen, and as a way to air their thoughts and hopefully, to build support.

Facebook screen shot

President Jonathan has over 144,000 fans on Facebook

Facebook has influenced political decisions

Yakuba Musa, who works on the Nigerian president's public relations team, describes the first Facebook day as a huge success. And though he helped initiate that idea, he says he’s not the one writing the president’s posts.

"The president does it himself," he told Deutsche Welle. "And if you look at it, it has been influencing some of the decisions that he has been taking, for example, the Nigerian Football Association. The president reversed his decision (to ban the team from international play over their poor World Cup performance) and subsequently, on the website he said that he based his decision on some comments that he got from Nigerians."

Jonathan doesn't only write about soccer. He discusses other things that have been troubling his people for a long time: the inconsistent and insufficient electricity production, say, or environmental problems in the Niger Delta. And it seems the Nigerians have taken to the idea of a conversation with their head of state. Each entry by the president quickly attracts between 1,500 and 2,000 comments.

At the same Internet cafe in Sokoto, Abdurrahman Mohammed is also excited about the new opportunities the Web has brought.

"I opened a Facebook page because I saw how many other people were getting on the social network," he said. "I can use Facebook to let people know what I think. And I hope I can do my bit to make so many things in my country and the world better. I think what our president has done is great. It's good for all Nigerians."

A group of African women surf the Internet

Of Nigeria's 11 million Internet users, only around one million of them are on Facebook

Muslim leaders also seek new followers on Facebook

And it isn't just politicians and regular citizens in Nigeria who have discovered the internet and social networks. Muslim imams are also trying to gain new followers by using Facebook. Usman Aliyu is one of them. He uses Facebook as a platform to discuss religious and social issues.

"I opened a Facebook page because I want to know how people act within the social network," he said. "We’ve seen that many young people are very active on Facebook. So we use that as a way to show how religious concepts and the correct way of acting applies to their daily lives," he explained.

Lawal Aliyu is exactly the kind of person the imam is targeting, but he doesn't have time for what he sees as small ideas. To him Facebook is more about getting out into the world.

"Facebook is a website where people can give their opinions or discuss problems," he said. "In our country, people often don't always have courage to say what they think in public. But on Facebook they can write what they want. The whole world can see it, react to it and make suggestions."

Author: Mohammad Awal (cf)
Editor: Ranjitha Balasubramanyam

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