By ‘Sola Fagorusi
The population of Nigerians residing in rural communities has reduced progressively over the years. Despite this, the number of people living within our rural geography is still sizeable. The census of 1963 put the figure at 80.7%; in 1995, the World Bank put the figure at about 61% while 2013 figure from the same body is pegged at 49.16%.
This population despite the neglect from government is responsible for several foundational economic activities that the general population depends on. While the internet has continued to diffuse courtesy of the World Wide Web interface, the rural communities in Nigeria has not fully benefitted from the social software that the social media is. We have repeatedly seen how social media has been used for social change in urban communities and how it has forced the hand of government to move. This social revolution is still largely absent in rural communities. The culture of rural neglect in terms of physical infrastructure, institutional provisions and even socio-economic infrastructures is largely absent. As it stands; the most developed infrastructure is rural telephony and this is chiefly due to private investments in the telecommunication sector. When compared side-by-side with the livelihood of rural dwellers, one will reckon with the huge cost associated with accessing this infrastructure.
Before Web 2.0 became ubiquitous, radio was the new media; especially in urban communities. The Nigerian radio landscape recognizes three dominant group – the state owned radio, usually managed by government resources, irrespective of level; the commercial radio station, which is usually run for commercial gains and the cost of licensing put at about 15 – 20 million and community radio stations with about a million naira as licensing cost. Community radio however is not defined by its presence in rural geography, rather it exists to serve the needs of the community and it focuses strictly on matters affecting the community and its inhabitants while the community people are responsible for managing, designing and execution for the stations activities. Its ownership is similar to what exists on social media except that it is communal and regulations exist for its operations.
If social media is in part about engineering social change, community radio also has this capacity. For community radios that are within urban or sub-urban grids where Internet infrastructure exists, allowing for contribution through social media channels is an approach at participatory development. Online social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will easily serve this purpose. It must however be said that community radio does not only define radio stations located in rural communities. They can also be stations located in urban communities or one with reach across the country that serves a homogenous group – say a group of literature lovers. This will also fit into the space of a community radio.
Community radio, like social media is also for everyone. It captures the interest of the rich, poor and every other group and more importantly, it happens in the language of the people while meeting their information and development needs.
While social media has enjoyed massive use in Nigeria for engineering change, community radio has not been that lucky. The fear by successive administration has been that it will suddenly give voice to the otherwise voiceless and may even be a tool for revolution. A valid fear. There have also been attempts in Nigeria at regulating social media but since the driving infrastructure is not in the hands of government, it has been basically impossible. Community radio has not been that lucky, after 13 years of consistent advocacy, only 17 radio stations were licensed by the federal government in May, 2015 at the twilight of President Goodluck
Jonathan’s administration. It is noteworthy that activities for the Training-of-Trainers for developing community radio in Nigeria are in progress. The Nigeria Community Radio Coalition is being supported by the Democratic Governance for Development Project of the United Nations Development Program. Ultimately, one will hope that while citizens continue to actively engage the federal and state government fiercely and constructively using social media, the interactive nature of community radio in rural communities where they exist will also aid change-driving engagements with local government authorities by rural dwellers. The dimension mobile phone brings into community radio dynamics also makes the prospect of deeper relationship that can solve rural problems obvious. Despite the limitation that can come with the audience strength of community radio; it will make a whole deference if there are dedicated websites for community radio stations. It will serve as an archive for the radio station and even if those outside the community cannot receive their frequency, they will still be able to access the issues the radio station is trying to address; maybe not on real time basis. Recordings of programmes, types of programmes, schedules of programmes, management profile, brief about the community, details about presenters and volunteers at the station and interviewees are some of the information that should be captured on the website. As government and development partners continue to scale up their activities to see where they can make a difference; a community can be found and adopted through this means since information is crucial for baseline studies before deciding on project sites.
Community radios in urban areas will on its part benefit from integration with new media technology. That Internet radios exist in Nigeria, despite the absence of regulations on their operation by the government, is an indication that the landscape is changing. With community radio and social media, as long as the people’s voices are heard, it will serve the purpose of cultivating development that is either self-driven or institution-driven.
@SolaFagro on twitter