Book Review: Title: Cyber Politics – Social Media, Social Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria

Book Review:
 
Title: Cyber Politics – Social Media, Social
Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria
Author: Dr. Omoniyi P. Ibietan
Publisher: Premium Times Books
Year: 2023
Pages: 460
Reviewer: Azu Ishiekwene
Date: July 25, 2023, Abuja, Nigeria

My job today is to review the book, and not the
man. But since the man made the book, I would, to
slightly paraphrase Oscar Wilde, overcome by
yielding to the temptation of reviewing the man. 
 
In case you didn’t know the meaning of the “P” as it
appears in the middle of the author’s name on the
cover of the book for review, “P” is for “Paul”, the
famous cousin of “Peter” in many nursery rhymes.
 
Another quick disclosure, perhaps a not-so-secret
one. Whatever his current bourgeoise pretensions,
the author was a former student’s union leader first

at the Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin, and
later, at the University of Abuja, where he was
rusticated in the famous case of Niyi Ibietan & 45
others v. University of Abuja & 2 Others.
 
The author, whose parents are from the old Kwara
State, later re-enrolled at the University of Uyo. As a
result of the disruption caused by his activism, it
took him 10 years to obtain his First degree; but
when he did, he did so in style. He finished top of
his class. A great relief, as you can imagine, for his
long-suffering parents who had during his
childhood, also endured the scare of rashes that
nearly claimed his life within the first six months of
birth in Kaduna.
 
Enough said about him for now, though later, you
might see the link.  
 

Dr. Omoniyi Ibietan


To the subject matter: Cyber Politics – Social Media,
Social Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria.
When I first voted in an election in Nigeria in 1983,
the Internet was just newly born. It had not even
been properly named. 

 
Forty years later when I voted for the fifth time, my
daughter who attained voting age only 13 years ago
and has since voted only once, as far as I know, was
telling me from thousands of miles away, where she
now lives with her family, how she thought I should
have voted and for who.
 
This was by no means a unique experience. A very
close friend and managing director of one of
Nigeria’s leading media houses told me at the
height of the 2023 elections that the politics of who
to vote for and why so polarised his home that he
had to convene a family meeting where it was
decided that all political talk was off limits until
after the elections.
 
But Cyber Politics is not about the last general
election and filial squabbles. It’s a deeper phase in
the exploratory journey of Niyi P. Ibietan whose
interest in political communication and its sociology
go back to his early student days. 
 

What started, perhaps as mere curiosity in his
undergraduate days and in his early working life
about the role of the media in enhancing freedom,
soon found expression in his journalism and
monographs. This passion, which later deepened in
his Master’s dissertation, has crystalised in the
formidable academic work that is the subject of this
review.
 
In 12 chapters of 460 pages including the
bibliography set against the background of Nigeria’s
2015 general elections, Cyber Politics examines the
theme of cyber culture, social demographics and
political communication. It is a subject that evokes
decades of research, but which nonetheless retains
its fascination as scholars continue to explore the
fraught question of why voters behave the way they
do, especially during elections.
 
Seventy-five years ago, or so, when another Paul,
Paul Lazarsfeld (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, & McPhee)
took this question to the streets of North Carolina
after the US Presidential election to ascertain what
influences voter behaviour in what is now famously

called the Columbian studies, the researchers
concluded that media and campaigns have minimal
effects on voters. 
 
Or to adapt Bernard Cohen’s famous phrase, the
press was increasingly vital in awareness and
relevance, but not necessarily in voter behaviour
and attitude.


 
Keep in mind that before Lazarsfeld and others
conducted the Columbian studies, contributions
from social psychology in the 1930s, especially
following the impact of Hollywood which was then
on the rise, and Hitler’s exceptional propaganda in
the War, had created the impression that people
were like “sitting ducks” for information. 
 
In technical jargon, this view of knee-jerk reaction
to information consumption was called the
“Hypodermic Needle” theory. The social context for
it in Europe at the time was that it was unlikely for
Hitler, especially, to have succeeded, if individuals
had not become isolated, atomised and left

completely vulnerable to the “bullet” of
propaganda.
 
By the time Marshall McLuhan wrote the Gutenberg
Galaxy (1962), expressing the view that
instantaneous communication would undermine
geographically based power imbalances, the world
had almost gone full circle from Laswell to
Lazarsfeld, Melvin DeFleur and other scholars
whose studies showed that social factors also play a
role in mediating information.
 
So, what is the point of Cyber Politics? By the way,
except we want to commit the grammatical blunder
of people who say things have gone 360 degrees,
when they actually mean to say 180 (the correct
mathematical expression of about-turn), how can a
world in which President Donald Trump still
believes he can rile up voters on Twitterverse, be
said to have moved significantly from the
hypodermic needle? And wasn’t it also widely
believed that social media played perhaps a direct
consequential role the Arab Spring?
 

In parts of Cyber Politics, but in far greater detail in
Chapters One, Five and Six, the author not only
examines earlier studies on the impact of social
factors, including peer, opinion leader and family
influences on voter behaviour, he also sets out the
broad objectives of the book, raising issues that are
both specific and contemporaneous in value.
 
In other words, instead of leaving the reader
wondering what happened on the streets of North
Carolina in Lazarsfeld’s studies decades ago and
how that affects him in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Cyber
Politics uses Nigeria’s 2015 general elections as
anchor. 
 
It explores, among other things, the question of
whether political conversations amongst Nigeria’s
estimated 33 million active social media users,
especially the influencers as of 2021 had any
significant impact on the outcome of the 2015
election. 
 
Interestingly, at Page 89 of the book, you would find
that the winner of that election, President

Muhammadu Buhari, thought social media helped
him win. Did it, really? And could it mean that
President Goodluck Jonathan who in 2011 actually
announced his intention to run for president on
Facebook, lost momentum four years later in that
space? Or were there other factors for Buhari’s
victory? You’ll have to read the book for possible
answers.
 
Cyber Politics, was of course, not the first to venture
into the theme of the 2015 elections, voter
behaviour and social media in Nigeria. In Chapters
One and Four, for example, the author cites other
studies which had touched on the subject, too.

What commends Cyber Politics, however, as we see
in Chapter Three, is its laser-beam focus on the role
of three pre-selected social media platforms –
Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp – on voter
behaviour especially in the election under
reference. 
 
Whatever anyone says, I suspect politicians believe
that social media works. Whether it counts at the

ballot is another matter – and of course, the subject
of this book. 
 
What do I mean? When it became obvious during
the 2023 general elections that political ads were
not coming to LEADERSHIP as projected, for
example, I called folks in the campaign of one of the
major parties to ask why. “Well, sorry,” one of the
seasoned media guys on the campaign told me.
“We’re doing more on social media now.”
 
I was scandalised that folks who had built their
careers in the mainstream and whom we were
banking on would leave us high and dry! But I
understood, even if I did so with a heavy heart!
Why? A BBC online
report www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zd9bd6f/revi
sion/7 said, “Politicians are investing heavily in the
use of websites, blogs, podcasts and social
networking websites like Facebook and Twitter as a
way of reaching voters.”
 
“During the 2019 election campaign,” the BBC
report continued, “the Conservatives spent one

million pounds on Facebook alone, at a point,
running 2,500 adverts.”
 
After explaining the meaning of such frequently
used words in the text as “cyber politics,” “social
media networks,” “voting behaviour,” and “public
servants” in the opening chapter, the author
explains at Page 63, that the three social media
networks were chosen largely because of their
capacity for sociality, specifically, “cognition,
communication and community,” the soul of social
media.
 
Chapters Four, Five, Nine and Ten, of Cyber
Politics, deal in extenso with research questions,
theory and models, including the “Channel-Factor
Model”, which brings intrinsic perspective to
political communication in Africa. These chapters
are complete with bar and pie charts, pyramids and
grids, analysing data collected from the sample
population. The text would be of significant interest
to academics and communication scholars. 
 

For example, the author argues at Page 326, that
“poly-mediation” or the interaction of multiple
social factors, including opinions of persons that
respondents’ respected, “books, historical and
global events” and even predictors from the
mainstream media, tended to influence their voting
decision.
 
As of the time of writing this review, my anecdotal
research in the mass communication curriculum of
the University of Lagos; Ahmadu Bello University;
and the University of Nigeria, turned up virtually no
current locally authored full-length texts in cyber
politics.

In light of the exponential growth in social media
adoption and use in the last few years, two election
cycles after 2015, COVID-19 and #Endsars, students,
researchers and scholars would find Cyber Politics a
valuable resource material.
 
I suspect, however, that non-eggheads might find
the book a bit tedious, in spite of its high edit
quality, clean pages and great production. It’s not

their fault. I guess in some way, the book is like the
author – serious, bookish and polemical. It is mainly
the fruit of his three-year doctoral research at
North West University, South Africa, which not only
deepened his interest in communication scholarship
and its nexus with freedom, but also left him grayer
as you can see.
 
But that’s not to say that softball lovers like me
have little or nothing to look forward to in the book.
Far from it. As a journalist, for example, shouldn’t I
be concerned about the emergence of social media
as the “Fifth Estate of the Realm”, a prospect that
the author raised in Chapter Two?

Would this new estate, in which users are both
producers and consumers of information, displace
the Fourth Estate, especially if as Time Magazine
said in its February 5, 2009 edition, journalism was
already in its death throes? 
 
Well, it’s nearly a decade and a half since, and we
have seen that the death of journalism was perhaps
slightly exaggerated. Convergence has also taught

us that it is possible for the Fourth – and perhaps
the Fifth – Estates not only to coexist, but also to be
mutually reinforcing. 
 
Cyber Politics helps me as a voter to ponder if the
social networks I belong to or the influencers I
follow have any potential effects on my political
behaviour either in terms of mobilisation or my
actual voting decisions. Sometimes we think we’re
our own man, until we realise like Pavlov’s dog, that
someone somewhere might be pulling the strings. 
 
But is it true as the author said at Page 317, that
social media influencers are “motivated to
undertake organised campaigns during the election
using their platforms, largely due to the need to
bring about a better social order?” It does appear to
me (and perhaps this was unique to the 2023
elections) that social media influencers were just a
force for good as they were a force for mayhem.

The sludge of fake news sometimes unleashed by
so-called influencers, not to mention toxicity of the
avatars in that space who often insisted it was

either their way or the highway, left people like me
bereft and alienated. 
 
What about the adverse role of Big Tech in privacy
breaches and data manipulation – I’m speaking of
course about Meta’s $725 million settlement over
the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Elon Musk’s
$44 billion Twitter adventure! Were these also
motivated by a desire to do good? It would be
interesting to see how Cyber Politics 2.0 or any
other research into the 2023 election explores
these episodes.
 
Finally, there’s also something in the book for
politicians, but I hope I’m not committing business
suicide by saying this. In Chapter Nine, Cyber
Politics not only explores the role of Facebook,
Twitter and WhatsApp in voter behaviour among
various social demographics in 2015, it also
examines the elements and utility of these social
networks and their resonance with voters. 

Yet, whatever Cyber Politics or any other text on
voter behaviour may say to politicians, our

politicians, while they may keep one eye on social
media they will, as Joseph Stalin famously said,
keep the other eye on “the people who count the
vote!”

So, you can see that in spite of his serious approach
to life and literature, Dr. Niyi P. Ibietan still manages
to produce a book that offers something of interest,
to a significant collection of groups!

We have in our hands today, a token of the
exertions of the infant who survived the afflictions
of rashes in childhood, and the Paul who endured
the persecutions of “constituted authority.”

The author is a scholar who is living the cosmology
of his name, Omoniyi; not only by bringing honour
and pride to his work, but also by expanding
meaning of his surname, Ibietan, beyond the
denotative, geospatial sense of immediate family or
relations, to the global community where a simple
device and its uses, is fundamentally affecting our
shared values and perhaps, shaping our interests.

Now you understand why it is not possible to
review the book, without reviewing the man! As the
conversation continues, I commend the book to you
without hesitation.

Ishiekwene is a journalist, syndicated columnist and
Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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