Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan arrives in New York City this week to address the United Nations high-level summit on AIDS. His travel coincides with two other events on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean:The arrest in Abuja of Nigeria’s outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, on corruption charges and the appearance of crusading journalist, Omoyele Sowore, the founder of SaharaReporters.com, before the eighth annual Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. (You can follow the conference via www.twazzup.com/pdg11.)
Sowore congratulated the citizen journalists who helped his website uncover Bankole’s alleged laundering of some $1 billion dollars through a Lagos bank. He challenged reporters in the New York audience to take a close look at President Jonathan’s entourage. “When 70 million Nigerians live on just $1 per day,” Sowore asked, “why does President Jonathan need 200 aides and three jets for his visit to New York City?”
The two-day Personal Democracy Forum has put together a series of high-level speakers who are analyzing the impact of the internet on the political revolutions within Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year and the unrest still underway in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
Said Sowore, “Technology allows me to stand on the mountaintop of dissent. I was arrested repeatedly when I tried to protest on the streets of Nigeria. But now, technology has offered me the opportunity to fight corruption inside the Nigerian government from my basement in New Jersey.”
Thanks to the impact of technology, Sowore’s website, SaharaReporters.com, now receives some eight million page views each month. He recently received $450,000 over three years to pursue his work, thanks to a grant from the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic venture firm that invests in both non-profit and for-profit media ventures. Said Sowore, “You can hold any government accountable,” but he warned that websites and Twitter accounts can never completely replace “feet on the ground.”
Other speakers included Rohan Silva, who explained how his boss, British Prime Minister David Cameron, is using the Internet to publish details of all government spending over 500 pounds, as well as incidents of street crime. Silva said the Cameron government is also asking public sector workers to comment online about how the British government can cut budgets and be more effective at the same time.
Likewise, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand discussed her efforts to bring greater transparency to the work of the United States Congress through the Internet. She is an advocate for all members of Congress publishing online all of their campaign donations as well as their “earmarks” or requests for specific spending in their districts. “I’ve been trying to increase transparency so that real people, not just the lobbyists, can have a voice in Washington,” she explained.
Sowore picked up Senator Gillibrand’s theme. “Maybe you are overdue for a revolution here in the United States,” Sowore said. “I’ve lived here for 12 years and your government can do better.”