Search for “Nigeria” online, and two results tend to pop up: The global Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which aims to free Nigerian young women held by militants—and Boko Haram, the regional group claiming responsibility for these abductions. Yet, largely absent from international headlines—and even local media—are the voices of average citizens who live in the country’s northeast, where these events are taking place.
As the risk of local extremism grows, cell phones are changing this status quo: Close to 100% of Nigerians now have access to a mobile device; 30% own smartphones. With their ability to deliver real-time content at scale, mobiles are becoming a key tool for countering militant groups’ messaging—by giving communities a platform to voice their own opinions.
Driving these efforts, Souktel and the US State Department have partnered with a leading media outlet to launch a new mobile service for at-risk Nigerians. Available across the country’s northeast, it lets communities share their views on social issues through interactive audio polls: Community members learn about the service through local media, opt in through their phones, and then receive free audio surveys asking their opinions about key topics—ranging from women’s rights to public health.
Poll results help shape the design of community programming—creating a feedback loop that strengthens local social networks, while promoting a compelling counter-narrative to extremism. With over 25,000 polling calls delivered through the Souktel-built platform, the service has become a crucial outlet for communities to ensure their perspectives are heard. And with Nigeria’s literacy rate hovering around 50%, the service’s focus on “audio-first” content (accessible via touch-tone menus) removes barriers for citizens who might otherwise be excluded.
“Nigeria’s northeast is a region with huge potential,” notes Souktel’s Senior Project Manager Tamara Tamimi, who led the service design with Nigerian partners. “We believe these types of custom, targeted digital solutions can be game-changers in countering violent extremism,” she adds. “Scale is the key: You can reach tens of thousands of people, directly on their phones, and show them directly that their voices matter. Communities can now envision a future that looks beyond Boko Haram—where their own opinions count”.