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Nigeria : The election that failed ICTNigeria’s 2007 national elections were marred with irregularities despite the huge amount spent on ICT to facilitate an error free democratic process. SEGUN ORUAME writes on why technology failed to make any appreciable impact.
«They say the small machine in their hands
The small machine in their hands
Would stop Ogargar from stealing the votes
Would stop Ogargar from stealing the votes
It was the small machine
It was the small machine
That gave Ogargar our votes. Our votes»
Translated version of a local song in Otuo language, Owan East Local Government, Edo State, Mid Western Nigeria.
The mood after Nigeria’s 2007 election was that of anger and dejection. Many felt Africa’s most populous country of 150 million had missed another opportunity to create and foster an acceptable democratic tradition. The elections were massively rigged even in the face of million of dollars spent by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) on ICT infrastructure to ensure transparency in the voting process.
"I was photographed. My thumbprint was taking and scanned. I was even asked to verify if the information in the system about me was correct. I didn’t know that all those exercise were mere waste of time. The man that was declared winner in my ward could never have won for the simple reason that he never came to campaign in this area. He was not known and we could never have voted for a spirit. But INEC and their computers said we voted for a spirit," one angry Lagos resident said in the aftermath of the gubernatorial election.
But it was not technology that failed Nigerians as the song among the folks in Otuo tend to suggest. It was the people entrusted with the task of ensuring that Nigeria had an honest vote count "that ensured that technology was used to achieve ulterior motives," said Johnson Elegboja, Lagos based lawyer while commenting on the 2007 elections.
There is increasing consensus on the big positive change ICT could impact on Africa’s budding democracy. But the debate has remained on how fast and to what level African governments want ICT to promote democratic diffusion. Those in governments have come to accept that ICT could improve how people relate to the government and how they participate in governance. But only few governments appear ready to invest the required willpower beside the financial commitments.
For instance, in Nigeria’s last election, over $200 million was spent on deploying ICT in ensuring a more accurate election process that would ensure that as many people as possible exercise their franchise in urban, rural and very remote communities. With massive cases of fraud, rigging, false representation of results, that election has remained one of the worst ever in Nigeria’s recent history.
A damning report by the EU - Economic Union - Election Observer Group has affirmed the election as a sham. Besides, about four governors, more than 45 legislators at state and national levels have had their elections quashed by election tribunals to underscore the massive fraud of the 2007 national and state elections.
Nigeria’s $200 million went into purchasing no less than 10,000 laptops and PCs for field election workers and other electoral officers to help in the collation of results. The money also covered software for fast, seamless collation; scanning and visual hardware to take record of voters’ thumbprints as well as provide snapshots of each voting adult to be fed into a central database accessible for collation processes.
The systems with electoral staff in scattered locations were connected to a central server at INEC’s head offices in Abuja and other capital cities through another major connectivity contract awarded to Reltel Wireless, a Lagos based telecom company. Reltel was assigned the $50 million task of providing links through VSAT and landline backbone, were feasible, to all of INEC’s systems or local networks.
The whole idea was to link all of the NEC’s local networks as well as provide a robust framework under which election data from different locations could easily be accessed. The country has never implemented an ICT project of such magnitude for its elections and so there was high hope that the 2007 election would be the freest ever.
Ironically, it turned out to be the worst. As Abubakar Rimi, politician and former governor of Kano State, put it, technology is only a part of it, as critical as technology is to great changes; people remain the most fundamental of all the factors. "People would use technology for good or manipulate it for a pre-determined selfish result. In Nigeria’s case, they didn’t allow technology to work well. It was manipulated for an already designed selfish end that was injurious to the health of the nation." Rimi was one of the founding fathers of the country’s main political party, the People Democratic Party (PDP).
"We have always believed that technology could help in achieving credible elections. We were open to implementing some ICT initiatives to get better results. During my time, we embarked massive computerisation as the beginning of those steps needed to make the job easier and better. But you can’t always rule out the human factor," said Abel Goubadia, immediate past chairman of the INEC.
The argument has never been whether or how ICT can be integrated into election or the entire democratic process, it is getting the genuine commitment among stakeholders particularly those in government to initiate ICT strategies for social and economic development that would allow truly elected leaders to emerge. In Nigeria’s case, even President Musa Yar Adua, who emerged as the president elect, to put it another way, the greatest beneficiary of the sham election, has not only accepted that the elections were marred by irregularities but he has already constituted a panel to provide solutions to building a transparent and sustainable electoral culture.
The Nigerian president is not unmindful that he may have his own election quashed by the election tribunal. He has severally affirmed to allow the rule of law to prevail and has giving hint that he would be willing to step down and allow another presidential election to take place if the tribunal so rules.
But the democratic process is not only about elections, it is also about social awareness and greater participation among the people in having a say in governance. In spite of its shortcomings, the last election offered a beautiful and practical exposition of the power of ICT in popular participation.
More credible statistics put the number of PCs at just about 1. 9 million PCs with less than 45% connected to the Internet. But during the elections, they provided an effective window to share thoughts on candidates, election and other social issues among more than the eight million people that have access to the Internet in the country. It may be a small number out of 150 million people but they represent an increasing number of major stakeholders that are contributing to national think and sharing opinions on issues in Nigeria as they concern the common people.
Any one who has been part of the several newsgroups on yahoo and other portals would tell you that these windows are perfect means of gauging the national psyche on social and economic issues. After the elections, these sites have remained no less important and are being made more critical with participation of people like Segun Adeniyi, who is the president’s spokesman. Adeniyi, journalist and former editor of Thisday (on Sunday), joined the debate on why the Mr. President chose to implement the court order reinstating Peter Obi as governor of Anambra State.
Obi had gone to court asking that his removal by INEC was illegal and that the fresh election that brought in Andy Uba as new governor was illegal. The court granted his prayers which were speedily implemented by President Yar Adua even though Obi was from an opposition party. Adeniyi has through the yahoo newsgroup helped to provide great insights into the working of the Yar Adua cabinet and has helped in no small way to bring government and its actions closer to a greater number of people.
The yahoo newsgroup and other similar newsgroups having Nigerians as members have remained a major plank to campaign for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Bill into law by the National Assembly. About three former presidential candidates appear frequently on the yahoo newsgroup including Pat Utomi who ran a vigorous presidential campaign against President Yar Adua. Utomi’s comments on national issues are gaining increasing prominence on the Internet just as they are helping to sustain debate on those issues.
The trend is that newsgroups are becoming a pressure group where debates on specific national issues are held and where people that are affected could pass comments. Ultimately, those in government who are affected are forced to act. A not too recent case is that of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. After Thisday broke the story of his having shares in Transcorp, a company he is known to publicly support as a Nigerian transnational concern, several newsgroup took up campaign against what was seen as an illegality.
The debate raged over whether a sitting president who has equity stake in a particular company could have moral standing not to act in the interest of that company against national interest. Eventually, President Obansanjo had to hands off his shares in Transcorp. The campaigns on the newsgroup were as wide as they were aggressive. Evidently, a section of the international reading public was gauging the pulse of events by relying on the shared information within the newsgroups and stakeholders within government were increasingly coming under pressure to advise the president to act fast otherwise his claims to fighting a war on corruption would become questionable.
However, it is the innocuous mobile phone that has helped to get more people to participate in governance. There are about 40 million active mobile lines according to the recent statistics of the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC). Mobile coverage is wide across Nigeria’s landmass of 973, 500 square kilometres. Coverage signal is in virtually all the 36 states of the federation including Abuja, the administrative capital. Tens of thousands of communities are under signal coverage though there are still large numbers of unserved areas. Unlike the Internet, which is expensive to deploy and has a more limited usage, Nigeria’s mobile phone access is the country’s most effective tool for communication and offers for now, the greatest possibility for social change.
The politicians have not ignored this fact. More than five political parties out of Nigeria’s odd 40 or so political parties used the Short Messenger Service (SMS) window to campaign for their candidates in the last elections. In Lagos, it was a war of SMS between political parties. During the campaigns, an average mobile phone user received no less than 15 SMS convincing him of why he needs to vote for a particular party and candidate.
The battle was between the People Democratic party (PDP) and the Action Congress (AC) in Lagos. The PDP daily sent an average of three SMS on its gubernatorial candidate Musiliu Obanikoro to checkmate about the same number of SMS that the AC sent daily on its won candidate Babatunde Raji Fashola who eventually won the election to become governor of Lagos State.
"All these can go a long way in letting people be more informed on issues and ultimately getting them to make right choices in a democratic setting. But whether technology would work or not depends on how far we want technology to work," said Lanre Ajayi, Lagos based technology analyst and president of Nigeria Internet Group (NIG).
Author : Segun Oruame
Selected article of Haayo Call 4
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