Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ICT and elections in Africa: Nigeria as a case study

Features of the week:

In Africa, one of the key elements for sustenance of democracy is Information and Communication Technology (ICT).Remmy Nweke, in this report examines its impact on the 2007 election and consolidation of democracy across the continent.

The evolution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on African continent is commendable, especially its deployment to election processes. This incursion has two sides like a coin; in making governance transparent and drawing government nearer to the voters.

Using Nigeria’s April 2007 election held between 14 and 21, as yardstick to take a look at neighbouring Ghana and Togo as pattern to ICT involvement in election.

Democratically, most elections align with the kind of public governance or geographical location of a given state, and in Nigeria it begins with the party primaries, then the general election, which include the presidential and National Assembly, governorship and state legislative arms and local government elections respectively.

Experts, for instance, have defined election as a decision making process where a population chooses individual(s) to hold official positions on trust, thus becoming ‘public servants’ according to the Wikipedia online. This, the open source encyclopaedia stated, is often the mechanism for modern democracy to fill offices in the executive and legislature for all the three-tiers of government in a federated state; namely federal, states and local systems, which usually is enshrined in the constitution of the country.

Third Term Agenda:

The impact of ICT manifested in the live broadcast via Television technology, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) induced Third-Term agenda to perpetuate then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in power after serving the statutory two terms of eight years in office.

The National Assembly made up of the Senate and Lower house, took path in salvaging Nigerian democracy under the leadership of Chief Ken Nnamani and Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari as Senate President and House Speaker respectively and lived up to yearnings of the people and media especially.

2007 election:

Prior to the general elections, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had as far back as 2005, began sensitisation of the populace on the various concepts to be used, including the Option A4, Electronic Voting (e-voting) and Open Secret ballot systems.

In Option A4, obviously a Nigerian model, voters are expected to queue behind a representative of a given political party or its candidate and counting will be done in the full glare of the public.

While e-Voting consists of several types of voting, including electronic means of casting votes and counting votes. This equally could involve punch cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks otherwise known as self-contained Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE). So, e-voting involves transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks or even the Internet with the merits of speeding up the counting of ballots and availing enhanced voting access for disabled persons, thereby curtailing electoral frauds like stocking of ballot boxes with ballot papers.

Also the Open Secret ballot system eventually adopted in 2007, affords voters to cast votes in enclosure, though after due verification on Direct Data Capture (DDC) printout available at polling centres.

ICT compliant INEC:

Still, INEC introduced data capturing of eligible voters from 18 years and above in a nationwide exercise for the first time; deploying Personal Computers (PCs), digital cameras and thumb printing scanners.

Equally, INEC set up 2007 elections website, “Elections 2007” to provide users with exact information with a page created for each of the 50 political parties, listing the names of their national chairmen, secretaries, treasurers, financial secretaries, and physical address of the national headquarters of the parties in addition to contact phone numbers. The site also provided roles like ‘Find a Polling Station’ and ‘Track Candidates’ used to check results.

According to INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, it was to ensure that visitors to the site including Nigerians in Diaspora and observers, receive complete and authentic information from the INEC, just as there is Voter Contact and Response Centre (VCRC) meant for the public to get answers to questions with three distinct telephone numbers; 09-222-INEC (09-222-4632) and 09-780-9339.

The presence of ICT in the 2007 general election in Nigeria saw deployment of 22,000 Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines as at December 2006, in addition to earlier deployment of 18,000 of devices for revalidation of voters register who are eligible on or before February 13, 2007, paving the way for the registration of over 61 million voters by the time it was concluded with 40,000 DDCs.

Iwu explained that the adoption of DDC technology with manual back-up for the revalidation of voters’ register in the 36 states against the Optical Mark Reading (OMR) system was to make the exercise more transparent, speedy and less cumbersome, adding that the equipment consists of two components; the data and the printer units.

Unique local input:

:Deployment of 40,000 DDCs was a unique break for local ICT firms to prove their worth in terms of encouraging their inputs and keeping the funds within the country rather than awarding the contracts to foreign firms that would attract foreign exchange and eventually not create local employment.

As said by Chairman, Zinox Technologies Limited, Dr. Leo-Stan Ekeh, his company rescued the 2006 Nigerian Voters Registration exercise deal by supplying 13,000 Integrated data capture systems to INEC within four weeks.

For him, it took patriotism and financial buoyancy of the like of Zinox to deliver and save the nation from such a crisis, adding that it was a great challenge to local IT firms and Zinox has proved it is achievable. Stressing that the only way for the intervention to be a success was to provide more sophisticated devices such as Centrino laptops and wireless laptops in addition to other components that formed the solution for DDC consisting of webcam and fingerprint reader integrated in a box as well as the mobile printers to name a few.

Reacting, the immediate-past president, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Dr. Chris Nwannenna, commended Prof. Iwu-led INEC for involving ICT into core electoral process for the first time in the history of Nigeria and Zinox for its ability to deliver.

He said, it paved the route for future acceptance of ICT tools in elections, and provided experts in the country the platform to prove their worth and compete favourably with their counterparts globally.

For chief executive, Connect Technologies, Chief Chris Uwaje, usage of ICT is critical to mass involvement in governance and empowerment, describing it as a “core strategic imperatives,” adding that it presented governance in Nigeria with a fundamental challenge and opportunity to showcase her ability and capacities to manage the information systems.

Place of ICT in April polls:

The immediate past Secretary-General, Catholic Secretariat Lagos, Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, said on Patitos Gang, a current affairs discussion programme on Tv, that technology has come to stay in this country, especially influencing positively on elections. Emphasising that the April polls was different, because technology brought about by the advent of Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) among other ICT tools came to play.

Fr. Ehusani said, for instance, that rigging during the election was minimal, thus not huge as hitherto, citing a situation where party agents are armed with a mobile camera phone during the elections, at voting centres and who felt threatened simply had to use their camera phones to take shots and send it through Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) to their party leaders, even as these shots could be tendered in a law court or tribunal in the case of discontents and litigations thereafter.

Noteworthy is that political parties, especially the Action Congress (AC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwarts used SMS widely in Lagos State, much later after the public campaign was banned, in reminding relatives and friends to vote for their parties.

Also, individual politicians used SMS’ to urge voters to vote for their parties reminding them of their party symbols, even the GSM operators enjoined subscribers to go out and exercise their franchise by voting during elections, just as electoral observers used SMS and mobile phones to gather reports across the country and compare activities on the election day. While Police among other law enforcement agents announced some GSM numbers as emergency lines in case of any disturbance and used their GSM phones to exchange relevant information concerning the security reports.

At INEC, Prof. Iwu said, ICT tools were used to report directly to the headquarters network server in Abuja, because it owns a network infrastructure to forestall dependence on private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for data delivery, during and after the election.

Telescope across Africa:

In Togo, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has a bilingual website in French and English with facilities to offer Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, podcast and journal audio. Thus the site tends to run generic multimedia rather than strictly politically related developments.

For the Burkinebe Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI); focus is firmly on election and electoral education with a 12-slide show on how to vote and the relevant processes capable of guiding anyone to follow and not be disfranchised among other offers.

And in Ghana the Electoral Commission offers list of candidates at the presidential and parliamentary levels, core six political parties with links and the electoral system in use since year 2000 when the current team was inaugurated.

Unique of the site links is that the political parties own their websites as well, which was lacking in Nigeria. Although some experts have attributed this to the number of parties involved; that is six against 50 in Nigeria and the cost of maintaining the staff afterwards.


The aforementioned shows that although African nation’s like Nigeria may not be deploying the electronic voting system now, but the steps taken so far by INEC among others in West Africa, is commendable and sustainable; exposing stakeholders interest and activism in what was before now a ‘dirty game’ while they suffer silently. Even as industry observers noted that ICT input in 2007 general elections in whatever form aided the process and marks a good beginning for the continent at large to embrace.

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