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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011: DDC plus ‘illiterate’ NYSC equals disenfranchisement

As Nigerians perform their civic responsibilities at the on-going general elections, some people have been disenfranchised due to poor computer knowledge of ad-hoc staff to understand the manipulations of the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines prior to the elections, writes REMMY NWEKE.
During the January 2011 registration of voters by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the deployment of Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines was overtly to ensure transparency, but to what extent this effort has taken the nation, especially the electoral process depends entirely on the human capacity of the systems involved.

It is on this premise that the INEC picked on the members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), unfortunately most of this NYSC members co-opted into the scheme to assist in delivering this transparency driven by Information Technology (IT) were not IT literates.

In order to cushion this, INEC went into partnership with some consultants who claimed to be IT experts to train its ad-hoc staff, most of who may have not seen or touched computer for the first time, hence the computer appreciation course for two days without hands-on left them to practice with the actual DDC machines itself during the registration exercise.

The result of the aforementioned scenario was that most Nigerians got their names missing in the final list of INEC, even after they were verified during the process for that soon after the registration was concluded, yet the NYSC members fail to discover the discrepancies in most voters’ card.

This goes to strengthen the saying in the computing world of ‘garbage-in, garbage out’, in other words it is what has been fed into the computer systems that could be accessed later or even printed out.

Take the case of Lanre Ajo for instance, he had registered during the voters’ registration that lasted for weeks in January 2011 and also verified his cards afterwards.

According to him, during the registration, he had scanned his fingers for biometric purposes three times; his temporary voters card was printed out with his picture on it and during the postponed national assembly elections on April 2, 2011, he was told that his name was missing from the accredited list of voters, while his wife, whom they registered together in this ward was intact.

Further inquiries by him showed that as explained by one of the youth corpers, both his left and right fingers were not captured. Lanre went on to contact one of the supervisors at his local government, who simply told him that his case like eight others already discovered as missing names at the centre would be treated later. How later, the supervisor did not bother to explain as he jumped onto a waiting commercial bus converted as official INEC vehicle and drove away.

And during the April 9th national assembly elections, Lanre had gone back with the hope that his case and others like him, may have been taken into consideration coupled with the fact that there was a reported provision by INEC to allow those with registration cards to vote as long as their voter’s card have ‘Voters Identification Number (VIN)’.

For Lanre, the worst part of the scene has been that the NYSC members the fact that they messed him up with the registration, they still insist that even those with voters card cannot exercise their franchise. According to one of them, Biodun, the instruction from their so-called supervisor was that they should adhere strictly to the list given to them, outside that, sorry, they cannot help you. And that is how many Nigerians were disenfranchised in the on-going general elections.

Lanre Ajo may not be alone in this dilemma at the Orile-Oshodi polling unit as there was report that at ward 05, Units 1 and 2, names of 92 electorates were missing on the accreditation list in Ode-Omu in Osun State.

At 061 Mobolaji Johnson polling unit in Lekki Phase 2, many residents reportedly expressed surprise to discover their names were missing from the INEC list, while at Oworonsoki, Lagos, about 500 names also were missing from Oworonsoki polling unit with one of the contestants as victims.

Peter Nkanga reported from Kastina that missing names was a widespread omission in the on-going general elections, quoting Mr. Onoleke, a unit supervisor as saying that he had discovered two people’s names missing in his unit. Also, Uchenna Nwafor, an NYSC member and ad hoc INEC’s presiding officer in Mallamawa Low Cost polling unit in Daura Local Government of Katsina, revealed that, at least, 110 people could not find their names on his list.

Nwafor pointed out that there were about 547 people registered in his unit “But as they came for accreditation, we discovered their names were not in the register. What we are doing is to compile their names and submit them to INEC for necessary action to be taken.”

For the former Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Alhaji Sarafa Tunji Isola from Ward 5, Mokola area of Abeokuta, Ogun State, had complained of some hitches in the electoral process including his missing name from INEC accreditation list.

On discovering this, Isola smartly put-up a call to a top INEC official in the state, and complained about his missing name and he was told to tender the Voter Identification Number (VIN) on his card and other details whenever he would cast his vote.

According to him, he made inquiries to find out because he was aware that this errors could happen and INEC has already made a provision; “if your name is not on the list, your VIN number on the card will be written down with your date of birth and your name, you’ll be allowed to vote.”

Isola described this as a technical problem, stressing that it’s not just fair to disenfranchise people on account of technical fault.

“To me, this one has been resolved and those people with similar problems would also be allowed to vote. At the end of the day, what matter is being allowed to exercise your civic right,” Isola submitted, but the fact is that all fingers are not equal as showcased in the case of Lanre and Isola, whereas the important thing is to make the process very even for all eligible voters, especially the ordinary citizens of this country.

May be INEC needs to listen to the recent lamentations of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) on the use of professionals in delivering its IT components of the election, according to the president, Prof. Charles Uwadia, particularly, over a number of steps and activities by INEC among which was the appointment of an ICT Consultant /Adviser to the Commission’s chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega; who the group claimed is not a registered IT professional in the country, with NCS or with the IT education regulator, the Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN).

They also highlighted the fact that there should be specifications for contracting three firms to deliver 132, 000 units DDC machines for the forthcoming compilation of fresh voters’ register and other electoral process for 2011. Just as NCS decried the manner of conducting training for personnel who were deployed to manage or handle the DDC machines for just two days prior to the exercise, saying it was not professionally acceptable to the society.

NCS, thus, insisted that all INEC’s personnel carrying out core IT professional duties in the Commission as matter of urgency should be registered professionals as stipulated in Act 49 of 1993, stressing “All persons to interface and operate the DDCM must be trained and certified by professional institutions registered by CPN.” This is in addition to “all contracting firms who are not registered with CPN should have their contracts revoked.”

INEC had awarded contracts for 132,000 Direct Data Capture machines worth N34,517,640,000 billion for the exercise and now to assume that this huge investment was meant to disenfranchise Nigerians would be wrong, rather, it had to do with human capital, which Nigeria and Nigerians need very fervently accompanied with education on electoral law or civil duties in Nigerian schools at all levels.

As it is, there is nothing INEC is doing to remedy the situation to enable more Nigerians mostly those that fall into the category of Lanre Ajo to perform their civic duties. Though he was bemused whether to take INEC to court, yet he has this fear that before the court would decide the election must have come and gone. So, his disenfranchisement still holds, therefore making the court process a no-go area or choice to overcome his predicament.

In effort to ensure he participated in the 2011 elections, Lanre went online to INEC website and filled in the feedback form at http://www.inecnigeria.org/contact-us/, what he got was “Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact administrator by other way.”

However, Lanre also tried out an electronic mail (email) at the INEC, which turned out to be INEC Citizen Support initiative. A few minutes later an automated response arrived in his email, reading “Dear Lanre Ajo, Thank you for contacting INEC Citizen Support Voter Contact & Response Center (VCRC). This message is to confirm that we received a service request with tracking # 57174 from you.

“You can view and update your service request here:

support.inecnigeria.org?cmd=ticket&key=57174Z32641EC9D60810AB3687AE3387272737.

“We will respond immediately after processing your inquiry.”

As we wait for the immediate response by INEC as promised in the last contact made by Lanre, he could not come to terms why he cannot vote. Can somebody tell Lanre any other ways before the elections finish on April 26?

Aside given adequate time for training of the ad-hoc staff bearing in mind the implication of such shabby attempt as being suffered by Lanre among many others, the software application should be updated to accommodate prompts to stop printing of the voter’s card if the finger prints and other essentials were inconclusive.

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