Many Nigerians had applauded the courage of President Goodluck Jonathan in replacing then omnibus INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu with Professor Attahiru Jega. The appointment of Jega as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was well received by many as many Nigerians saw it as one way out of sanitizing the nation’s electoral process. Applause came from all quarters including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Nigerian ruling political party that incidentally have been the greatest beneficiaries of electoral heists happening in the country since 1999.
I would not have known the behind the scene events or efforts that followed prior to and post Jega’s confirmation by the National Assembly as the new helms man at Nigeria’s electoral commission. But one thing that followed synonymously upon Jega’s appointment was his declaration of interest to deploy and use the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines in the 2011 national elections. Each DDCM consists of a laptop, a web-camera, a scanner and a printer. As the name implies, the machine captures the photo image of the prospective voter’s face and an imprint of the ten fingers. These data are stored against the names and other particulars of the individual. Each of the machines costs an average of three hundred thousand naira.
The exigency of the DDC machines was based on the need to inspire and build credibility as the old INEC voters’ register, developed under then, INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu; as used in the 2007 elections was completely without credibility. Professor Attahiru Jega had insisted that INEC would be needing about 120,000 DDC machines though the commission finally ordered for a total of 132,000 DDC machines. The machines would be deployed one per polling unit doubling as registration centres in order to be able to register afresh an estimated total of 70 million voters in preparation for the 2011 elections.
But getting a total of 70 million prospective voters registered implies roughly on average of 6,000 per registration centre. Writing in the sahara Reporters, Professor Mobolaji Aluko had argued that for a ten-day two-week period, that requires on average 600 voters registered per day per polling station. For an eight-hour-per-day period with one machine per registration centre, that means that each registration would require less than one minute – to ask, verify and enter (by hand or by typing into a computer) name and other personal information, finger print, take a web-cam picture, print a card and hand same to the registrant, in addition to bantering a little.
Professor Mobolaji Aluko further argued that it would be a tall order, not only because of the time constraints noted above, but the very difficult task of motivating 70 million people anywhere in the world to voluntarily go out and do anything within a two-week period, even in a developed country, not to talk of a developing country like Nigeria where there is existing apathy or scepticism, if not cynicism, about the electoral process itself. Maybe throwing in some holidays and other carrots, and applying some stick to increase registration might help - but one wonders by how much.
Now that the DDC machines has been ordered and paid for, as well as deployed to use in the polling booths across the nation; emerging realities across the country portrays a picture of an exercise in crises, and this certainly does not inspire anybody. A daily average 50 -100 persons registration as reported across the country smacks of a project doomed to fail within the allotted 15 days period. At the beginning, many pooling booths were out of operation for the first 3 days while those that were operational registered just a hand full of about 10 persons per day.
Despite their high rate of cynicism, Nigerians still trooped out in large numbers to perform the civic task of registering as potential voters in the April 2011 elections. But instead of being inspired, they are being frustrated. Long queues remained the order in most of the registration points. People spent an average of 5 to 7 hours daily waiting for their turns and often ending up not being attended to.
In the midst of all these frustrations are stories that INEC is already sabotaging itself by unholy alliances with the ruling party. Stories have it that the PDP is not actually happy with the intended use of the DDC machines and are out to frustrate it. The reason was that PDP cannot afford to lose its leadership and authority in the country by simply supporting a project that would ease it out of power. The smooth use of the DDC machines is feared to achieve a credible voters register which would definitely nip in the bud most election rigging exploits.
The only option therefore was to frustrate the exercise mid-stream. The game was to make the take off exercise very dull, lukewarm, clumsy and frustrating. This will then generate uproar and abuse of INEC, to such an extent that the INEC authorities would be compelled to resort to the old way of doing it, i.e. the manual entry of data and submission of passports. The frustration was designed in such a way to make the DDC machine software too slow and sluggish. However, one puzzle in this scenario is the source of contact with the DDC machine software. Fears however cascade that there exist fifth elements in INEC. It is these fifth elements that are dinning on the same table with Jega, imploring Nigerians to troop out and register, yet, causing logjam in the registration booths even from day one of the exercise.
The general scenario as reported by national newspapers was that anger, complaints and recriminations trailed the wobbly take-off of the national voter registration exercise, which held at different centres nationwide. Poor publicity for the exercise also left a lot of prospective voters in the dark about where they should register.
It is on this premise that I question the role of a person like Professor Celina Oko, the resident electoral commissioner for Imo State. The body language of this woman belies her claims of being fair to all political interests concerned. For example, what was her interest in substituting members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) already trained for the exercise with alien persons from elsewhere? There are also allegations that INEC under her supervision in Imo have allowed some topshots of the ruling party to capture and keep some of these DDC machines in their homes. What they intend to achieve with it is still open to conjectures, yet Celina Oko has not be able restore public confidence on the actual state of affairs. I am interested to know what this forebodes for the next elections here. Is Prof. Celina Oko one of the fifth elements planted in INEC by the ruling party to frustrate Jega?
But Jega seems determined to succeed , though I wonder how far he can go. If not that Nigerians are determined like Jega to ensure success in the coming polls, the whole thing would have collapsed already. In this hoopla, Professor Jega had revealed that only 98000 out of the 120,000 DDC machines ordered for the two-week long exercise have so far arrived. The remaining, he assured, would be available in a couple of days. He also assured that all qualified voters would be registered within the duration of the exercise and ruled out any extension of time as a result of the hiccups.
Already, top PDP notable are already clamouring for the abrogation of the use of the DDC machines. A member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, has suggested the adoption of the INEC list used in the last general elections. He made the suggestion, on Friday, at Atta, Ikeduru, Local Government Area of Imo State, where he participated in the ongoing voter registration at his ward.
The politician said that his suggestion came in view of problems noticed with the use of the DDC machines for the exercise. According to him, what the commission should have done was to update the old register and make corrections where necessary. Chief Iwuanyanwu, who registered at about 1.30 p.m. alongside his wife, Eudora, pointed out that with the elections around the corner, no amount of time extension would enable INEC to register every eligible voter in the country. He said that the commission was not to blame because the time it was given was too short to succeed. “Very soon, these machines will start breaking down and there will be problem of replacing them because INEC doesn’t have enough for replacement,” he said.
As the coming weeks unfolds, fears are rife that pressures from various political quarters would be optimally exerted, all aimed at frustrating this lofty effort of departing from the past. As usual, the amount of funds already expended would become irrelevant. Nigeria as a result will remain in the status quo. And that would be the first triumph for all those who really do not want the DDC machines to change anything or add value to our electoral system and democracy.