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OUR CHILDREN HAVE COME

By NBF News
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•Emeka
It was Chukwuemeka Ike, the prolific Nigerian writer/novelist and former Registrar, West African Examinations Council, WAEC, who predicted the times we are now in, with his book titled: Our Children Are Coming. Published in 1990 by Spectrum Books Limited, Ibadan, the book has been described in many literary quarters as 'a vote for the young' and 'a celebration of youth.'

Now, he may have to go back to the publisher for a change of title. Reason: Our children have come…with balloting software that will change, forever, the way we cast votes in Nigeria, and perhaps, in African countries like Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Rwanda, Zambia, Kenya, etc.

Tagged: eBallot, it is some voting software developed and designed by two students of American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, Adamawa State. Their names: Emeka Osigwe and Tosin Komolafe.

Recently, it was reported that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had to contract out the printing of the ballot papers for the next month's general election to some foreign firms because the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting to which it was originally contracted is having major capacity constraints meeting the April deadline of delivering over 100 million ballot papers for the elections.

With eBallot, you didn't need ballot papers. All that you would have needed is just register your names, together with voters' biometric identification details, like we did in the last voter registration and, on the polling day, you get to the voting centre or polling booth, have your identity checked and verified and then cast your vote online, by just clicking on your preferred candidate and your vote is recorded. That's all.

It was with the assistance of the eBallot software technology that administrators of the first e-voting done at AUN last year, were able, not only to register and keep accurate and up-to-date records of eligible student voters during the Students Government election, to have on display photos and profiles of the contesting candidates, but to also announce as well as display the election results immediately after the polls.

Records made available to Education Review show that of the total number of votes cast electronically in the 2010 SGA (Students Government Aluta) election, Michael Ameh, one of the two presidential candidates, won 74 votes while Effiong Okpo who won garnered 367 votes. As for the post of vice president, Maryam Kyari won with 306 votes, as against Pearl Boyle-Komolafe's 160. Other posts in which there were contestants include treasurer, public relations officer and students senate seats for School of Arts and Science, School of Business and Entrepreneurship and School of Information Technology and Communication. It is worthy to note that after the announcement of the election results, none of the contestants protested or appealed for cancellation because the scores were as clear as the noonday.

Initially, you had thought that the development and designing of the eBallot software was part of a class work/project or take-home assignment that was later deployed to a wider use. But you were surprised to learn from Emeka and Tosin, two students whose feat reminds you of a similar feat achieved by the trio of James Gosling, Mike Sheridan and Patrick Naughton (who, in June 1991, helped to design the Java software programme), that it was a software programme developed and designed outside the framework of classroom situation.

'The project was done completely out of class, in fact some of the technologies we used in the project, we were not taught in class,' Emeka said. 'As at the time we developed the software, we were still second year students and had not been taught most of the skills needed for such a project. We had to research and learn them ourselves.'

Tosin says the same thing. He said: 'at that time, we were just in our sophomore year and we have not been taught so much in terms of the tools we used. Therefore, we had to take out time to learn those tools ourselves.'

'This idea came up in one of our club meetings, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE),' Tosin further recounts. 'In other words, the project, from the analysis to the design, was done by some group members of IEEE, but the implementation stage was done by Emeka and I. At that time, I was the Project Co-ordinator and we as a club came up with the idea because of the problem we saw at AUN. The election really took a lot of time. Even after the election, they would begin counting. We asked: Why can't we just get the result immediately we are done with the election? This was the main question we had to answer. Then, eBallot evolved. Presently, we are adding new features to the system to serve more polls.

'Like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention,' Emeka adds, as he recalls how the idea came up. 'It was really necessary to eliminate the hassles of conducting the Student Government election in AUN manually. As a solution to this, we designed the eBallot system to simplify the whole process. It took us about four months of hard work. Simply put, all that is required is a unique log in credentials which the system generates based on your student ID. When a user has been authenticated, (checked if user is valid and hasn't voted), it presents all approved candidates by displaying their pictures alongside their names and any brief description. The user makes his choice by clicking on the desired candidate and the vote gets counted immediately.'