NIGERIA: Elections, Electronic Technology and the Kenyan Glitches
As Kenyans await the result of their presidential election, the potential impact of the reported glitches that characterised the country's use of electronic technology on the credibility of the electoral process is a subject that should interest Nigerians and other Africans desirous of getting over the continent's famous election-related violence and the resultant loss of lives and political instability. Kenyan “election officials had said the new electronic voting system broke down, snarling the process and forcing the tallying to be done manually (Nima Elbagir, CNN, 7th March 2013).
While electronic voting is different from electronic registration, my aim in this article is to share with the reader my past thoughts on getting election-related technology use right and the critical opportunity missed by the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 2010/2011. These suggestions based on the Nigerian scenario will mitigate the impacts of glitches and breakdowns, help counter sabotage, prevent electoral heist (rigging) and make election violence unappealing while the principles advocated will apply in equal measure to Kenya or any other African country desirous of deploying technology in a manner that can effectively impact and strengthen democracy. I reproduce my previous article on the subject below:
At over N89billion, Nigeria's voter registration exercise is sure to be one of the most expensive single Information Technology projects in recent time. As I argued before, at the start of the whole debate about the processes adopted, recent events and news emanating from INEC, the Nigerian Independent Electoral Commission about electronic register versus manual register only confirms one thing – our fears were genuine and justified. What we had in mind is turning out to be very different from what INEC had in mind. Technology may end up playing solely marginal role in the success of the forthcoming elections whereas our expectation was built around it as the major deal – as the transformational elixir required to get identity verification right for the voting age and permanently ensure only real living people can vote and that only one genuine vote can come from one genuine person for one particular candidate seeking one particular post.
At the onset, I suggested that the basic ingredients that would make such application of technology a huge success in a place like Africa were not being put in place while no attempt was being made to institutionalise the registration programme in such a way that it would become a system driven process rather than being people driven as well as ultimately ensuring that the huge billions to be sacrificed for the purpose served as sacrifice 'once for all time' in our quest for proper identity or record management thus permanently ensuring that agencies of government that are in the perpetual habit of asking for billions of naira for records' automation and identity card data acquisition can simply be told to 'go liaise with INEC'! Essentially, the core of my position was that INEC as a body needed to adopt “technology use” policy that would make it impossible for even the worst of saboteurs to undermine the process – a policy that would stipulate the objective and the checklists of dos and don'ts that would get us to this objective plus the systemic controls that would ensure the processes are self governing, thoroughly fair, beyond manipulation from within or outside and that the data's integrity is sacrosanct.
To achieve this, I suggested the development of a Biometric Registration Policy Instrument as the starting point. This is essentially a one to two page document containing codes of conduct. We can call it our Rules of Engagement for the application of technology in attaining credible election.
The mood of the nation favoured INEC leading such a charge at the time because everything being asked by Prof. Attahiru Jega from the relevant to the out-rightly extraneous was being approved by the National Assembly. Given the fact that NITDA, the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency which should have provided such a policy cover was for all practical purposes asleep and seeing that the momentum clearly favoured an INEC led initiative towards getting it right, it was my considered opinion that we could apply technology once-and-for-all time to solve our recurring electoral challenges.
WHAT TYPE OF SYSTEM DRIVEN PROCESS?
I was privileged to deliver a technical paper at the Annual AGM of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers in October 2010 where I stated amongst other things that one way of getting it right in Nigeria is the evolution of “a system driven institutionalized approach to promoting efficient development”. I went on to argue that it would promote sustainability and help to “escape corruption-induced pitfalls on the path of development”. My position was informed by the fact that human beings are generally inclined to take advantage of systems. White, black, yellow or coloured – human beings are the same. What would therefore make the difference is if the system's environment permits subtle manipulation or if it is the type that offers a cast iron protection that could be breeched only at individual's peril – and whether the rules of engagement equitably apply to everyone with equal consequences.
That way, whether a 'good' man or a 'bad' man heads INEC would be immaterial and whoever heads INEC would be no 'god' over INEC's processes – knowing full well that determining 'a good man or a bad man' in a multi-ethnic , multi-religion, multi-party and highly polarised society like Nigeria would be quite subjective. To break this down, the introduction of biometric tools for the purpose of registration of voters by INEC had a clearly defined goal and set of objectives. It was not pursued simply because Jega had a brainwave but because Jega and his team were perplexed by intense public outcry against the register left behind by his predecessor, Prof. Maurice Iwu and wanted to help the nation get a register that would remain valid legally and by so doing remain acceptable to the people.
Such a register in my opinion must help satisfy the 7 points that I identified and listed below:
1. Ensure that only human beings are listed, i.e., that only real people can vote
2. That those human beings are Nigerians
3. Those Nigerians are alive and of voting age (18 years old)
4. Those Nigerians of voting age can only vote once for a candidate of their choice at any particular election
5. All votes are equal and that they are the actual and only determinants of the outcomes of electoral contests
6. Nigerians can be assured and therefore be satisfied after the whole exercise that items 1 to 5 indeed had been conformed to – a kind of confirmatory or compliance test, and ultimately;
7. In the event of disputes, the huge investment in biometric technology would speed up adjudication by the judiciary and help judges correctly and convincingly administer justice.
Basically, INEC would apply technology to promote transparency, checkmate election fraud and restore confidence in the electoral process. Hence, while the process we envisaged would ensure that INEC officials like Prof. Jega benefit immensely from knowing that they are indeed working with a register of voters that is genuine, and that only genuine voters can vote – they are not the sole target of such assurance. The people are the ultimate target. The people are to benefit immensely from the awareness that the electoral system that determines their leadership is for all practical purposes of unquestionable integrity.
From the way Prof. Jega responded to questions from journalists and members of the National Assembly on this matter, I had no doubt in my mind that these were his original motivation and that what we had in mind were the objectives he had in mind at the time. In fact, Prof. Jega in August 2010 stated that credible voters' registration was the foundation for free, fair and credible polls and that the incidences of litigation could only be reduced if there was a credible voter register (Source: http://tinyurl.com/jega-speaks). How would incidences of litigations be reduced if losers in an election were not convinced that the processes leading to their defeat were fair?
Those were my thoughts then. The core issues are that the minimum prerequisites for a reliable electronic technology use in future elections must include the following;
i. A primary policy instrument and a legal framework (PILF) developed in conjunction with stakeholders, NITDA, the Nigerian Identity Management Agency, the Ministry of Justice, the relevant division of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and the Nigerian Computer Society.
ii. PILF must protect Nigerian voters, their primary data (identities) and specify rules and guidelines (in 2007, many aggrieved candidates took fingerprint impressions of Nigerians to the UK and other parts of the world for analysis without any protective regulations).
iii. The PILF must support an independent cross agency check and balance. In simple language, nobody must have absolute control over the system. Associated agencies, the Department of State Security and similar outfits should have and warehouse mirrors of live-logs (audit log and activity trails) that could be cross-referenced in instances of disputes (especially by the judiciary). These should equally be available to all stakeholders (political parties inclusive).
iv. PILF should provide for clauses that promote technology best practice, experts' roles and best technology infrastructure based upon a combination of options for a cross-country virtual private networks using huge machines as well as distributing loads when necessary across a number of machines accessible wirelessly by millions over long distances. Part of the aims should be to support a national central database system with arrays of exact mirrors aided by adjunct technology that supports one-to-one and one-to-many voter's pattern recognition made possible through their fingerprint minutiae matching.
v. Permanent voter's registration centres must be established and registration exercise must no longer be a 'Sunday Sunday medicine' to be administered every four years but a permanent and continuous exercise that only stops (say 30 days to election) and resumes afterwards.
vi. Adequate contingency must be provided with national disaster recovery units. This is critical. It is in fact compulsory if the nation is embracing electronic voting (which should be the ultimate goal). Such contingency must also cover hardware, personnel, transportation, security and power.
vii. If biometric technology is deployed, a change should be introduced to the Electoral Act that would discharge the embargo placed on electronic voting as well as enable extension of voting period beyond a single day. This would eliminate the needs for too many voting booths especially those often located where adequate protection could never be guaranteed. A robust electronic technology will guarantee that only one vote can be cast by one person thus eliminating any fear of multiple voting that may be as well as ensure that election tallies are known by all stakeholders in real-time thus ending the extant scenario where results could be doctored after elections must have ended 'because INEC needed to carry out collation!'.
An election must not only appear to be fair, the people must be convinced of its fairness. Monday Ateboh reported recently that General Muhammadu Buhari has called for the sack of Prof. Attahiru Jega and other top officials of INEC because they cannot be trusted to deliver on credible elections (PREMIUM TIMES, 7th March 2013). What is the assurance that the replacements would be better? Future elections must NEVER depend on umpire's proclivity whether good or bad. Our goal should be to evolve an electoral system that even the most evil electoral umpire and his agents would find impossible to undermine. A better call therefore is for General Buhari to use his goodwill and help mobilize a nationwide support for a reformed electoral process where even INEC would be incapable of undermining the system – where the minimum provisions I have itemised above would be in place – a technology enabled process, safeguarded by law, which offers cast iron protection for the sovereign decision of the voter. 2015 is 2 years away. Let's start the process now.
I end by repeating my previous statement in a related article (read it here http://tinyurl.com/tunji-speaks-eVote1) that a proper use of electronic technology in our elections must support independent people-driven regime of transparency, transparency affirmation and monitoring. In essence the system must not only grant absolute confidence to all stakeholders (citizens, political parties, law enforcement agencies, election monitors etc) that it is absolutely reliable, effective and beyond manipulation, it must been seen – and verifiably so – that it is doing just that. In theory and in practice, this is doable.
Tunji, a chattered engineer, was the pioneer Coordinator of the Ondo State Information Technology Development Centre (SITDEC). His team comprising Nigerian engineers and scientists deployed the first live application of fingerprint pattern recognition in the elimination of ghost workers in Ondo State using both in-situ and remotely connected (over long distances) biometric devices between 2004 and 2006. He is currently a Policy Chair of the National Development Initiative NDi (an independent think-tank) with interest in technology use and advocacy, civil infrastructure and energy systems. NDi project can be accessed at www.nd-i.org.