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Prof. Jega’s Electronic Voters’ Registration Exercise, effort in futility


Chris Onyishi
 Published February 1st, 2011

When I said, in the past, that Prof. Jega may not make any difference as the Chairman of INEC - as it relates to a sound election for Nigerians - a lot of people would have interpreted that I was a pessimist.

The following excerpt from that piece I wrote last year will throw more light to what I want to dwell upon now:

“….  If Prof. Jega was informed of this appointment and was expected to take it and perform successfully, some basic questions would have been thrown at him and such questions would have exposed him to some fundamentals that would have restrained him from such incongruous estimate.

Prof. Jega may be a resounding Professor of political science, an amazing figure in academia and a powerful advocate of justice and equal rights, a fearless unionist; but definitely – by initially giving an estimate between 50 and 70 billion and finally presenting 87.721 billion shows that he is still far away from knowledge of administration of funds, albeit, not a sensitive institution such as Independent National Electoral Commission.  Academic excellence is not administrative excellence.   He may have gathered some measurable experience from his job as Bayero University Kano Vice Chancellor since 2005 but Strong zeal to see that things work right, which Prof. Jega is know for, does not always translate to perspicacity or astuteness in making things work right.  It is on this ground, that I am not carried away that miracle will happen in the 2011 elections, irrespective of the billions that will go down in the exercise.  It is people that employ money to work and not money that employs people to work.   Prof. Jega maybe a fearless unionist, an accomplished academic but he will be administering INEC with resident electoral commissioners - at state level - who would be getting patronage from state governors. 

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But if it does happen that Prof. Jega bequests Nigeria an enduring legacy by way of a free and fair election, then I am not in doubt that the Almighty God will see his generation’s generations in their rightful place.”

When Prof. Jega’s INEC jumped into the decision to embark on electronic register, I also saw it as an organisation that did not know what it wanted or at least an organization that that does not know how it stands technologically.  To start with, all the components apart from humans and, probably, software that would be used for that delicate exercise would be imported from outside of the country.

The question I asked myself was: did Prof. Jega learn any thing from the experience of the flopped National ID card exercise?  If the previous National ID card project failed with the entire whopping amount it gulped down, why did Proj. Jega decide to embark on that again, even now that it is more crucial because of the shortage of time.

So, the very first implication is that more than the whole of the money earmarked for that exercise would be required and will be shipped out of our economy.  But that is even if Prof. Jega was sure of his computation that gave rise to the staggering 87.721 billion naira that he quoted. 

Secondly, when these boxes are acquired, it requires people with reasonable knowledge of technology to operate them.  I went to register only to discover that one attendant could not use the scanner just because he did not understand that the scanner was not properly attached to the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. And yet some did not understand that the printers stop to work if the ink in them is exhausted.

Thirdly every computer requires power to operate. But what of the local areas where we may not have internet access?  And what about energy to drive these compute machineries.

Fourthly, when Prof. Jega decided that he will use the services of NYSC members for the exercise, I was surprised.  What will be the faith of the organizations that are already making use of the services of these young men and women?  Prof. Jega who is always talking about incremental this and incremental that, all of a sudden has forgotten that these corps members are rendering incremental services to these organizations that willfully hired them and are even paying them.  Already, there are cases of discordances between these corps members and the organizations that hired their services as a result of there absenteeism from work for the purpose of electronic voters revision Prof. Jega assigned to them.

Possibly, Prof. Jega thought that because he promised to pay them 30,000 naira, or something like that, within the two weeks of this voter list revision exercise is enough justification for pulling them out of their services to these organizations.  This does not portray Prof. Jega as somebody with incremental thoughts.

If we were going into electronic registration exercise, it would only have been wise to advertise for people with Information Technology and Communications (ITC) knowledge to apply for the job.  And even at that, why should anybody be paid less than 100,000.00 naira for that exercise.  After all, enough funds were budgeted for that.  Calling people out for civil strife or protest is not the same as employing people to deliver a successful voter register revision exercise that is technology based.  And who says that corps members are all very knowledgeable in computer usage.

Anybody who is close to our educational system will agree that, because of all the attending difficulties, these our young boys and girls from the university are even not very sound in their own chosen course of study - let alone delving into entirely new areas such as managing electronic voters registration point. Some of them do not have electronic email addresses.

As Senator Ndoma-Egbo pointed out, our children below 18 years were barred from schooling for an exercise that does not concern them.  From Senator Ike Ekweremadu ‘s submission on the floor of the Senate, it is conspicuously noticeable that Proj. Jega is not sure of his figures of shortage of DDC machines.

From one Senator to another, it was harvest of one failure and absurdity to another.  One of the senators also pointed out that the quality of these gadgets was poor.  From the scanner to the printers and laptops, the senator noted that they were of low quality.  I noticed this myself when I went to register.

Senator Anthony kanzo was at his best when he noted that the answer to this electronic database is a sound National ID card which will eliminate the expenditure of 87.721 billion naira every four years for revision of voters’ register electronically.   This was the opinion of Governor Sullivan Chime two weeks after he was elected the governor of Enugu State about 42 months ago.

Senator Ayogu Eze made a crucial point when he noted that “the boxes were discrete objects” and this implies that there is really no centralized database.  When Prof.  Jega was boasting that dual registration would be discovered and penalized, we now wander at what point it will be discovered.  Is it at collation or at the point of registration?  And as Senator Ayogu Eze observed, if the boxes were discrete, then there is no way dual registration would be discovered at the point of registration.  So many people would have registered twice.

The senate president (David Mark) mentioned that INEC was quoted as saying that eligible voters above certain age would not have their finger prints captured.   So INEC as typified by Prof. Jega wakes up and changes the post as it goes.  Habba Prof.  This does not show a good grasp of the assignment given to you.

Prof. Jega said that all these challenges are normal which goes a long way to show that he has no good judgment of what is normal and what is abnormal.  The real point is that the electronic registration exercise  is a colossal mess.

Prof. Jega thought he was impressing anybody when he superciliously announced that one of the contractors he commissioned to supply the DDC machines disappointed.  He fails to realize that he is saddled with a responsibility to deliver. He does not understand that failure to supply should be consummated and managed by him as it will add up to his failure or success in this assignment.

Prof. Jega’s justification to closure of schools was neither here nor there. 

Even though I know from practical point of view (as an expert in information technology) that it is not possible to use this discrete database in real national election coming up in very close April - and this is because I understand our level of expertise in ITC issues - it, however, sounded very crazy to me when I heard that Prof. Jega was quoted as saying that the electronic register will not be used for voting in the April election.  So why embark on it in the first place.  It goes a long way to show that Prof. Jega did not understand the whole thing before he accepted the job and, subsequently, the electronic side of it.  Or he may have theoretically, with help of cheap experts or friends, decided to go into this very technologically based exercise while he was all the time shouting that the time was not enough.

From an expert view point, the voting can not be done electronically because of some obvious reasons thus:

Firstly, we do not have a central database.  It will take some time to merge the discrete data from the various (DDC) databases including managing the images: ten finger prints data and an image for each voter.  The size of data to be searched each time an electorate attempts to vote will be calculated thus:

((A * B * C) – (C * certain D)).

 

A => 60 million eligible people data

B => 1 eligible person image

C => 10 eligible voter’s finger prints

D => 10 eligible voters finger prints (because we were told that certain people at certain age

                                                     will not have their finger prints captured).

Some factoring and data normalization can be used to reduce search time, though.

This data size will require an enormously powerful server(s) to respond in a reasonable time (for a single voter) bearing in mind that search queries will be issued from various points at the same time and internet access is still very costly locally – except a private network will be deployed and this will cost some enormous resources.

Secondly, assuming we are able to merge all the data – and we are talking about 60 million eligible voters or more – it does not look like INEC invested in good operating system and robust relational database management system (RDBMS) because they will be trying to save money to share.  From a distance, one could see that the operating system being deployed is an open free source and the data capture looked like what third year students of a University put together for a project.

Thirdly, automation is synonymous with power, and bearing in mind that most remote places do not have electricity, it will be difficult to operate these machines in these places for over two hours which is normally the power duration of most laptops and INEC would not have embarked on multiple laptop batteries because they will go cheap to save money for sharing.

Fourthly, a centralized database that will enable online (real time) voting requires internet access (or radio) and internet access in Nigeria is still costly and does not exist in remote areas.  We all have experience with most banks that do not have up to 5 million customers and each query will last more than 3 minutes and more in some cases.

But even at this, if people with good knowledge of ITC were hired for this exercise by INEC, it could have been better.  The major side of the exercise was software for processing the data.  Hard ware is usually not very difficult to acquire. It was not also necessary to go for more than one finger print. Ten was unecessary. If the registration is properly done and there is good software, we could vote from cyber cafes.   

We now see that Prof. Jega’s commitment to this assignment is not to extent of taking responsibility if anything goes wrong.  His case is like a spokesman for INEC and not the boss.  The painful thing is that if there is any problem at the end of the day, Prof. Jega is not willing to accept any blames.  The way he goes about the whole exercise is nothing to write home about.  If the contractor he appointed to supply paper fails to deliver, he goes to inform us through the press.  This is not the kind of transparency we are expecting from INEC.

There is just no time and resources to keep changing the terms of this assignment as we meet obstacles.  An experienced person means someone who has gone through something once or severally and should be able to put together a package that will not be so porous to the extent that every one step changes the whole equation.  If we believe in incremental build to anything (and a practical approach to technology rather than theory), Prof. Jegga should not have been saddled with this process or rather he should not have accepted to undertake this process.  There is a lot more difference between crooked politics and technological permutations.

Prof. Nwosu or any previous INEC or FEDECO chairmen would have been chosen with a team of ITC experts.  If we all acclaimed June 12, 1993 as the fairest in the land, President Jonathan should have invited him for the job in the first place.

We must stop deluding ourselves by saying that you do not have to be a Petroleum engineer or a geologist before you take up the post of the ministry of petroleum.  It is either you are one or you have an experience in that field, probably, because of acquaintance with the particular phenomenon.

What I think Nigerians expect is for Prof. Jega to use the “question marked” several billion naira he asked for, and which was freely given to him with a “question mark” approval by our honorable senators with Col.(rtd) Mark as the president, to organize an election where all of us will agree that our votes counted.  We should not be bothered with all these excuses for this failure to supply in time and that.

LESSON

One major lesson we should all learn from all of the foregoing is that we now realize that for once our national assembly men and women reacted positively to public outcry on a national issue.  From one senator to another one could infer that they undertook substantial research into the issue before coming to deliberate on it on the floor of the chambers.

We wish they reacted in this manner to our outcry on their pay packs.  They can still revisit that because it is still daunting to see the kind of money they play with without any indication of it in most of their respective constituencies.  If you go to Abuja to price anything – including tubers of yam – you will be shown some that can only be bought by the senators.  This is ridiculous as it is frivolous in an economy that does not boast of middle class.

We also discover that any exercise that will involve technology requires a sound team of technologist for advice. 

And this is also true for developing any other human systems.  We do not just employ sellers of hardware for purposes projects of this magnitude. 

And this is where I think that Zinox Corporation was wrongly applied in this exercise.  They should have been paid to give expertise advice (and auditor of the hardware and software) and not to supply the machines.  They should have stated the specifications for the machines and Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) should have been asked to locally arrange for the software.  We should begin to learn to insulate certain decision process from raw politics.

There should also be well thought out training for users of such technology.

From what we saw on ground at the registration centres, none of the DDC boxes should go for more than 75,000 naira each (including the software).  And this is how we computed the value (based on large scale supply discount).

a)      Scanner                  6,500

b)      Printer                    6,500

c)      Notebook                62,000

·   2GB RAM, 80GB HD, 2.0GHz processor speed, Windows XP,  data capture software

                Total               N75,000

With the above computation, the total cost of the 120,000 DDC boxes would have summed up to about N9 billion.  And paying each staff 30,000 naira for managing the DDC machine would have summed up to about N3.6 billion.

A consortium of Nigerian software houses would have gladly jumped at the offer to produce excellent data capture software for that exercise for less than three billion naira within that period of time.  And this would have included good RDBMS and operating system.

The major problem is that electronic voters register that will usher in electronic voting will take pretty longer time to plan and much more resources will be deployed.  It is more than shear theory.   Sound ITC experts will have to be employed on a long term basis.  It is not going to be one naïve friend of Prof. Jega being hired.  But why do we not embark on a planned and more comprehensive national ID card project which, when logically completed , will take care of all these fragmented and futile exercises

So even though the senate figured that Prof. Jega’s budget had a question mark (according to Senate President, David Mark), they failed to undertake critical study of what was involved.  To this extent, both the upper houses as well as the INEC and executive arms would be responsible for this wasteful exercise of unimaginable scale.  It is time government people are made to pay back for wasting our collective resources. We cannot continue like this and expect any form of progress.

 

Chris Onyishi

Enugu, Nigeria

ctekchris@yahoo.com




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