Jega Must Sort This Mess Quickly —Peter Claver Oparah


The stunning revelation that the Independent National Electoral Commission lacks a central server that will be able to detect incidence of multiple registrations in the ongoing voter registration should worry every Nigerian who has invested tremendous faith in both the Jega-led INEC and the present registration exercise to redeem us from the clutches of perennial electoral roguery that has adversely rubbed off on the quality of our democracy these past twelve years. It was the Action Congress of Nigeria, in its usual incisive self that alerted of the absence of this critical facility. Although it was denied by INEC spokesman but the reports in most of the papers the following day revealed that indeed, the ACN was right and that the present tedious registration exercise may be a farce if nothing is done to remedy this critical deficiency.

I will not detain anybody here with details of how the appointment of Prof. Jega has gone a long way to lift the state of near complete disdain the Nigerian electoral system was mired in, especially since the buccaneer rape of April 2007, which went to best a similar bazaar in 2003 in infamy. It is a given that many Nigerians have decided to give INEC another chance and a second look on the belief that Jega comes with the needed credibility to lift INEC from the doldrums it has sunk in recent times. Even with the limited time he had to operate, he was able to command the respect and confidence of Nigerians to restore credence to the system and give Nigerians an election that could give a fair assessment to the leadership the people genuinely want. He has made the right noises and has adopted the right swagger among that still sways the people to his side despite several hiccups that have attended his tenure.

The present registration has tested the preparedness of INEC for the coming task. If the initial challenges that trailed the exercise were anything to go by, then the Jega INEC has performed poorly. But then, I remained firm and stoic in the belief that INEC will pull through the next election. Granted the exercise was riddled with widespread complaints ranging from inadequacy of materials, lack of competence on the part of the handlers of the registration machines, allegations of manipulation of the exercise by politicians and in some cases, with the connivance of INEC officials, poor logistic judgment, failure of the machines to perform or perform at an abysmally low speed, among so many other allegations. That INEC was able to address these problems, especially those bordering on availability of registration machines, competence and speed of the machines was commendable. That it requested for and got the license to extend the exercise by a further one week, shows that it is fast imbuing the shocking lessons that bugged the exercise at the early stages and will improve on the main task. I want to still give it to INEC and I believe most Nigerians believe that INEC will get it right, despite the initial flaws experienced during the registration period.

As the registration draws to a close, most Nigerians expect the critical work to be done at the impending analytical stage where the grain will be sieved from the chaff. The details from the Direct Data Capture machines will serve as critical rough data for INEC’s work at this stage. This is the stage where the authenticity or otherwise of the exercise will be proven. It will show if the exercise will lead to a rejuvenation of our collective national hope for a sane electoral order or just another huge wastage that will merely serve as a precursor to another illicit harvest in April. At this stage, it is expected that registration from each polling booth will be cross checked against the names, the details given, the fingerprints, the photographs so as to ensure that there are no mistakes and most importantly to detect and eliminate incidences of double or improper registration. Having vetted that, the authentic figures and the accompanying details should be stored in software. Going from there, the software from each of the booths in each ward would be merged and at this point, incidences of faulty and double registration within the ward could be detected and eliminated to give the authentic details of the actual registration in each ward which will be stored in software for each ward. Having collated and vetted the ward registration figures, the emergent software from all the wards in each local government should be merged to eliminate incidences of double or faulty registration in the local governments and having done that, the actual figure and the accompanying details should be developed in a local government software that should be 774 in number, which is the total number of local government councils in Nigeria.

The software from each local government in each state should be merged to detect faulty or multiple registration in each states, after which they are developed into a software for the state. The 37 softwares from the 36 states and Abuja should be merged together to detect and eliminate cases of faulty and multiple registrations and after this develop a software for the entire country. From this data base, it will be easy to detect any person that engages in faulty or double registration in any part of the country but in its absence, all it takes for someone to do is to move from one registration centre to another, one ward to another, one local government to another and one state to another and do as many registrations as possible. To detect such cases, I believe, was the work a central server would have done but with the revelation that INEC, either intentionally or unintentionally, did not make provision for a central server that will serve as a date base for the registration, there are worries that the entire exercise may not be full-proof but will be as compromised as previous efforts which led to mangled elections.

After the general election, the data base at the federal, state, local government and ward levels will be handy to prove cases of electoral malpractices especially as they concern multiple registration. With this, the incentive to take advantage of the system through fictitious registration and voting will be eliminated and our electoral system will be greatly sanitised.

From the response so far given by INEC, its capacity to detect multiple registration is very limited and may be restricted to the booths or at best, the wards. Its registration machines are not networked and they are not fed into a central pot, which makes it possible to manipulate the process. Its promise to ‘collate’ and detect multiple registration at whichever level is tepid and unconvincing and more than anything, warns Nigerians that INEC did not do detailed studies before this registration. Its promise to punish those that engaged in multiple registration is suspect and with each day, desperate politicians are poaching at this soft underbelly of the ongoing registration and are mobilising their members and supporters to engage in as much registration as possible.

With the report that parties are now exploiting these loopholes to mobilise for multiple registration, there is need for INEC to brace up and ensure they are frustrated. It will have no excuse if after spending over N100 billion for this exercise, we still end up with another mashed register that contains doubtful figures and doubtful information. That will be a tragedy. I will be surely shocked if Jega never thought out this imperative to have a central data base that will deal with the serious incidences of multiple registration that certainly marred previous elections, then he is short sighted and ill prepared for the difficult task ahead. His initial showing at the voters registration exercise has instilled fear in the minds of his supporters that he might not just be up to the demand. But I won’t believe he is not competent to conduct this critical election but as I was wont to advise him, he must sit up and work harder and far ahead of time to meet the expansive expectations of Nigerians.

For now, INEC must work harder to tackle the present challenge and give Nigerians a credible voter’s register for the coming general election. It must work to find solution to the present problem of lack of a central server that will serve as a final check point against multiple registration, an evil that has bedeviled previous registration efforts. It must quickly find solution and prove to Nigerians that the options adequately deal with the problem. This means it must work extra hard and it must ensure the data is preserved and put to use even after the coming general election. But Nigerians need convincing reason from Jega and his team that this coming election is not planned to fail as previous ones did and the most convincing way to do this is to quickly work out the best way to identify and fish out multiple registration in the ongoing voters’ registration.

•Oparah wrote in from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]

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