This is the question every right thinking Nigerian should be asking right now. INEC spent N35b of the people’s money to procure this equipment, and I think it excludes the cost of putting the underlying infrastructure –network, database, etc - in place. N35b converted to USD is about $233m. Now, the projected global market for the biometric industry is about $7.1b by 2012, out of this, the market for the fingerprint sub-sector is projected to be about $2.7b by 2012.
What this means is that INEC’s current investment of $233m will represent about 9% of the global fingerprint market in 2012! This is huge, and the question has to be, what is the return on this enormous investment? It should be more than just having an electronic voters’ register. I did a global comparison to be able to effectively communicate the size of the investment. Nigerian companies could not handle it. INEC had to look for global suppliers.
The first logical question is, Prof Jega, what is going to happen to the DDC machines after the voter’s registration exercise? And please don’t tell me that you are going to put them in storage, because I will kill myself. (laugh). Here, let me tell you what usually happens. Right now, there are some individuals in government generally, not only at INEC, who are planning to steal and convert the DDC machines to their personal property, so they can send them to their business centers and join in the biometric data collection madness that is taking place in Nigeria right now. If Nigerians were vigilant in the past, the sheer number of automobiles that were purchased for the All African Games was enough to set up a profitable car rental business. But, what happened? Officials converted these vehicles into personal property, and before you knew what was going, all the vehicles were gone, and we had to purchase another set of automobiles for the U-17 World Championship some years later. Gosh! Even, that does not make sense to a crazy person. Well, I guess it makes sense to a greedy person.
Prof Jega, do you know that you can achieve total financial independence for INEC if you manage this investment very well? How good will it feel to know that you don’t have to go and face those chumps at the National Assembly to ask for money?
Here is what needs to be done. Before the commencement of the voters registration exercise, INEC needs to set up a Consulting unit within the commission that will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the DDC machines and the underlying infrastructure are put to work and generating revenue for INEC during the periods that they are not in use by INEC. The unit will ensure that the machines and its infrastructure are always available for use by INEC and its potentials clients. INEC can actually become the anchor for the biometric data capture industry in Nigeria. Just like government agencies have done all over the world in many industries. This unit will be responsible for conducting a valuation of the DDC machines and its underlying infrastructure. Additionally, they will advice the INEC board on the best approach to profitably manage and operate the DDC machines and the IT infrastructure assets. Options could range from management agreement to a lease agreement. A lot of the options can be fleshed out in detail later, if need be.
However, Prof, you will have to consult widely for this to be successful. I do not know if you have the power to create this Unit. Even, if you do, there is still the need to consult widely within government, both executive and National Assembly, because, I always get this feeling that many of you (government appointees) see your confirmation hearings as just an event, rather than start of a relationship that must be maintained to make your work easier.
The N35b INEC got is the biggest single most investment the Nigerian biometric market has seen. In fact, it is the biggest direct investment from government that has gone directly to its source of spending in recent times. This was possible because of the independence of INEC. Can you imagine if you had to go through the Ministry of Finance and possibly some banks in order to get the funding? I hope you get the flow.
I have intentionally left the issue of the upcoming election out of my write up because it does really matter what anyone thinks at this point. However, one thing I know for sure is that you are on the verge of making history if INEC gets it right.