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Making The Bold Leap Towards Free and Fair Elections

February 7, 2011

We could put this vexed issue of election rigging behind us once and for all. There is a way. We continue to have this problem every four years, with it concomitant costs in terms of slain human lives, damaged personal and public property, dashed collective hopes and aspirations, underdevelopment, and inordinate state brigandage, because we have continued to use the same, demonstrably bankrupt method to confront the problem.

We could put this vexed issue of election rigging behind us once and for all. There is a way. We continue to have this problem every four years, with it concomitant costs in terms of slain human lives, damaged personal and public property, dashed collective hopes and aspirations, underdevelopment, and inordinate state brigandage, because we have continued to use the same, demonstrably bankrupt method to confront the problem.

It does no good either to abandon one failed method for another pathetic one.

Without intending at all to dampen enthusiasm for the 2011 elections, I will say my take on the manner the INEC has handled the pre-election phase is that the 2011 elections will not be markedly different from the 2003 and 2007 elections. The ominous characteristics of the 2011 pre-election phase are the same things we saw in 2003 and 2007. Perhaps, Jega has good intentions, but his INEC has so far been engaged in a razzmatazz, a hyper-exorbitant circus that late Fela Kuti would call perambulation – energy-wasting spin without any translational movement. I prefer to be wrong here, but the facts on ground suggest that the 2011 elections will be another round of dashed hopes and stolen mandates.

I have said elsewhere that for voter participation in the 2011 elections to make sense all political parties and their candidates (especially the opposition) and the INEC should thoroughly gather as much forensic evidence as they could of the 2011 elections (covering the entire process), in hope that such evidence might help in the judicial redemption of stolen mandates and for the prosecution of election riggers. Sorry – I just babbled: prosecution of election riggers? I must not be living on earth. Not by the INEC, not by our government – at least not by one led by a man whose life is based on good luck rather than principles and sound judgments.

Beyond the 2011 elections, however, we must begin to plan and build the information technology (IT) infrastructure; procure the necessary, quality gadgets; and grow the technical wherewithal and manpower that would make the elections in 2015 and beyond truly free and fair.

I aim to proffer an alternative to Option A4 – an alternative that has been suggested before, drawing on an extant, quick identity authentication system that is foolproof and non-duplicable and that has become very ordinary in many countries. First, though, I will tell you why I believe we should move beyond Option A4. Of necessity, this discussion will be brief and done in broad outlines.

Option A4
This was an open ballot system used by the Prof. Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) for the June 12, 1993, presidential election between Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). This election has been universally adjudged the freest and fairest election Nigeria has ever conducted. As a refresher and to inform those who do not know the details of Option A4, I will quote a succinct description of it given by Ephraim Adinlofu in his article “Elections in Nigeria: A Case for Option A4” (Nigerians in America, March 27, 2008):

There were no ballot papers, neither were there ballot boxes. All that the electorates were asked to do was to go to their voting centres, check their names on the electoral register and wait until it was time for voting. We had one of our thumbs inked for easy identification during voting.

When it was time, every electorate was asked to queue up behind his or her candidate‘s poster. The counting of the voters was done by the electoral officer accompanied by the representatives of SDP and NRC. It was then entered in a result sheet, which, if I may still recall, was in triplicate. It was signed by both the electoral officer and the representatives of the two political parties. The returning officer took his copy and the representatives of the parties took theirs. They returned to the electoral headquarters with their respective results where all results were being collated. At the headquarters, the SDP and NRC representatives gave their results to their party representatives respectively, while the electoral officer gave his to his boss. The signatures were verified and figures cross checked and entered. Simple! That was the operational modus of option A4 in 1993.

Whereas it has been rumored in certain quarters that the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), headed by Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, recommended Option A4 in its final report, this is not true. Those who clamor for full implementation of the ERC's recommendations should bear this in mind. The system of voting recommended by the ERC in paragraph of said report is the Open Secret Ballot System, which is what we have we have used throughout this fourth republic:
There are practices associated with the current voting system that are worthy of retention. The following are accordingly recommended:
(a) Open Secret Ballot System: This allows a voter to go into a polling booth to mark his ballot in secrecy and drop it in the ballot box in the open.

Now, let us consider the obvious merits of Option A4:
•    Option A4 was cheap. There was no need to buy ballot boxes or print ballot papers. There was no need either to spend money on transporting these materials.
•    It was quick. Because ballot papers were not used, no time was expended in counting ballot papers after voting had ended.
•    The process was very transparent at the voting center. Voters queued behind the posters of their preferred candidates and were counted in full view of everybody. The result was immediately known to everybody present at the voting center.
•    There was no invalid vote. Once a voter was accredited and queued behind his preferred candidate, his vote was automatically valid. There was no occasion for making errors on a ballot paper that could result in the invalidation of a vote.
•    There was no snatching or stuffing of ballot boxes. •    There were no fake ballot papers. There were no ghost voters either. Voters had to be physically
presented to be counted. The biggest demerits of Option A4 should also be obvious:
•    The secrecy of a voter's choice was sacrificed. As much as many of us admire Option A4, this is not a demerit which should be taken lightly. It is a contravention of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, which in Article 21 says, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote [emphasis mine] or by equivalent free voting procedures.” This right of every individual to secret ballot is also enshrined in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

•    In an atmosphere of voter intimidation or vote buying, the lack of secrecy would, in the very least least, potentially compromise the freeness of the voting process.

•    The absence of ballot papers (physical or electronic) makes it harder to objectively validate the (in)accuracy of the declared election results should those results be disputed in court.

Plainly, the transparency which Option A4 confers on the voting process ends at the polling unit. As with the Open Secret Ballot System, it is still possible for election results under Option A4 to be doctored at the collation centers and at the state and national secretariats of the INEC. This is even more so, considering that there are no ballot papers for validation of announced results.

I sense that somebody reading this would immediately object and say that the signed result sheets from the polling units would be available to prove the (un)truth of any results declared at the state or national secretariats of the INEC. Just remember, guys, that we are talking about Naija and that since the beginning of this fourth republic we have been using those result sheets; but election results have been successfully twisted beyond recognition. I do not need to remind you that printing of fake result sheets and falsification of documents are the least of the worries of Naija's election riggers.

Once the right egunje is passed around, okpare-o.

Someone else might also want to remind me that the June 12, 1993, election results were not doctored at the collation centers or state and national secretariats of the NECON. True! But this was not because it could not have happened with the same ease with which it happens today. I do not recall any special mode of election results transmittal from the polling units to the collation centers and to the state and national secretariats of the NECON that is different from and more secure than the method used by the INEC today. The explanation for the integrity of the NECON-announced results of the June 12, 1993, election was given by the same man who annulled the election, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, in his memorandum to the ERC on July 22, 2008:

You are likely to agree with us that the elections conducted under my watch between 1989 and 1992 were generally free, fair, acceptable and credible. One of the many success factors of those elections is the environment. .  . It is therefore easy to understand why elections conducted by the military when they are exiting from power have been much freer and more credible than elections conducted by Nigerians when the rulers are members of one political party. . .

We hear these days about the need to return to what, under our watch, we called ‘Modified Open Ballot System’ in elections. . . . But this can succeed only if the environment of elections is properly sanitized. This observation and suggestion applies to what we called ‘Option A4’, particularly for party primaries. We believe ‘Option A4’ is good again only if the environment is sanitized. Today in large sections of the country, the use of dangerous weapons including sophisticated arms and ammunitions have become commonplace spectacles.

In other words, the partisanship of the umpires and the toxicity of the electoral environment are much different today from what they were in 1993. The desperation of our politicians has gone through the roof. For them, every election is now a do-or-die affair. They would do anything to “win,” including maiming and murdering the people they want to rule. The INEC on its part, for the most part, has been operating as a subsidiary of the ruling party. What I am saying is that the times have changed and the methods of 1993 will not work in 2011 and beyond. The necessity of moving with time was eloquently proclaimed by Charles Iroegbu, Esq., who in his article “Christian Burial: The Two Cries in One” wrote, “Good dancers change their dance steps with changing beats. In our world today, the beats have drastically changed and we must change our dance steps or else we’d be done” (Kwenu, November 1, 2010)!

Moving With the Times

Creating a credible voters' register

To begin, if we are serious, in the months following the 2011 election we should intensify effort to create a credible and secure national identity database so that every Nigerian that has attained the age of majority would have his unique biodata and biometric information saved in said central database and linked to a unique national identity number. The national identity card to be issued should be such as carry a magnetic strip so that by swiping it through an appropriate magnetic strip reader, the owner's identity can be verified non-duplicably. Thus, either with the identity card or with the national identity number and a valid photo identification an individual's identity can be authenticated.

This is no rocket science. We already do similar things with our ATM cards. Identity cards with magnetic strips are very commonplace around the world.

All I have said is that we should employ and expand this system, which we already now use in some fashion, to encompass all Nigerians that have attained the age of majority. Under the authority of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), all personal identity data collected should be deposited in a secure, central database, equipped with a query mechanism for snappy validation of personal identity information (over the internet or in a local NIMC network).

This is not something to be rushed like the 2011 voters' registration. Even if it takes two or three years to create this database, it is okay. It is more important that the system is credible, comprehensive, secure, and readily responsive. If we succeed in this, creation and update of a credible voters' register and issuance of other civil identification (for example, driver's licenses and international passport) would be a breeze.

Voter's registration would never again be a huge, national event requiring tens of billions of naira; or the closure of schools; or declaration of avoidable, ad hoc holidays; or that voters line up in unending registration queues in dilapidated school buildings, with no security arrangement either for voters or for registration officers. Obtaining a voter's card would be very much similar to obtaining a driver's license.
Voter intimidation and joggling of election results

Over the years, it has become apparent that our present method of policing voting centers have not succeeded in stamping out voter intimidation. Political thugs have succeeded over and over again in too many places in preventing legitimate voters from voting, in snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes, in preventing opposition party representatives from observing the voting process, and in causing bodily harm to voters and electoral officers. The result will be the same if we continue to do the same thing.

Even at the risk of being repetitive, let me reiterate that Donald Duke (former Governor of Cross River State) was right on this: technology is the answer. I recommend we move on to e-voting (electronic voting). It is long overdue. India has adopted it. Brazil has adopted it. The same is true of Venezuela, the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Canada. There are others. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. All we should do is study the available system of e-voting and choose the one that would best address our peculiar electoral challenges.
If we decide to add remote e-voting to our choice so that voters are able to cast their votes over the internet, we would have succeeded in almost completely decentralizing the polling unit so that there is no crowded polling unit for thugs to attack and rout. Even if we do not use remote e-voting, we would, by adopting e-voting, have created the greatest disincentive ever for politicians to recruit thugs that would help them commandeer polling units or snatch and stuff ballot boxes. Voter intimidation, in the forms we have known it to be, would have been permanently laid to rest.

How about the joggling of election figures at the collation centers and at the state and national secretariats of the INEC? That too would be history. There would be no need for collation centers. Counting would be automated and far speedier, yet verifiable by all stakeholders.

And please don't give me the argument that our ogbanje power status would make e-voting impossible. The power situation has not prevented us from doing e-banking. All the oil companies in Nigeria have almost constant power supply. All we need to invest in are generators and batteries that would not be as expensive as Jega's so-called DDC machines. There are small barber's and hairdresser's shops all across the country that run on those generators. Until we fix our power problem, the generator is there for us to use.

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