Monday, 17 January 2011

Nigeria: INEC Voter Registration Review I

Get involved

At the beginning of Day 3 of the Nigerian INEC Voter Registration exercise, it is time to take stock of the Successes, Opportunities, Failings and Threats (SOFT) situation and plan for the remaining 13 days of this exercise.

I will start with an admonition and encouragement taken from the website of Reclaim Naija Project [1] – “Please don’t just sit in your house and complain about bad government, bad leaders, bad roads, poor electricity supply, poor health care, poor quality schools, the corrupt police, kidnapping, armed robbery and other bad things happening in our country.

This is a warning against apathy and a statement to encourage all Nigerians with opportunity to get up, get involved, participate and rally with others who want to see a change in our dear country.

It is working, but …

Pictures captured on the Nigerian INEC Registration BiDaily [2] show that people have successfully gone through the process of registration which has resulted in handling an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Voter’s Card, but this activity has been fraught with problems.

The issues of preparation were myriad from people unsure of where they were to register to them arriving at centres long before the personnel had arrived and many centres opened really late. It appears for such a massive national project the logistical, training, risk mitigation and contingency issues were not properly addressed.

Failings in logistics were unfortunate because INEC could have piggy-backed on courier organisations like DHL, or cash security movement firms, even manufacturing networks of Dangote Cement or CocaCola could have been co-opted to deliver staff and materials to their respective venues on time.

The setup

Along with that, it appears the kit that included a laptop, a printer, a fingerprint scanner, a web camera, a laminator, a USB hub, an external hard disk and a battery were almost a conundrum of technology to setup to work correctly, some personnel did not have cables to connect up the systems.

That was fundamentally appalling; their handlers should have ensured there was a checklist review of all the different components before the personnel left their bases without assuming everything was correctly packaged.

After setup, it was discovered that in some cases the battery packs were not charged and there were no backup battery packs, I can only wonder who the project managers of this exercise were and who recommended the equivalent of going on a long Nigerian journey without a spare tyre – with one battery powering the printer and the laptop when all attached devices take their power feeds, the power drain would be faster than the generally accepted battery life of a few hours.

Could there have been solar-powered solutions too? One wonders but this was not an exercise that could be done on the cheap and so present preventable failures.

Familiarity and ease of use

The operating system on the laptops is Linux based, the personnel might well be familiar or unfamiliar with this environment but this could create bottlenecks and there were instances of these personnel forgetting their passwords and hence being unable to access their systems, the pressure of having people queue up ready for registration whilst the personnel were fumbling with logging on could not have engendered a stress-free environment.

Once the systems were setup, people could approach the personnel sit in from of the computer and facilitate the recording of their personal data. Obviously, people how had ID cards make the job easier because confusing spelling could be easily hold up the process, the dialog interface was however not as user-easy as it could have been.

The gender selection list should have been a radio-box to select either male or female and not a drop-down box – there is an instance where a male voter was registered as female.

All 8 fingers and 2 thumbs? Really?

The most troublesome aspect of the exercise centred on the fingerprint scanner and quite a number of issues arose from it not working to it not being sensitive enough to detect the whorls that define the fingerprint.

The technical issues first determined that in certain instances the driver of the fingerprint scanner was not loaded, without this, the fingerprint scanner will not work.

Where the fingerprint scanner was working but not able to identify the finger whorls, it was determined that hands need to be washed and cleaned as well as having the pick-up on the scanner wiped clean too.

I was surprised to see that all 8 fingers and 2 thumbs had to be scanned, the need for such a data set is questionable; when you combine the specific details of the person with a single thumbprint the probability that the same can be recreated elsewhere with a new uniqueness has to have a very low probability.

10 fingers is definitely data-uniqueness and data-quality gone mad, whilst a match would undoubtedly be without dispute considering the finicky issues of capturing just one finger and the throughput of processing large crowds with the limitations presented by the setup which has its weakest link at the power supply – this is unfortunate.

It would have been better to have a hand scanner or a 10-fingerprint scanner rather than the low-sensitivity single-digit scanner for all 10 digits in turn – on some videos I saw, a finger could take a good few minutes to register.

This arrangement might have served well for small numbers of people in little offices but not for a mass voter registration campaign.

Process and processing

Again, it has taken the resourcefulness, improvisation and initiative of Nigerians to ameliorate a poorly planned process that might have seemed to test well in laboratory settings but fell apart in the field – the charlatans that put this together must never get another hearing for their hare-brained schemes and snake-oil remedies again.

I was engaged in a Facebook face-off with an old school colleague of mine and there I learnt someone had walked off with his voter registration card without presenting fingerprints. Naturally, that registration should be void except where there other distinguishing data has been recorded to maintain data uniqueness.

On a well-designed system, the algorithm should have had specific prerequisites fulfilled before the process moved to the next stage and the print function should not have been enabled if the fingerprints had not yet been captured.

After the form has been printed out, the card needs to be cut out; this could have been pre-perforated paper that was easy to tear than having to handle scissors; the risk of forgeries appearing more professional looking than the real thing is there.

In all, the whole exercise is picking up and working, the personnel appear to be optimistic and enthusiastic, Twitter is alive with reports and the Ushahidi platform is deployed to capture issues mapped to locations.

Tips and more

@bubusn suggests

Tweeting about registration issues? Format: "#INECRegistration "

#INECRegistration You can find the "PU Number" on the silver box that the corpers use to carry the DDC machines

#INECRegistration Tip for the ladies: There's a special line for women. You get to register faster!

And something we all have to keep in mind - #INECRegistration Anyone can win an argument about how terrible Nigeria is. But only great ppl can help before pointing fingers. That is the spirit.

Post tweets with at least the #INECRegistration hashtag, you can also use #RSVP, it helps to monitor what is going and important issues might get captured in the BiDaily.

See NIGERIA 2011 ELECTIONS: CAN INEC DO IT? ~ NIGERIAN CURIOSITY for another perspective on the 2 days of registration.

We all have our hands on deck, this registration exercise must succeed and we need every improvisation we can get to make it work, whatever you can do to help would be welcome, drinks and food for the personnel, extension cables when the batteries conk out and loads of patience.

Register | Select | Vote | Protect – we are in the first critical stage of reclaiming Nigeria for Nigerians and going back to the age-old definition of democracy – the government of the people by the people for the people – it starts with your registration and by all means make time, never leave it to the last minute.

Sources

[1] Reclaim Naija | Your Vote is Your Power

[2] Nigerian INEC Registration BiDaily

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