Take off to a grounding
I would like to believe that every little helps towards ensuring that the elections to take place in Nigerian in April 2011 are free, fair, beyond reproach and at the point of declaration of the results all contestants would find themselves content with the conduct and the dispatch of the electioneering process.
Since the 15th of January, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been conducting a voters’ registration exercise planned to last 15 days until Saturday the 29th of January 2011.
This process has been fraught with problems and issues that the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega was invited for a hearing by the Joint Committee for Election Monitoring (JCEM) of the Nigerian National Assembly to answer a whole range of questions concerning the conduct and the pace of the exercise.
Stenography meets Twitter
This hearing was broadcast on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and copious notes were taken by my good Twitter friend RMAjayi and relayed to me in a number of Twitter messages that were logged for well over an hour. We hope that eventually we would get a recording of that hearing to share here with you so that you can review the conversations yourself.
Meanwhile, this blog will combine the Twitter messages with comments and analysis that I will provide and hopefully will be annotated and commented on by RMAjayi to maintain the context, import and setting of that hearing.
RMAjayi has smartly given the core elements of that hearing the Twitter #JCEM hashtag, it includes quotes or paraphrased commends of Professor Jega as the Twitter #JegaSays hashtag and a majority of this falls under the more general Twitter #INECRegistration hashtag, you can click on the links to provide you the Twitter streams related to each hashtag.
Short on the orders
At the hearing Professor Jega started with the numbers game by enumerating the number of Digital Data Capture (DDC) machines ordered, recorded in the following tweets.
This indicates that DDCs which are essentially laptops were ordered from Nigerian, Chinese and American companies with the American company only fulfilling 25% of its allocation when the registration started and that meant 4,473 Polling Units (PUs) could not start registration at the commencement date.
In fact, there would be 13,037 surplus systems whose function has not yet been clearly defined.
Obviously, if that is written into the contract and the small print does not exculpate the company, there might be a case for claim compensation, however, there is no doubt that the schedules were tight and no one company could fulfil the complete order.
Fast and Cheap is usually not Good
After the DDCs were acquired they had to be installed and configured, the costs were kept low by using Open Source software which included a distribution of Linux and a custom built database to warehouse the captured data.
We can only hope that the database is robust enough to handle that data which would include the comparison of fingerprint data.
One interesting oversight has been noticed in the database where in the Profession/Occupation field “Journalist” is missing which for Nigeria is an error bordering on sacrilege.
The gender selection section on the user interface should have been a radio button allowing an either/or selection of gender but it was a drop-down box leaving some registrants registered as transsexuals.
The ghosts of censuses past
The only reference data they would have had to compute these “carefully considered percentages” would have been the 2006 Census that left many unhappy that we had not properly counted ourselves, a topic I wrote about in one of my blogs – Gauging the 2006 Census.
The granting of a long holiday without restrictions in mobility especially in the South allowed for the numbers to skewed in favour of villages of typical town dwellers who took the opportunity to travel home.
Fingerprints were the linchpin of success
But if fingerprint scanning was critical to ensuring a registration was complete and successful, it has become part of the critical path and hence to the layman the system was faulty because the product did not meet the standard required for valid Voter’s Registration Cards, the minutiae was superfluous to the expected goal though necessary for effective troubleshooting.
This shows that demonstrations might have been given to show the full capability of the systems but someone should have reviewed the capabilities (forensics) against the needs (identification) and that gap analysis would have allowed to the necessary trade-offs to be made mitigating the localised issues we later encountered which crudely suggest Sub-Saharan fingerprint whorls might not be readable at certain resolutions.
The difficulties encountered led to interesting improvisations from the washing of hands, through cleaning the fingers with methylated spirit which could damage the plastic components of the scanner to the illogical passing of fingers through sand.
Recalibrate and upgrade
The systems were then recalibrated and suddenly the fingerprint scanner process became easier with many registrations being completed within 10 minutes maximum.
Sneeze in this one
It appears a napkin calculation was made on the following assumptions.
An estimate of 70 million eligible voters to register at 119,973 Polling Units would mean 584 an average of registrants per DDC machine and if each registrant completed registration in 10 minutes in an efficient Polling Unit we can assume the DDC would perform for 6,000 minutes or 60 hours.
This spread over 15 days would be 4 hours of work effective work a day and since polling units would be open for 8 hours a day, most of the registrations would have been done within the first week.
The reality with all the issues that have arisen has had INEC asking for an additional week of registrations to cost NGN 6.6 billion.
To suggest this has been a Project Management debacle bordering on a farce is to compliment the exercise with sarcasm to laughable for the ears; the whole event might well be redeemed, since some really though the whole project would never take off.
Revert to the Guttenberg Press
There have been serious printing issues, first to do with insufficient power from the batteries to run the laptop and the printer, though it appears no questions and answers transpired on the power issue.
How the professor could be so way off the mark that the ink cartridges were only able to print 22% of their estimated capacity is amazing that you had to give it to him when he came up with this reason for the low performance of the ink cartridges.
Obviously, it would be absurd to suggest that this was a tropically-induced malfunction, but it would be uncouth to shout down the gravitas of a professor.
The other parts of the hearing will be completed in another blog as Part II, this covers the issues of probability, abuse of registration, failsafe mechanisms and registration amelioration procedures.