Friday, 13 March 2015

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW: Nigeria in Focus : The Card-Reader Dilemma.

A View From My Window: Nigeria in Focus: The 'Card-Reader Dilemma':
The Nigerian experience is a sampling of unique, sometimes humourous and sometimes vehemently passionate inherent contradictions. "Arguments" are our 'thing'. The morning news can make us laugh and argue and sometimes brings us close to fights!! Nothing like football and politics for us.
That is why when the chips are finally down and the votes have been cast in this 2015 elections , the 'card-debate' may yet continue for a while.
 In the heat and passion of any political process in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, it is always too hard for the supporters of any of the major parties to look at the electioneering process objectively and agree as to its results except in the rare circmstances when there is an entire national ethos is engineered and geared to expel not just an out of favour incumbent as in (Fayemi/Fayose 2011) (although even this is highly debatable today in the light of allegations of rigging-- there is a tape flying around somewhere) but more so an out of favour 'concept' or 'archetype' as the case may be : In 1993 Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for the Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and Pillar of Sports in Africa, the late Chief MKO Abiola more or less to end the Hausa/Fulani hegemony. In 1999, Nigerians overwhelmingly voted in OBJ as a compromise, from my point of view ,-- the North giving their support to pacify an increasingly restive South, whose elders and people in government had been recently rubbished in a framed coup plot by the last bastion of military brutality -- the regime of one Sanni Abacha.
In 2007, Nigerians again voted overwhelmingly. This time for Yar'Adua a gentleman from the academia who although was from the North, presented a truly viable option. From my view they voted essentially to put an end to an Obasanjo style democracy that was becoming increasingly militarised and stifling the political space. OBJ's failed third term bid and a deep distrust of the only other challenger of note then, a man who today stands on the brink of history as the most consistent challenger of our times, GMB, who is also from a military background led Nigerians to believe on the Yar'Adua option.
 In 2011 Nigerians voted overwhelmingly for GEJ not really as a result of any major ideological upheavals but more so for the joy of seeing someone who symbolizes their story-- 'from grass to grace'-- occupy the most powerful office in the land. Infact except in the 1950's when political debates were defined by ideologies proferred by men who were larger than life -- the Nnamdi Azikiwes, Obafemi Awolowos, and Ahmadu Bellos of this world, Nigeria has not to my mind had any such intellectually rigorous debates in any recent Presidential campaigns. Indeed as the strongman of Ibadan politics once put it " amala politics' seems to do better for our people" . Nationally, GEJs success (first person from the South-South to be elected President of Nigeria) in the 2011 polls, was regarded by many I spoke with as being in line with global trends-- first African American President, Obama - 2008; the youngest Prime Minister of Britain in 198 years, David Cameron -2010 ; first woman as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel-2005. So indeed Nigeria in 2011 overwhelmingly found in GEJ, their own 'first'.
Even these seemingly 'overwhelming' electioneering processes [1993, 1999, 2007 and 2011] had their 'hotspots' some of which were engineered by political umpires under pressure. I dare say "Political outcomes of under-pressure processes" is a subject for another day. But this whole scenario presents a real background to highlight the subject of the "Card-Reader" dilemma. With pretty little statistics to support this view, many believe that after South Africa, Nigeria comes a close second in the "cut-over" and use of cutting edge 21st century electronic technology. Our major problem however does not lie with the question of 'how to use technology' but with the quality and functionality of the platform and infrastructure on which that particular technology is supposed to run.
Many I believe can relate to the early days of GSM technology . Time was when someone would burst out of his office in a 100 metres dash, gluing his mobile phone to his ears at some ridiculous angle, sometimes in a near prostrate posture or elevated on some promontory, just to 'catch' the network. It took an age to get the infrastructure right and put the technology on a seamless run. But even today we all know that there are those days when you simply have to 'find' network any which way. We are also well aware of the ways we get scammed out of our hard bought airtime.
Our experience with the ATM technology has not been much different either. Many of us have at sone point in time experienced the anjoying frustration of being caught stranded way off our desired tangent, trying one ATM machine after another for ' jus a likle shuga pan we tea!' For some the experience includes a long walk back home to an expectant 'wifey' and the young ones who are still siting up at 12.00 midnight hoping...
These are the realities of our experiences with technologies introduced by 'highly efficient' private sector. Our experiences also indicate that the public sector is the bane of our under-development. Our experiences paint in our minds pictures of a highly inefficient public sector. And herein lies the real 'card-reader' dilemma: Working at the intense pace of an ongoing voting process and the restive 'kia-kia' (impatient) Nigerian voters, will the card-reader deliver on its duty? That is the question.
In my view, one of the biggest problems will likely come from field connectivity issues. What if the network fails and people get restive and the voting centre becomes uncontrollable, will INEC obey the letter of the law and cancel the process in that centre? If this happens in X amount of centres across the country, and If party X had hopes of winning it in those centres, how could we begin to hope such a party would accept the results of this process ? On the other hand what if the database simply gets overwhelmed on election day by the sheer number of voter turnout? What if the network fails to recognize the finger print of valid card-holders and while it is trying to analyze that, a hundred thousand other card readers are trying to plug into the same database at the same time from different locations around the country?
These are highly possible situations that could trigger valid questions on the credibility of the process itself. Win or lose the card reader situation has provided a real life legal loophole for post election legal actions except and unless all political parties come to the table and agree they will accept the results of the election whether the card readers function perfectly or not. But of course this is Nigeria and we love our arguments!!!
        Written by : Victor O. Sawyerr.13/3/2015
[Pls feel free to air your point of view]

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