• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Nigeria hopes Tech can curb Legacy of Electoral Fraud


Nigeria’s electoral commission says it has found a means to fight fraud that has marred votes repeatedly in Africa’s most populous nation: technology.

According to Bloomberg, while its decision to use biometric voter-card readers in general elections, starting March 28 is favoured by Muhammadu Buhari’s opposition alliance, President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party, which has won every election in Africa’s biggest oil producer since the end of military rule in 1999, is crying foul.

All of the previous elections were marred by ballot stuffing, multiple and underage voting, and falsification of figures, according to local and international monitors.

About 800 people died in violence in 2011 after Buhari lost to Jonathan and said the result was rigged.

“Without card readers, anyone could use anyone else’s card,” said YemiAdamolekun, the executive director of Enough Is Enough Nigeria, an advocacy group based in Lagos, the commercial capital. “Now, it won’t be just be a random person voting because they’ve paid for your card or stolen it.”

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When most Nigerians go to the polls on March 28 to elect the president and national legislature, their voter cards will be slotted into Chinese-made readers with data chips to display their names and pictures, and authenticate their fingerprints.

Analysts say with the INEC card readers, it is now possible to have an electronic record for the aggregate number of accredited voters and the total at each location, so those intent on rigging must now have to cope with a new tough environment.

More than 82 percent of the 68.8 million registered voters have picked up their cards, the electoral commission, which is known as INEC, said Wednesday.

Jonathan’s party has criticised INEC chairman, AttahiruJega’s handling of the voter-card rollout, saying he has favored Buhari’s All Progressives Congress.

“We express our concerns that Jega may have decided to aid the APC to rig the forthcoming elections through the manipulation of the production, distribution and collection of permanent voter cards,” Femi Fani-Kayode, spokesman for Jonathan’s campaign, told reporters on Feb. 11.

Jega has insisted that INEC is non-partisan and denied allegations that the commission gave preferential treatment to some areas in distributing the cards.

“I’m aware that some groups have been protesting,” he told a town-hall meeting in Abuja, the capital, on March 16. “I have a job to do and it would be a disservice to Nigerians for me to resign.”

Thousands of Jonathan’s supporters marched through Lagos on March 16 demanding the removal of Jega and a ban on card readers. Four political parties allied to Jonathan’s PDP have filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, saying the use of the card readers would be unlawful and likely to infringe on the rights of eligible voters.

“The PDP has had a strong monopoly on power and has never really needed to worry about the way an election was going to be conducted,” Ryan Cummings, the Cape Town-based chief Africa strategist at security company Red24 Plc, said Wednesday by phone. “The concern, obviously, is that the PDP is not as strong as it used to be.”

For the first time since Nigeria returned to civilian rule, there’s a chance the PDP will lose power, with Buhari, 72, and Jonathan, 57, tied for support at 42 percent each in a December poll by Afrobarometer.

After a field test of the biometric devices in 12 of the country’s 36 states on March 7, INEC said it was satisfied with their performance. The cards can’t be forged, legitimate voters can be identified and data gathered can be secured and used to audit subsequent poll numbers if necessary, it said.

The commission is placing a card reader at each of about 153,000 voting points, with about 30,000 spare devices at the country’s 8,809 wards, INEC spokesman KayodeIdowu said by phone from Abuja on March 23.

“There will be no deficiencies in the card readers because INEC has done enough tests,” Idowu said. When fingerprints aren’t captured, election officials will authenticate the voter by checking the picture generated by the reader, he said.

Biometric cards helped to improve transparency in elections in Ghana three years ago, the Accra-based Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, which monitored the electoral process, said in a December 2013 report. The machines failed at 19 percent of the polling stations, it said.

Other West African nations including Mali, Cameroon and Mauritania, have used biometric readers in recent elections, while Burkina Faso has started a new registration process requiring fingerprint identification.

Nigeria has yet to hold an election that could be regarded as free and fair, Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said in a March 3 interview.

“The card reader reduces the scope to manipulate the vote,” he said. “The use of technology provides an opportunity to nudge the electoral process higher.”

The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of more than 60 civic groups monitoring the elections, has said the card readers “passed the integrity test.”

“Clearly the voters fully embraced the card reader technology,” it said in a statement on its website.

Enough Is Enough Nigeria and INEC have developed a one-minute animated video to educate voters on the biometric system, scheduled to start playing Thursday, at some places broadcasting soccer games, including replays of UEFA Champions League matches.

“We’re looking at key group that could spark violence and trying to reach them early,” Adamolekun said.

Silifat Majekadegbe, a 41-year-old bag weaver in Lagos, said she felt pleased when electoral officials declared her voter card genuine.

“I was happy my card was verified successfully,” Majekadegbe said in an interview. “I even wanted to do it for my husband and was told it’s not possible, that I would have to cut his fingers and bring them along.”