Home » Elections 2011, INEC Politics » How wrong equipment, others mar voters’ registration

How wrong equipment, others mar voters’ registration

MORE facts emerged yesterday on why the ongoing voters’ registration is enmeshed in controversies and avoidable lapses.

While some were discovered to be purely technical, others were induced by boardroom politics within the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the choice of vendors, equipment and consultants.

But most importantly, the questions most Nigerians are asking is:  Why is there no central server that would have made all hitches impossible? Why is there no system that would have made multiple registration or any other fraud detectable at source?

INEC’s journey to shoddy preparations and execution of the voters’ registration exercise, according to some officials of the commission and Information and Communications (IT) experts began with the choice of “wrong equipment, incompetent vendors and adoption of a software” produced by a Kenyan consultant. All these started before INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega was appointed but continued after he assumed office.

Against growing public concerns that there are no in-built devices by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to check double or multiple registrations by voters, The Guardian yesterday spoke with the electoral umpire and IT experts, and their revelations are worrisome.

Some of the disturbing issues raised were admitted by INEC, which also refuted others. Even at that, the commission still allayed fears that those registering in more than one place would be detected. INEC admitted that the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines being used for the exercise cannot detect double or multiple registrations at different listing centres because they were not configured to meet that purpose. The commission however said such fraudulent actions would be detected at the collation stage and the persons involved weeded out of the system.

While INEC confirmed that it has no central server but a software that can detect all cases of double or multiple registration, it was learnt that the software cannot be verified by anyone else except the Kenyan that developed it.

In their comments, the IT experts said the INEC system is not fool proof because the Commission has no central database and the DDC machines were not networked, so it is impossible for them to detect multiple registration at the early stage of the exercise.

Like INEC, they said such dubious practices could be detected at the collation stage and the offenders delisted from the voters’ register.

Meanwhile most politicians and political parties in their desperate bid to outdo one another ahead of the April general elections have resorted to mobilising their supporters for double or multiple registrations. In some cases, local councils or constituencies, have been given targets to meet.
Consequently, there have been mass movements of people in buses from across communities, councils and states in the country to register again outside their places of residence.

The inability of the DDC machines to detect such shady practices on the spot caused some stakeholders such as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to accuse INEC of feeding Nigerians with lies that it has a well tested system.

Even INEC officials said, “there is a strong belief that most of the vendors may have procured refurbished systems and this is what is largely responsible for the high failure rate of the machines.”

The Guardian
learnt that at the centre of the challenges associated with registration exercise are two factors that are diametrically opposed to each other. One is the Information Technology Department of INEC, and the other, the interest of a Kenyan IT consultant believed to be working for a global Internet outfit hired by the commission.

The interplay and disagreement between the IT department, which recommended a commonly used platform, the Microsoft Windows (MS Windows), and the consultant’s website that was picked by INEC allegedly slowed down the entire scheme.

As a result of the disagreement between the two sides the entire IT Department of INEC was dissolved and a director removed, thus paving the way for the consultant to take charge.

The disparity in the two position is said to have accounted for the long delay in INEC coming out with an acceptable timetable, which shifted the 2011 general elections from January to April.

An INEC official claimed that the feud delayed the procurement process for between six and seven months. The decision for the acquisition was allegedly taken in March 2010 before the appointment of Jega, “but all that changed because of extraneous disagreement fuelled by alleged personal interests of the dramatis personae in the acquisition of the appropriate software and hardware for electronic voter registration in Nigeria.”

It was also learnt that an INEC commissioner introduced the Kenyan consultant to Jega thus swaying the decision that had already been taken before he assumed office in August 2010.

Insiders in INEC alleged that Jega’s  freshness and sometimes naivety in bureaucracy was exploited leading to the haphazard procurement process, which went contrary to the original Request For Procurement (RFP) arrangement.

The RFP was said to be open ended in most of the technical specifications.

Indeed, a glimpse into the RFP showed that Pentium processor 2.1GHZ and AMD of 2.1GHZ or higher version was prescribed since they are used for basic processing and for higher data processes that could take over 70 million voters.

A high-end processor of up to Pentium 3GHZ would have been ideal, an expert said. “This is available in the market beyond the 2.1GHZ that is limited in scope and size for the large data that is expected to be carried.”

An INEC official said that  while digital data capture machines (DDCM) were recommended for the exercise but what INEC is using are mere laptops, scanners, webcam, printers, “which are nothing but peripherals.
“Whereas DDC machines are supposed to be integrated in harmony and ready to work seamlessly, the current systems are difficult to integrate, hence the failure rates.”

The Commission, which restated its determination to arrest and prosecute those found to be involved in double or multiple registrations, expressed confidence that it would achieve its set target of registering all eligible voters at expiration of the new deadline on Saturday.

The Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman,  Kayode Idowu told The Guardian yesterday in Abuja that INEC had installed the equipment to detect instances of double registration at the collation level.

On Monday, ACN had raised alarm to the effect that INEC’s server lacked the capacity to detect cases of double or multiple registrations.

The party’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lai Mohammed said: “We can authoritatively inform Nigerians that the DDC machines being used for the nationwide voter registration exercise can only detect double/multiple registration if such registration is done at a particular machine. In other words, verification is at the machine level and not at the server level.”

But Idowu repudiated such claims, saying the entire voter registration exercise was to check double registration, adding that 10 finger prints were being captured so that nobody could register 10 finger prints in the data bank. “If any body tries to register twice on any single machine, it would be rejected.”

The question that has been raised is whether it is possible to go from one machine to the other and register?”

To this, Idowu said it might not be possible to detect such immediately because most of the machines were not networked to enable them to detect cases of double or multiple registration at the same time. He however said there was a data bank that would expose such multiple registrations.

Idowu said: “The Commission has never said there was a network to those machines such that if you register in one place and you go to another, it will detect. What the INEC said was that there is a data bank that is being collated and aggregated and when the data gathered from individual machines are brought together, they will be run on the software we are using known as the efface software.

“This software is so powerful that it can only allow a chance in five million for double registration to scale through and what we are doing is that when the data are collated from separate machines at ward level, they will be run with the software. There may be people who register from one ward to the other twice or more. The data would be collated at the ward level and run efface software.

“The same thing happens for people at local council. At the state level, the data would be collated to run on efface software. Even if people were to go from one state to another to register, at the national level, data from the state would be collated and run on efface software and at every stage, double or multiple registration would be detected, and actually the people who do that would be apprehended and stand the risk of being prosecuted. Don’t forget that you can go from one polling unit to the other, say in Maitama or other polling units in Mpape to register.

“The machine in Mpape may not recognise at that point that you had registered before, but don’t forget that it wouldn’t change your face that it was captured in Maitama and when we detect that the picture would confirm the person who has done it, the software would detect that the finger prints have been duplicated, the person would be arrested and prosecuted. So there is an absolute guarantee from INEC that every case of double or multiple registration will be detected, eliminated and people involved would be prosecuted.”

How does the commission intend to achieve the detection, given its tight time schedule? Idowu said with the voter registration ending on February 5, the display for claims and objections would begin on February 12.

“What INEC will be doing from February 5 to February 12 is to collate the data. In fact, in the next couple of days, the demonstration would be carried for the public to see. After the registration, the data would be gathered and between February 5 and 12, when the list would be displayed for claims and objections, all the cases of double or multiple registration would have been detected and eliminated.

“So what we are saying is that all those involved are wasting their time. First, they are likely to be apprehended and prosecuted, second, they are disenfranchising themselves because when you are detected to have registered twice, your name will be eliminated and you are disenfranchising yourself.”

But IT experts insisted yesterday that the INEC system is prone to manipulation and might not bring about a credible voters’ registration because fears of multiple registrations were genuine.

Electronic capturing is supposed to be linked to a central database, which will enable INEC to detect multiple registrations through fingerprints. One of the experts said although it is difficult for people to do multiple registrations in one centre, it is possible to register in other points.

The task for INEC, according to him, is to collect all the information from the different centres and process them to a central database and thereafter invalidate cases of multiple registrations.

Another expert said instead of blaming the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members for the lapses associated with the exercise, INEC should accept responsibility for the poor equipment it deployed for the task.

A Presidency source said from preliminary investigations into the equipment and their sources, it was discovered that the scanners were imported from Aratek Biometric Technology in Shenzhen, China, whose business profile is involved primarily in “pass wording system” and not electronic scanners.

He said INEC should have insisted on IBM, HP or Phutronics’ scanners that can handle large volumes of data.

This too is being queried as an attempt to market some brands by interested parties. What is not in dispute is that the registration exercise has now thrown up fears of potential rigging in the 2011 elections.

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Posted by on Feb 1 2011. Filed under Elections 2011, INEC Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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