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Cover Story Nigeria


Left: An official of the Independent Electoral Commission helps a man make an electronic thumbprint during a voting exercise; below: Presidential election candidate Nuhu Ribadu


70 million Nigerians eligible to vote, which is the issue of pri- mary importance. With previous voters’ rolls tainted by massive fraud, involving


double registration and the inclusion of phantom people on the list, such as Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champions, found to have “registered” in the south-western Nigerian state of Ondo in the 2007 polls, the task before the Jega-led INEC is immense. Given a whopping N87bn (about $572m) for the organisation


of the elections, INEC’s first task was to successfully purchase the information technology hardware and software required to complete the exercise. Te contracts for the supply of the 122,000 computers, print-


ers and finger scanners required, all amalgamated and described as “Direct Data Capturing” (DDC) devices, were not awarded in time, as a stink was kicked up over the amount required by INEC for the registration exercise. Zinox Technologies, the main supplier, was contracted


to obtain 80,000 units at $1,771.73 per unit; Haier Electrical Appliances, the Chinese firm, 30,000 units at $1,699.60 per unit and Avante International Technology 22,000 units, at the same price. Tere were hitches even before the registration of voters com-


menced on 15 January, as some of the DDC machines were stolen from the cargo section of Lagos international airport, before INEC could take formal delivery of the equipment. Police arrested four people over the theft and the machines were recovered. But it set the wrong tone for the exercise, which was charac-


terised by the consistent malfunction of several DDC machines – the fingerprints of former president Olusegun Obasanjo and David Mark, the Senate president, could not be recognised when they initially tried to register in their home states of Ogun and Benue. It took this reporter a five-hour wait in the Lekki area of


Lagos before he was able to register, and this was not an exception. Potential voters in other parts of the country had a far more


24 | March 2011 New African


difficult experience of registering, even when the DDC machines meant for them were not stolen or “diverted” – as happened in Plateau and Delta States. Tis compelled an embattled INEC, which took heavy flak


from various civil society groups over the conduct of the exercise, to extend the two-week registration period by a few extra days to allow all eligible people to register. One would expect Leo Stan Eke, the chairman of Zinox Tech-


nologies, who got the major IT contract, worth over $142m, to be laughing heartily all the way to the bank. But in an interview on Channels Television, Eke surprisingly


said it is a job he would not accept again: “I don’t want to accept this kind of emergency contract again. It has cost me my health… It was a patriotic duty. Te money offered is not enough and the time [within which to execute the contract] is not enough either.” Tat’s a tale that few Nigerians, convinced that he made a killing on the INEC contract, will be prepared to buy.


Tackling the real issues But for all the administrative challenges INEC faces in organ- ising credible polls, what matters most – having a process that guarantees the predominance of cerebral, honest and hardwork- ing politicians in government – seems to have been sadly lost. With only weeks between the confirmation of candidates and


the 9 April polls, there is not enough time for the voting public to robustly engage politicians on the issues that matter most to them – ending the abysmal supply of electricity, reversing the sorry state of education, health and critical infrastructure, pro- viding jobs for millions of Nigeria’s unemployed youth, as well as ensuring ethical conduct in government. For Africa’s largest democracy to metamorphose into a stable,


progressive country that, finally, takes its rightful place in the comity of nations – as the undisputed leader of the continent and the defender of its political and economic interests – it must cross this Rubicon, as the alternative is too frightening to con- template.


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