I was privileged to sit on the same panel with Mr. Mike Igini (Independent National Electoral Commission’s Resident Electoral Commissioner for Cross River State) and other patriotic Nigerians including a foreign friend of Nigeria (Peter Cunliffe-Jones). The event (Project 2011: Towards A New Nigeria) was organized by the Save Nigeria Group Global (UK), on 6th November 2010. Mr. Mike Igini spoke and answered questions very well, regarding the proposed use of direct data capture machines, for the upcoming voters register in Nigeria.
I am not under any illusion; that things might still go wrong with this direct data capture methods. But with proper arrangements by INEC, and the full support of Nigerians, this method could bring about, the beginning of the end of electoral irregularities in Nigeria. Other benefits will also accrue with the effective introduction and implementation of this method of voters’ registration. First, let me propose to our lawmakers, authorities, political parties/groups, NGO’s, CSO’s etc to consider initiating a bill (if none existed) to make voters registration, compulsory for every Nigerian adult of 18 years and above. Also INEC should make this voter registration an ongoing exercise. That is, there should be provisions to register any Nigerian that turns 18 years after 2011.
The reasons for asking for a law to make voter registration compulsory are as follows; (A) For Nigerians to take the issue of their civic responsibility (voting) very serious. Voting should be a very serious civic responsibility. I recommend it to be in the same category of National Youth Service for fresh graduates. (B) There will never be a better voter education/awareness programme than a compulsory registration of voters (18 years and above). (C) Using this method (Direct Data Capture Machines), the National Population Commission could easily capture the true population of Nigerians who are above 18 years old, being that our DNA (fingerprints) will be taken. So far, our population figures have been mere estimates. We need a true idea of how many we are. A law backing a compulsory voter registration could mean killing two birds with one stone. (D). Voters register/card to be used as a form of identification process, this is in addition to the use of international passport and driving license. Therefore, every business(es) that is into identification verification (banks, finance houses, etc) should support this Direct Data Capture voter’s registration.
In Leicester, United Kingdom where I reside, someone can be denied credit and other facilities if he/she’s name(s) are not on the electoral register. I will also suggest to Independent National Electoral Commission to share their database (DNA/fingerprints of registered voters) with all security services in Nigeria. It will boost crime fighting. I made a similar recommendation last year (2009), in an article I wrote, titled; Reforming Police and Policing Reforms. Permit me to quote a paragraph from the article, “DNA fingerprinting will be a valuable tool in the fight against crimes in Nigeria. It will help in investigating cases. Similar technology has been deployed before by the Nigerian government during the registration of ID card scheme. The current e-passport system in Nigeria takes our fingerprints. So what the government needs to do is to transfer the national database to the police or the police can share this database with all relevant government departments. So as soon as a suspect is caught, the DNA fingerprinting should be taken and stored or checked with the ones already in the system”. (http://briefsfromakuta.blogspot.com/2009/05/reforming-police-and-policing-reforms.html).
From the few points above, it becomes clearer that despite the actual voting exercise, Nigerians stand to benefit a lot from the Direct Data Capture voters registration. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of all Nigerians to make it work. Be that as it may, I will propose the following; (A) All religious organizations (churches, mosques, temples, etc) should mobilize all their members to register, encourage others (friends, families etc) to register. They also should act as watchdogs. My reason for saying this is because, religious organizations are very close to the people, and their influences are enormous. United States President Barack Obama acknowledged this and said, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the ground up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples and mosques”
(B) Nigerian Banks, Finance houses, other businesses (those that are into identity verification) etc should consider to deploy some staffs and resources to make this work. Employers should consider asking employees to provide proof of voter registration or better still; INEC can provide this information to employers. I will recommend to Independent National Election Commission to designate a department to furnish people with information (registered voters) or display it permanently on their websites for easy accessibilities.
(C). All communities, villages, towns etc should mobilize their people to register and also ensure smooth registration. Labour unions, professional bodies, political parties/groups, etc should also get involved. The National Population Commission, should play a vital role, because the will also benefit from whatever figures INEC arrive at.
(D). All security services should deploy sufficient personnel to ensure smooth registration. Any offender should be arrested and prosecuted. We have no choice but to make this exercise work. Our inactions might be disastrous. This is because, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” – Haile Selassie.
(E). I will also agree with Kayode Ogundamisi, converner of the Nigerian Liberty Forum UK, when he suggested that Nigerians in Diaspora should send money back home, on the condition that the beneficiaries (family, folks, friends, etc) must register and vote during elections.
Finally let me use this medium to extend my seasonal greetings to all Nigerians. For the Moslems, please accept a belated Barkar De Salah. To those Nigerians who are pagans, may the almighty God bless you people this season. To Nigerians of other faith(s) and religion, may God bless you people as well. To the Nigerian Christians, of which am one of them, I wish you all a happy Christmas season. May God Bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta.
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK