By Tonnie Iredia
Last month, Joe my cousin, who is always frightened of the Military called me on phone to warn me never again to offend, in his words, “dangerous persons and institutions like the Army”. His call came one day after I delivered a rather combative paper at a military conference in Lagos. He sternly asked me: what do you know about security that makes you think you can publicly criticize the Army? While agreeing that I know just a little about warfare, I opined that professionalism in military operations is a different subject from public perception of what the Army does or chooses not to do.
For instance, whatever is the opinion of the Army on issues such as the use of road blocks on our highways to combat crime, they are rather obsolete to me. In earnest, we – laymen – have a right to imagine that anyone who chooses to inflict collective fear could in fact easily blast with a bomb, all those managing a road block as well as all the travelers in the usually long queues around it.
Today, many of the several 4-lane streets in our beautiful capital city- Abuja have, for security reasons, been converted to one-lane streets. While the Army may think that the policy can curtail the easy movement of criminals; a public analyst is free to see the policy decision as akin to that of a man who decides to blind himself so as not to see his enemies. How then, does he see his friends? I then concluded my response to Cousin Joe that my concern is for Nigeria to follow the times, dump stone-age strategies and emulate societies which use modern technology to detect and arrest heinous crimes.
There is however, an unconfirmed story that one signals officer of the Nigerian Army in Lagos has designed a kind of close circuit television with which activities in a place as far as Kaduna can be monitored from Abuja. If this is true, perhaps then it is the Army that would propel technology in Nigeria. In fact that would by far be a better posture for the Army than engaging in commonplace methods of operations or indeed in mundane assignments such as the manning of election venues. The latter can only attract to our Army, a negative public perception of a group that is unwittingly used by one group of politicians against the other.
Incidentally, this standpoint has already been vindicated as the nation’s largest political party openly chastised the Army a few days ago, on its deployment of soldiers to the recent local elections in Edo State. At a press conference in Abuja last week, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Olisa Metuh called on the Military High Command to investigate the role of the Brigade Commander of the Nigerian Army in Benin City for allegedly using the Military against the PDP during the elections.
It is important to recognize that the allegation arose simply because rather than embrace technology, Nigeria prefers to remain in the analogue regime where security personnel are used to manually secure an election process. This explains why the conduct of elections in Nigeria usually takes the same form as the prosecution of civil war.
At the recent edo local elections, the Police proudly announced the deployment of 5000 of its personnel to secure the elections – a figure that is probably more than the total number of law enforcement personnel put in use in that area alone, during the Nigerian civil war. Meanwhile an election is not a battle but a game which is supposed to be open only to players and not fighters. In earnest, best practices in the management of elections have proven that only modern technology can effectively combat electoral malpractices. It cannot be otherwise in Nigeria.
Indeed, any nation can easily benefit from the several merits of a computerized election process. First, it disallows multiple registration of voters because under the scheme, no one can register more than once anywhere in the country. Second, no person who is not a registered voter can vote at an election. Put differently, no person can successfully use another person’s voter’s card to vote.
Third, no voter can vote twice because any ballot thumb printed by any person who had earlier voted would be automatically rejected. Such a safety valve would no doubt discourage many deliberate lapses such as the lateness of materials to voting centres as it would no longer be necessary to spend ample time and energy to protect some supposed sensitive documents.
Whether it is an election or a census exercise, it is only technology that can facilitate a hitch free and credible operation. This is because it is only technology that can nullify political interference which Festus Odimegwu; Chairman of our Population Commission recently identified as a major obstacle to the attainment of a hitch free exercise
The argument of Nigeria’s political class that the nation’s literacy rate is too low to withstand the adoption of modern technologies is only self serving. Many so called uneducated citizens are currently enjoying on-line banking services while a larger number uses GSM phones with ease. Didn’t we hear the other day of plans by the Minister of Agriculture to provide a large number of telephone lines to rural farmers?
The truth therefore is that many unserious bodies have a phobia for technology. Recent findings of a concerned Nigerian-Temitope Famutimi, who visited the websites of some government departments, are instructive here. According to the researcher, while that of the Ministry of Power says “website under construction”, the latest information in the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to do with Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary Celebration in October 2012.
In 2004, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) fixed 2015 as the deadline for every nation in the globe to transit from analogue to digital broadcasting. Many nations picked dates ahead of 2015 to complete theirs. Nigeria fixed 2012. As at today, one year after its chosen date, not much has happened beyond the selection of committees to study the subject. When then will Nigeria begin to embrace modern technology?