By Tonnie Iredia
For longer than makes sense, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has on a yearly basis been at the mercy of two Nigerian groups-the political class and the security agencies. In the case of the politicians, all they always did was to organize phony and rancorous party primaries, vote buying and every electoral malpractice that would make it impossible for hitch-free election to be achieved. They are still doing so. Security agencies, on their part, have become known for refusing to honestly secure the electoral process. Indeed, they often allegedly looked the other way when privileged political parties and their candidates contravened the electoral law. The argument is yet to change. Unfortunately, INEC has failed to listen to the cries of Nigerians for her to embrace technology, which could have solved all her problems and turned the organization into a proactive respected body.
The posture of the electoral body has been that of a late adopter of technology- a title given by Everett Rogers, who propounded the ‘Diffusion and Technological Determinism Theory’ to those who are unable to quickly assimilate the reality that technology is a key governing force in society and the redeeming feature of humanity. With the attribution of massive development in the western world to technology, global reality now is that no meaningful societal development can be attained without technology. While we accept that due to disparities in human endowment, everyone cannot accept innovations at the same time, we are yet to comprehend the stone-age philosophy which has turned INEC into a late adopter of technology. In 2015, the story was that e-voting was not known to our electoral law. But strangely in 2019, INEC is beating her chest that no server was used for our election as if that is an achievement. While it is possible that the commission’s statement may be true, our contention is that such truth is dysfunctional as the law this time allowed INEC to use whatever.
Outside of INEC, our people need to hear about Professor Ishaq Oloyede, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin who is set to make history through technology at the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB. Since his appointment in 2016 as JAMB Registrar, he has been preoccupied with evolving one innovation or the other thereby restoring credibility to the once lethargic JAMB. Oloyede has indeed turned his institution into one where he is on top of every matter as he now receives LIVE reports from all registration centres no matter where they are. Accordingly, Oloyede now knows among other things, the following: a) when a centre registers a candidate; b) the exact time the candidate was registered; c) who registered the candidate; d) the computer system used; and e) the location of the registration centre. A separate indicator according to media reports has also been created for the deaf to differentiate them for special attention at examination centres while efforts are on to also mainstream the blind.
Perhaps the most significant achievement at JAMB is the adherence to the arrangement that Biometric verification is the only mode for admittance of candidates into examination centres. On this, Oloyede is neither ready to prevaricate nor polarize his concentration on the subject. The position now is that ‘no biometric verification, no examination’ thereby leaving no room for unnecessary arguments by those who have hidden agenda. This appears to be the direct opposite in INEC where the nation was told that no card reader no election, yet elections were held in many centres where card readers were discarded. If empirical standards set by INEC are kept as they are done at JAMB, the talk about disenfranchisement that politicians use to confuse us would be a non-issue because the same politicians who stop INEC from following its rules supposedly for some voters not to be disenfranchised are usually behind scores of people who become disillusioned when they send thugs to disrupt polling centres where their opponents are strong. That happens only because INEC’s analogue system allows it.
Before Oloyede’s tenure, JAMB activities were bedeviled by a myriad of challenges ranging from examination malpractice to admission fraud. That era appears to have vanished since 2016 when Oloyede designed a system whose efficacy nullifies all dubious disruptive plans. With its credible system, the Board is now a delight to watch as candidates can now access the results of their UTME online just as the organization now organizes the UTME in foreign counties. During the 2018 exercise in 8 such countries, the Board’s Head of Media and Publicity, Dr Fabian Benjamin, stated that JAMB was not just conducting the examinations in such countries “because of the number of candidates that indicate interest but because we also want to showcase Nigeria’s giant strides in technological advancement on the global scene.” This calls for commendation from everyone especially critics who often draw ample attention to failed areas. Already, the famous Exam Ethics Marshal International has applauded the Registrar.
JAMB’s credible strategy has other implications. For example, virtually every unwholesome behaviour is now easily perceptible. Hence, the Board was to able to aggregate for action several malpractices which often emanated from dubious Computer Based Test (CBT) centres. Consequently, the Board in its zero-tolerance for discrepancies suspended 49 such centres from participating in the 2019 exercise. It is not only centres that are penalized, any type of breach of the guidelines as well as impersonation by a cartel of ghost writers have been shut out using sophisticated software. A JAMB bulletin has already announced the recent arrest of at least 50 ‘Professional Examination Writers’ who write examination for candidates for a fee. Some activists have now called on the Nigeria Police to parade the professional examination cheats which allegedly include two biological children of the owner of an accredited Computer-Based Test (CBT) centre in Lagos. JAMB has also promised to publish names of impersonators that have bedeviled its activities in the last 10 years.
To show that it means business, JAMB says it will give up any of its defaulting staff for prosecution. Already, it has paraded a staff, one Adamu who was found to have duped an admission seeker. But can such steps be taken against politicians? Of course, INEC can do so if it can summon the requisite courage – a case in point being the way it handled the Zamfara case which is now in court. No matter how the case ends, INEC has shown that it can bite. What remains is for the commission to remain strong and consistent. She must however note that the present strategy of appointing persons of proven integrity cannot alone resolve our election dilemma. Indeed, many so-called strong-willed academia who served as returning officers in 2015 and 2019 have shown that they are not the solution. The way out is technology. Oloyede has done it at JAMB. That is what INEC needs to emulate.