INEC Fails


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INEC Fails a simple electoral democracy test


Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD


Monday, September 23, 2002


 For many personal reasons, I am very sorry to say so, but it is likely that Dr. Abel Guobadia’s tenure as Nigeria’s Electoral Commission chief will go down as the worst in our country’s checkered history, and that his supervisor, our beleaguered but well-traveled President Olusegun Obasanjo, will have to take the full blame for it.

 Why do I say this?   Three years now since he took over  (on May 26, 2000) from the departed Justice Ephraim Akpata (who died January 8, 2000), Uncle Abel had not been able to add a single Nigerian citizen to the electoral roll until Thursday, September 12, 2002.  The first set of elections, the local government elections, has been postponed three times (March 30, then May 18, then August 10), such that at the present time no date has been set for them.  No date has also been set for the more general elections of next year:  in fact, it is not certain whether the presidential, state and national assembly elections will be held on the same day (as the National Assembly demands) or on different days (as INEC and Mr. President prefer).   To compound matters, we have a 2001 Electoral Law co-existing with an approved 2002 Electoral Law (passed more than 30 days now and lying on Mr. President’s table) that includes a line repealing the 2001 Electoral Law.   

Now an effort to rectify one of the omissions has been bungled:  a simple event of registering people to vote in Nigeria, delayed since 1999 when Guobadia became INEC Chairman in succession to the deceased Justice Ephraim Akpata, has just ended in a fiasco. It



In simple mathematical terms, what was he called upon to do between Thursday September 12,  and Saturday September 21, now extended for 24 hours through today Monday September 23?  He was called upon to register approximately 60 million Nigerians in 120,000 registration centers within a 10 day period over roughly 10 hours each day.  Let us do the quick mathematics:  first he was called upon to register on average 500 Nigerians per registration center.   In each center, he was required to register on average 50 Nigerians per day – or on average 5 Nigerians PER HOUR.

That is 1 Nigerian per 12 minutes for serial registration, or 1 Nigerian per hour if there are 5 parallel ports for registration.

For the literacy level of Nigeria, allowing on average 12 minutes per registration would be a tall order.  However, any provision for more than one simultaneous port for registration – that is on average greater than 24 minutes – should be more than adequate.  Three parallel ports allowing just over thirty minutes per registrant would be excellent.



Guobadia and his co-workers in INEC bungled the exercise, with many people not being able to register (including – read this – INEC spokesperson himself Mr. Opoko!); others supposedly registering more than once; yet some other under-age registering – like the child in the attached picture – registering.  And the howler of all:  INEC officials have been accused by other INEC officials of “hoarding” voter cards in order to sell them to highest-bidder politicians and other operatives!

Only in Nigeria!

Now I can understand  it when somebody registers more than once:  after all, if all you ask me at the  registration desk is my name and age and where I live, and there is no independent VERIFICATION as to whether that is who I really am.  If I suspect that during voting later on, there will be no IDENTIFICATION as to whether who I am is the person using my voting card, then either because I LOVE my candidate so much that I want to vote more than once for him, or else I still want to vote just ONCE but I wish to sell my SURPLUS voter cards to the highest bidders, then it would be foolish, in fact, anti-capitalistic for us to expect that in a voting exercise involving  60 million people,  many impoverished, there will not be hundreds of thousands willing to test the exercise in such a dubious way. 

 Ditto for the under-age, who clearly are less interested in the voting than in the registration, since it is likely that some adults are in cahoots with them. Imagine an obvious six-year old child on the registration line, with five conniving adults right behind him.   He gets to the registration table.  The officer says, “You are too young to register!”  The young man - let us call him Yahaya -  says, “No, I am 18.”  The officer says, “No way!”  Then the clearly older people just behind him say, “No!  We know him!  He is older than 18!”  When the officer refuses, the older people say that they will not register UNTIL the child is registered, and then proceed to threaten to hold the whole exercise up!

If these conniving adults hold their grounds, even a policeman nearby cannot budge them.  Of course, we know that a true and authenticated birth certificate would have solved this particular issue when there is reasonable doubt.  But is ANYBODY asked to produce a birth certificate in ANY of these registration exercises?  Of course not!  So how can such an event as this child registrant be avoided under the present circumstances?

No way!  Now one can see where a picture ID card with a birthdate and picture on it would at least weed out this under-age problem in a clear manner!  [How the ID cards are issued are a separate matter.]

But what puzzles me most are the INEC officials who are HOARDING electoral cards.  That I do not understand how they hope to get away with it. 

Let me explain my puzzle.

These registration cards were obviously not left on the side streets for people to pick up.  There are roughly 2 or 3 PAID INEC officials per registration site, whose names are known, who report to an INEC office and get paid at the end of the month.  They must have been assigned an average of  500 cards per registration center, naturally coded against the registration number – let us say RC1/VC001 to VC500 etc. (Reg Center 1); RC2/VC001 – VC500,  (Reg Center 2); RC1200000/VC001 to VC500 (Reg. Center 1200000).

So how and why would they hoard?  At the end of the day, would they not be asked to account for the REGISTERED PEOPLE using Voter Registration card VC001 to VC500 that each checked out to them (as blanks) at the beginning of the exercise?

Or am I missing something here?

Yes, I probably am.  You see, in the first instance, the ENTIRE MONEY that INEC would pay these INEC officials from the beginning of their training to the end of the registration if they diligently did their work would NOT be as much as one of them ABSCONDING (and never reporting back to INEC) with Registration card numbers VC201 to VC500 – that is 200 cards at N1000 each - that they would get from unscrupulous politicians.  A cool N200,000 is just too tempting, even if the INEC officials wonder how these would-be voters would eventually get onto the voters’ roll.

Yes – how would they get on the voters’ roll, since ostensibly their names have not been entered by these absconded officials?

That is still the real puzzle for me, that inquiring minds want to know.

 Only in Nigeria!

The second scenario is the following:   we Nigerians don’t REALLY know our population, whether national, state or local governments, certainly not ward-by-ward.  So there are some areas in Nigeria (let us call them Area 1) where there are FAR MORE PEOPLE than the official count (say in Lagos), while there are areas (Area 2) in Nigeria where there are FAR less number of people.  Obviously,  cards can QUICKLY run out in Area 1, and an INEC official can withhold a few, creating an artificial scarcity,  to sell to the highest political bidders who wish to ensure that despite the scarcity, as many of their own supporters as possible get their hands on the card so that when voting time comes, he has an advantage!  That is his crude way of calling out his supporters to register!  In Area 2 – typically those areas that have in previous censuses INFLATED their numbers -  children can be pressed to be registered to make up the numbers;  and both unveiled voters and particularly women in veils can make repeated visits to the registration center in order to exhaust the surfeit of registration cards!

 Now I get it!



 In any case, the whole process stinks.  It stinks because this is how it has always been, this parody of democracy.  Can anyone tell anyone else that this is the first time that this kind of mal-registration has occurred before?  Not at all!  It is just that under the Guobadia/Obasanjo electoral regime, the malfeasance has been glaringly revealed – and as the Yoruba would say our mad (national) relative “Omoye” (INEC in this case) has now finally run naked onto the market square, despite our best attempts to cover her up beforehand to save the family from embarrassment.

 Why would an intelligent nation embark on an exercise as fundamental to democracy as a voters’ registration that is so programmed to fail?  If you do not put in place (i) verification (who you say you are is who you are), (ii) identification (who another says you are is who you are)  and  (iii) duplication-elimination (you are here and some elsewhere purporting to be you at the same time, or you are here and there at different times) sub-processes, how can this programme succeed?

 This three-step process requires a photo-id for verification; a (possibly local) electronic searchable/data-matching database for identification; but most importantly a huge NATIONAL electronic database for instantaneous data matching for duplication-elimination.  This is where the current revolution in the telecommunications industry will be most helpful, and not just in the ostentatious display of extremely expensive GSM mobile phones!



 It is almost impossible to know what to advise INEC in the mess that it has found itself.  Asking for a long extension of registration at this time is indeed an invitation to further fraud, without the processes outlined above being in place.  One can only suggest the following half-measures at this time:


(1)      a comprehensive registration center-by-center audit by INEC of the voter cards returned, preferably to be done at the capital of each state in the presence of party officials AND the State Independent Electoral Commission.  This audit should both be electronic and manual – electronic using biometric fingerprint detecting machines to decipher and store fingerprints – and manual:  those cards that are rejected as not being fingerprints should be separated.  For example, there are reports that some unscrupulous registrants in collusion with officials have been using palm kernels to simulate thumb imprints!


(2)      the list of registrants with duplicate thumb-prints and non-thumb imprints should be published,  and a few examples made of those caught.


(3)      It is only after we are certain about the extent of fraud can we know whether we should open the exercise further to those who have been truly disenfranchised, or cancel the entire process altogether.  Preferably, cancellation should be confined to  possibly to just those registration centers where the violation has been egregious.


(4)      Then we can re-open the registration IN ONLY THOSE offending centers and CONCENTRATE on positive identification by would-be registrants.


I must confess that I am not entirely happy with the above recommendations the milk is too far spilt - but that is the best that one can come up with at this time.  At the end of the day, only the application of modern technology will enable the verification, identification and duplication-elimination that are needed to make both the registration and voting exercises credible, and start us all on a credible electoral process.

We shall be watching.



Voters' registration: INEC probes forms' distribution

Vanguard, Monday 23rd September, 2002

Mixed reactions trail exercise, as citizens seek extension

Guardian, Monday 23rd September, 2002

Lagos creates affidavit centres for unregistered voters

Guardian, Monday 23rd September, 2002

Saturday Essay: A Stubborn INEC, Looking for Trouble

Mobolaji E. Aluko, Saturday, May 4, 2001

MID-WEEK ESSAY:  Local Council Polls and INEC - A Funny Game Is Going On Here! 

Mobolaji E. Aluko; April 11, 2002

SATURDAY ESSAY:On the Question of National IDs

Mobolaji E. Aluko, September 30, 2000



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