Saturday, February 12, 2011

SOME SUGGESTIONS ON HOW WE CAN MAKE THE NEXT ELECTIONS A TOWN HALL AFFAIR.

Town hall elections are elections where every stakeholder is present when the votes are cast and counted, and the stakeholders leave the hall knowing who won and lost. But in a country as big as Nigeria of a hundred and fifty million (150m) people, town hall elections are impossible, right?

Well, they can be possible.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, as she is fondly called, was created to make sure our elections are free and fair and exempt from rigging. Well, that is the utopian case. INEC tries its best to do its job, but we know they can do better. That is why every party are on their feet to work with and watch them work.





In a simplified description, this is how the elections are conducted here in Nigeria:

1. On election day, possibly April 9 this year, voters meet at selected polling centers to cast their votes.

2. The ballot papers are counted by Electoral Commission officials in the presence of Party officials.

3. The balloting results are compiled by the parties in 2 above and verified.

4. The results are released to the public through the press and other media.
If we consider the recent events at Ivory Coast, greater involvement of the voting public in the stages above can increase the confidence in the results released. And by the way, they’d reduce our reliance on foreign observers.

It takes the use of technology and ingenuity by members of the voting public.

If we can make use of social media, the elections can be put in the hands of the public and the distrust taken out of the hands of the parties.

How?

It involves a cycle of tweeting results (or posting facebook updates), compiling them by categories and retweeting the results of the compilation (or posting facebook updates) until we get the total aggregate results.

First, if just seconds after the hour when the election ends a volunteer for a polling center posts the results to a facebook wall or twitter noticeboard, and another does the same for another polling center in the same ward, eventually, people following that channel can pick these, collate them and produce a total results for the polling centers under a ward. These total results are then reposted through these channel as total results. These will take approximately five minutes.
Also, another channel dedicated to collecting results for a local government area collates the posted results for wards under a local government, less than fifteen minutes after the hour, the public will be informed of the election results for candidates in that local government. Eventually, another channel collates the local government total results into state totals and posts the results, eventually, less than forty minutes after the hour, with a little accommodation for errors, Nigerians in every state will log onto their facebook accounts or twitter timeline to be informed of the results for their candidates by parties, assemblies, etcetera, for a state, either using a PC or a mobile device.

Eventually, if another channel is dedicated to collating state results, less than an hour or an hour and thirty minutes after the election’s last hour, the public will be informed of who is the next president, their state governors, their senators and so on and so forth even before INEC begins the arduous task announcing the results.

By the way, this can be the People’s INEC, an alternative but unofficial way for the general public to be well informed of what they had cast on the election day. I believe it will in a big way forestall our witnessing another drama the like of Gbagbo versus Ouattara that just occurred recently at Ivory Coast.

But because these channels are unofficial, then there is the risk that fifth elements can hijack them. That is why it is beholden on members of the public to coerce the news media and other NGO’s in the country to take up this cause since they have the machinery on the ground, and the confidence of the people. It will involve people management and also political neutralism for this suggestion to see the light of day.

To prepare for such, such groups of persons, organizations or medium, should create alternate channels in case twitter channels are clogged. Status.net has a server that is free, open source, and effective as twitter.com. Also, for social networking, there are alternate sites to facebook.com like Diaspora.  

Well, I wonder if anyone has other suggestions like mine. It is unwise for Nigerians to wait until a drama the like of Ivory Coast occurs at our doorsteps which could lead to a mass exodus of persons as was witnessed during the Abiola and Babangida debacle. I wish we don’t have a repeat of such in this country. It will also be wise to carefully read the “promotions guidelines” document on the facebook website.


follow me on twitter, @emeka_david

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