Comment & analysis
SMS election monitoring from Nigeria
Network of Mobile Election Monitors
2007-05-16, Issue 304
The Election Monitoring Report compiled by the Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM) on the Nigerian presidential elections held on 21 April 2007.
The idea of using mobile phones to monitor elections was developed by NMEM. We are proud to announce to the world that is was extremely successful. We also recommend that other organisations and countries study our project, and plan to use it in their own future elections.
The primary goal of the project was to use technology to give the ordinary citizen an opportunity to tell the world what really happened in their area on election day.
The spread and reach of mobile telephony in Nigeria is mind boggling: in the last four years more than 30,000,000 Nigerians have become mobile phone users.
Traditionally Eeection observers and monitors deemed credible are often foreign diplomats, bureaucrats and professionals who are sent to visit as many polling stations as they can and inform the world of their impression of the polls.
Their effectiveness is limited to the number of places they can visit in a just one day: in a country as vast as Nigeria with a land mass of 925,000 square kilometres and a population of 140,000,000; without maps or road signs to use in navigation, these foreign observers often limit their activities to Abuja, the capital, Lagos and a few major state capitals. Places like the Niger Delta with its reputation for violence and kidnapping of foreigners are no-go areas.
Most election observers especially in Africa are very conspicuous with their UN or EU branded 4-wheel drive jeeps, 'branded' t-shirts with 'observers' boldly printed on it and large ID tags around their necks.
This is often necessary for security reasons which allows them to move around freely on election day where movement is often restricted. This, however, reduces their effectiveness as people are prone to act properly when they know they are being watched, especially by foreigners.
This is why we decided to use ordinary citizens of Nigeria, all voters themselves to report back to our SMS hub on what really happened on election day from their own polling stations.
The use of ordinary Nigerians to observe and report on the election, we believe, encourages participation by people that would be apathetic as well as provide timely, accurate and impartial information on the conduct of the elections.
It is ultimately the same ordinary citizens who validate the credibility and legitimacy of the eventual electoral outcome. Our monitoring is peculiar because people knew that if they try to rig the election there could be someone behind them that may send a text message reporting the incident.
The network, and how it works
The Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM) is organised by the Human Emancipation Lead Project (HELP) Foundation. With the assistance of Professionals for Humanity (PROFOH), another Nigerian NGO, the network started out with 54 associates resident in each of the 36 states of the country, and Abuja.
These associates were trained to recruit volunteers from their states and instruct them to forward our SMS text invitation to as many people as possible to create a nationwide spread.
The technology behind this project was made possible using a SMS hub called FrontlineSMS, developed by kiwanja.net, to keep track of all of the texts.
The system allows mass-messaging to mobile phones and crucially the ability for recipients to reply to a central computer.
Thanks to the system we could acknowledge receipt of the text (SMS) and even make specific enquiry to individual volunteers and associates in any area to confirm the authenticity of reports received.
The software also was able to alert us when a report came in from our associates or hitherto unknown volunteer allowing us to rank the accuracy of the information received.
Although the software performed brilliantly we would have loved it to have the ability to make allowance for multimedia service (MMS) as a few of our associates took pictures on camera phones and could only forward them to us via the internet.
Election day started out for the technical support staff at 8:30am. Our first task was to send a reminder SMS alert to our associates urging them to personally go to their designated polling stations and to file their report by 12 noon.
The first SMS (text) report to come through the network was on the eve of the presidential election at 11:06pm, alerting NMEM of skirmishes between soldiers of the Nigerian army and unknown militants around government house Yenengoa, Bayelsa state.
The first positive reports started to arrive at 2pm with reports of calm and orderliness in Ibiono Ibom L.G.A in Akwa Ibom State, and also from Kano GRA, Kano state.
From then on, we were flooded with reports from Nigerians who reported as events unfold during the election.The observations below represent a mix of text messages sent in by respondent:
Calm and orderliness; Late arrival of polling materials; Absence of names of registered voters on official voter lists; Early arrival INEC officials and members of the Civil Defense Corp; Voting without proper documents and identification; Extension of voting hours to augment for late opening; Absence of polling booths for voters confidentiality; Stuffing of ballot boxes; Casting away of voting materials; Poor voter turnout; Harassment and intimidation of voters; Ill-equipped security personnel.
Our analysis indicates that extensive fraud and rigging were perpetrated by participating political parties in their areas of control. In total over 10,000 messages were received into the SMS hub.
The need to readily communicate with the Nigerian electorate was the prime motivation in choosing text messaging as the communications method for our work.
Following the announcement of the presidential election result on Monday the 23 April 2007, text messages were sent out to our respondent asking for their reaction on the acceptability of the result and the president-elect.
While about a fifth of our respondents wanted the results cancelled, the majority, about 80 per cent, reacted that Nigeria could not afford cancellation and re-run. Rather Nigerians want those who are aggrieved to seek peaceful redress at the election tribunals.
Curiously, some of the respondents that reported electoral fraud in their locations believe that the President-elect should be given a chance. One message, which was typical of a number we received, indicated:
'Gov.Yar Adua is generally acceptable as President mainly because of his lack of military antecedence, relative record of transparency as Governor of Katina State and the calibre of opposition he had.'
It is our belief that with adequate funding we can educate and inform the public to take part in exit polls at future elections. Due to inadequate funding we were unable to have our associates follow up at the ward collation center, or Local Government Areas and INEC state offices, where the tallies were added up. Most of our observations were limited to the polling stations.
Sample text messages - below are a few selected messages received from our observers:
'At ward 4 and 5 of Calabar Municipality materials arrived at about 9:45am. Voting started by 10am prompt. All the security agencies and party representatives were all present and voting was conducted orderly though the electorate turn out was low.'
'Almost all result sheets diverted by PDP stalwarts and INEC ad-hoc staff on the way to wards polling stations in Nsukka Enugu State.'
'EVERYWHERE IS CALM VOTING IS ON. MOVEMENT IS RESTRICTED FOR EFFECTIVENESS OF THE ELECTION PROCESS.'
'I want to commend the efforts of INEC and for making this election come to pass in the face of every challenge.'
'Dear Mobile Election Monitor team I am sending this text from UK. There is a huge irregularity of voting at Gwande Karfa ward. In Bokkos LGC. TAKE NOTE. NAPHTALI.
The just concluded election and subsequent handing over of power on 29 May will mark the first time in Nigerian history that power has been transfer from one elected president to another.
Our report indicates fraud and other irregularities in the elections, and this has been collaborated by report of foreign and other domestic observers.
However, there were pockets of hope in places where elections where orderly, free and fairly conducted as earlier mentioned in this report. These area needs to be commended for their vigilance and commitment to their civic responsibilities.
We however believe that the wish of the people was honoured and the most popular candidate returned. Though the election was flawed, many Nigerians shared their views with us, and we believe that this practice will greatly assist in determining the legitimacy of this and future elections in this country. We are very happy we helped give the people a voice via text messaging.
The government must make every effort not to be overly partisan in the electoral process. INEC must be made totally autonomous as regards its finances, appointment of its managerial personnel and its powers, and all aspects of the electoral process must be well articulated.
The political parties must be provided with irrevocable standards and timeline to present to their candidates. The judiciary must be sacrosanct about the laws of the land and be sensitive to the integrity of candidates before clearances to run in the elections. The legislator must be pro-active in its monitoring of the electoral process, and the election commission.
The Nigerian people require more sensitization on their civic responsibility, which should not be restricted to election period only Post-election NMEM project NMEM is convinced that elections and good governance are fundamental and sacrosanct in the democratic process. As such the monitoring and evaluation of an elected government by the governed becomes essential to the process.
In developing countries like Nigeria the challenges of the lack of institutionalised agencies to monitor and ensure good governance or its access and optimal engagement by the ordinary citizens is of great concern due to the almost malignancy of the abuse of office by the political elites. Intervention in the democratic process should therefore not wane after elections but become more resolute in the delivery of democratic dividends to the citizenry.
NMEM has started a process which aims to provide Nigerians a platform to express their aspirations, monitor and evaluate the performances of the elected government and the public office holders in the bid to ensuring good governance. NMEM has created templates of enquiry regarding Nigerians aspirations and expectations of the newly elected government and public officers.
Good Governance Monitoring Project
This phase of the NMEM project has two sub-divisions and is being developed to provide Nigerians with the channels to express aspirations and expectation of the incoming government, and engage directly in the assessment of the government and the performance of the public office holders.
The essence of this phase is to check the abuse of public trust
by political office holders. Firstly, NMEM will reach out to Nigerians via the mass media for Nigerians to articulate their aspirations/expectations through SMS to NMEM computer hub. Messages will be catalogued and presented to the political office holders of respective constituencies.
NMEM hopes this will strengthen the already established covenant between the representatives and their constituencies as already contained in their manifestos.
Although NMEM is challenged by the enormity of the project, the project hopes to identify partners who would share in this commendable intervention - to ensure good governance in Nigeria as a model of true democracy to other developing nations of the world.
For further information on the Good Governance Monitoring Project please contact:
Human Emancipation Lead Project
210 Olusegun Obasanjo Way Uyo Akwa Ibom State Nigeria Telephone: +234-8777-8051 Email: [email protected] Acknowledgements We are thankful most especially to Ken Banks of kiwanja.net for providing the technology backbone of our system, and technical assistance, free of charge.
1. BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6570919.stm
2. kiwanja.net: http://www.kiwanja.net
3. FrontlineSMS: http://www.frontlinesms.com
4. NMEM: http://www.mobilemonitors.org
5. BBC Digital Planet: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4849402.stm BBC NEWS | Technology | Texts monitor Nigerian elections http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi..
1 of 2 03/05/2007 18:57
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.