NEWSDAILYNIGERIA: In the life of a nation, especially in the third world, some strange occurrences occasionally take the centre stage to the anxiety of the people. No one is usually able to dissuade everyone from superstition during such periods especially because the occurrences are felt across board in the relevant community. From history, we know for example, that a short period after the annulment of the famous June 12, 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria, two major leaders associated with the development died suddenly. The two leaders, General Sani Abacha, who was then Head of State and Chief Moshood Abiola from whom the electoral victory was snatched, reportedly died within the space of one-month in 1998. Their dissimilar deaths were attributed to what was called cardiac arrest.

Not many believed the story. Indeed, there were people who imagined that those in government who announced the cause of the death of both leaders did not themselves believe in what they told the rest of us. This was worsened by a report credited to Hamza Al-Mustapha, who served as Chief Security Officer to late General Abacha that it was what killed his late boss that killed Chief Abiola. The sad conclusion till today is that it was an era of cardiac arrest which health sector workers see as a normal and critical health challenge. But to the layman in Nigeria cardiac arrest was the era’s way of explaining something off. This happens quite often in the country in several service areas where some inexplicable occurrences are attributed to what the rest of us cannot verify. The unending ‘due operational reasons’ in our air transportation system which is hardly ever at play in other climes is a good example.

An important narrative of the cardiac arrest stories is that they quite often concern notable political leaders. When foremost governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha died in 2015, the explanation that it was due to cardiac arrest was doubted by some of our common friends. Perhaps, there is ample sense after all in discouraging the use of terms that the ordinary person impulsively disbelieves. It is in fact more critical when it concerns technology that works like magic. The 2019 presidential election in Nigeria for instance, was believed in several circles to have been won by Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). All efforts to technically verify the results failed because it was not in the interest of the ruling party to continue the search beyond the official statement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

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Many Nigerians still believe that the INEC server would have given a better record of the transactions but lawyers of the ruling party held on to a claim that INEC did not have a server. As is usual when explaining things off, no one was able to convince many that INEC truly had no server. In any case, there were reports that the electoral body’s budget which was approved and fully released included the procurement of a server. References were made to the fact that INEC did not only acquire a server, it appointed and trained operators on it. There was even an official plan that the commission would have two collation officers, one for manual and the other for digital thereby suggesting that there was indeed, a server.

As in the cardiac arrest story, several versions would suddenly emerge to completely confuse human understanding of the issues at stake. The ruling party at a point accused the PDP of having hacked the INEC server without recognising the irrationality of hacking a server that it had claimed to be non-existent.  So, some analysts came to the conclusion that there was a server which was probably yet to be put in use. The implication of the narrative is that except utmost care is taken, it would be very easy for Nigeria to fall into the era of fake technology. Against the backdrop of an exceedingly desperate political class, new technologies which have become the redeeming feature of society; helping developed nations to attain global heights may only be used for mischief in Nigeria

Unfortunately, this has just happened during the recently concluded presidential election of February 25, 2023 in which an inexplicable technical hitch divided Nigeria into two. Incidentally, there were other elections held simultaneously with that of the presidential but which escaped the smart edges of technical failure. With the results of the senatorial as well as that of House of Representatives elections remaining technically clean, people are left to suspect that the glitches which occurred during the general elections may have been directional to only the presidential election. However, INEC appears certain that its failure to upload the results was due to technical glitches and not any form of sabotage or cyberattack.

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According to its official spokesperson, Festus Okoye, INEC’s system especially its result viewing portal more technically called the IReV portal ‘remained well-secured with no evidence of intrusions.’ For some time to come, the term technical glitches would be used to explain things off because of the complication introduced to it by Lai Mohammed, the immediate past Nigerian Information Minister. While in Washington to engage with international media organizations in the United States, Lai reportedly said that INEC’s decision to withhold the upload of results during the election was because of a suspected cyberattack. Although he as usual claimed to have been misquoted, delving into the subject of technical glitches was uncalled for because the electoral body is an independent entity that could better speak for itself.

Evidence that public perception of technical glitches had already turned the term into an inexplicable phenomenon emerged when the office of the Accountant General of the federation (OAGF) used the same term to explain its inability to pay salaries of several workers for the month of June 2023. The OAGF’s director of press, Bawa Mokwa was reported to have said that the problem was caused by technical issues with the government’s Integrated Financial Management System. To the workers who have become stranded over no salary, technical terms may neither be believed nor useful. Rather, many will continue to see it as an extension of the INEC technical glitches to them, notwithstanding the absence of any links between them and the election portal.

It is not only workers without pay that may have embraced a fixated mind set that Nigerian organizations cherish the use of technology to explain off issues; many students, parents and other groups interested in the work of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), were already warming up. The controversy concerned a young Nigerian student Joy Mmesoma Ejikeme whose JAMB score had been declared to be fake by the foremost exam body. Many critics who never get details of issues before jumping to conclusion on them were already condemning JAMB. But those who have followed the outstanding transformation of JAMB since Professor Ishaq Oloyede became its Chief Executive in 2016 must have had no doubt that JAMB’s integrity is not easy to successfully attack.

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On May 10, 2019, this column’s article of the week titled “INEC should emulate JAMB’s Ishaq Oloyede” was perhaps seen as mere praise singing. But through investigative journalism it was easy to see that Oloyede had his eyes on the verdict of history. As at that time, he had built up JAMB’s technical integrity to know the following as they happen: 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 correct and exact location of the registration centre. Without repeating the details of Ejikeme’s case because of the age of the girl, JAMB’s transparent handling instructively establishes that the only solution to irregularities in human affairs is the adoption of technology that is subjected to constant updating.

The stories of the last 6 months in Nigeria show clearly that the country has entered the era of technicalities. Organizations which do not fall in line will suddenly find that whereas technical glitches can be used to explain off their challenges, nothing would wipe off their basic failures from the immutable record in human memories. The National Population Commission (NPC), that is gearing up for the coming national population and housing census would have no excuse if like others in the past, fail to heed caution.

July 09, 2023 


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