Biometric registration – Nigeria’s experience, Ghana’s attempt

Ghana joins fellow African countries – Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Nigeria in the use of a Biometric Voters’ Register for its general elections, when from Saturday, March 24, 2012 to May 5, 2012 the country conducts registration of an envisaged 12 million eligible voters.

And it is not for nothing that Ghana, which has since 1992 conducted successful multi-party elections with steady improvement in credibility and efficiency, opted for the biometric register.

Proffering a reason for organising a roundtable discussion on Ghana’s decision to go biometric on the heels of a similar exercise conducted by the Editors Forum, Ghana in February this year, the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), in a press release signed by its Executive Director, Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, said “Although the country is seen as a shining example of a liberal multi-party democracy in Africa, elections in Ghana have been fraught with many challenges, including a flawed voters’ register.”

“Against the backdrop of a bloated register resulting in multiple voting etc., a proposal for an entirely new register was made, leading to the decision to adopt the biometric registration system,” the release added.

According to IDEG, it is in view of the doubts raised about the process in Ghana and whether the EC will be able to complete the exercise in time for the 2012 elections, coupled with the fact that Nigeria used few days to register about 70 million for its 2011 elections using the biometric system, that it found it expedient to invite Prof. Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to Ghana.

He was primarily invited to share the experience of Nigeria in the implementation of the biometric voters’ registration system, which is largely responsible for Nigeria’s most successful election last year and also sensitise the general public on the prospects and effectiveness of the process, according to IDEG.

When he was given the podium at IDEG’s roundtable held in collaboration with the Civic Forum Initiative (CFI) with support from the European Commission, Star-Ghana and the African Capacity Building Foundation March 7, 2012, Prof. Jega began thus: “Biometric registration is an important undertaking to strengthen the electoral and democratic process – It is difficult but can be done.”

Biometric Registration in Nigeria

According to the INEC Chairman, Nigeria, which currently has a national population of about 130 million, initially projected registering 67 million eligible voters during the exercise but arrived at 73.5 million when it was all done.

He explained that the figure shot up because they were using an estimated population figure, while the entire exercise cost the nation 87 billion Naira.

Also, in view of the large numbers that were registered, an initial estimated time of 14 days for the exercise had to be extended as the process wore on, bringing the time used to 23 days.

Prof. Jega divulged that the INEC procured 100,000 data capturing equipment for the approximately 120,000 polling stations across the country.

Although an average time of seven minutes was envisaged for registering a person as experienced during the pilot, 45 minutes to one hour was used at certain places during the exercise in view of a serious challenge they faced in using the software, but they realised the average time had dropped to under five minutes by the third week, he said.

Touching on personnel for the exercise, he said 400,000 ad-hoc or temporary staff were deployed in addition to the 12,000 permanent INEC staff.

The INEC Chairman also revealed that the software used for the exercise was developed locally by five young Nigerian men and women free of charge, despite the fact that all the experts and development partners whose opinions were sought before its use said it would not work.

He added that its use however, curtailed any hiccups that may have occurred with the vendor’s software, such as having to pay huge sums each step of the way when they encountered difficulties, as happened during a civic registration exercise held earlier in Nigeria.

He thus urged the Ghana EC to “Use young men and women locally who are IT savvy” for its process.

Challenges

In spite of the appreciable success, the INEC chalked with the biometric registration, Prof. Jega said one of the huge challenges Nigeria had to grapple with, was convincing various stakeholders including traditional authorities and civil society to mobilise people, to buy into the process and participate.

While some had more trust in technology, others trusted in human agencies for various reasons, he added, stressing, “Politicians would prefer in most cases, to be able to exploit whatever is exploitable in the electoral process and the one that can be easily exploited, is a voters register that cannot be strictly verified”.

Funding for the methodology they chose was also a hurdle to clear, he indicated, saying they realised that for the registration alone, they needed about 75 billion Naira to procure the equipment, train the ad-hoc staff, to place announcements, move equipment and so on.

Determination of the right equipment to procure for the exercise and ensuring a very transparent process of procurement, when they decided to go on with it, there were other challenges the INEC had to surmount, as well as establishing data bases in all 26 federal states of Nigeria for the process in view of the huge size of Nigeria and consequently logistics that were needed, he said.

“The huge logistic operation was in fact a huge nightmare because anything could go wrong,” Prof. Jega stated.

In some cases there was underestimation of logistics and personnel that were needed at certain areas which the INEC had to grapple with, he said.

“Even training of the officials was another serious issue, because unless training is well done, then there will be serious challenges in terms of how the equipment is deployed, and how the registration time is managed.”

Internet connectivity from all federal states to the national data base is however now being considered for the next exercise, as there was no provision for that during last year’s exercise, he revealed.

Lessons Learned

While commending Ghana for opting for biometric registration and expressing his belief that the country’s Electoral Commission will pull through the exercise in view of its immense experience, Prof. Jega outlined some lessons Nigeria had learned after their registration exercise last year.

Firstly, he said, “Decide for yourself what you want to do and once you have decided, stick with it.” “Adapt technology, use simple technology, extensive voter education is very important, develop partnerships with credible civil organisations, pilot the process and test it, be transparent through and through,” he added.

He also stated that “Biometric voter registration cannot be questioned – it is very important and better than manual registration.”

The Biometric Registration Process in Ghana

This statement was upheld by Ghana’s Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, when he took his turn at the roundtable held under the topic, “Biometric Voters’ Registration and Verification System in West Africa: Nigeria’s Experience, Ghana’s Perspective”.

His opening statement was that “Biometric registration is a positive but expensive process.” Stating the main difference between the Nigerian experience and Ghana’s endeavour was a matter of scale, he intimated that whereas Nigeria deployed 400,000 ad-hoc staff for the exercise, Ghana will be using 43,000 non permanent staff throughout the exercise.

Further, instead of the 23 days used by Nigeria for the registration exercise, Ghana plans using 40 days, whereas it envisages registering not more than 12 million eligible voters from a national population of approximately 24 million – Nigeria registered 73.5 million out of a national population of about 130 million as stated earlier.

In terms of cost too, Ghana’s Electoral Commission estimates it will use GH¢148,942,378.00Gp (GH¢148.9 million) for the biometric registration and use GH¢7,477,966Gp (GH¢7.4 million) for exhibition, while the presidential and parliamentary elections are estimated to cost GH¢87,106,902Gp (GH¢87.1 million).

Equipment to be used for the registration will also number 7,000 for the country’s 23,000 centres, while the INEC procured 100,000 data capturing equipment for the approximately 120,000 polling stations across the country in view of the short time they had at their disposal.

Aside the registration equipment, Ghana is procuring identification or verification equipment estimated to cost about $30 million for 23,000 units and about 7,000 backup units, which will be used on voting day, Dr. Afari-Gyan disclosed.

Nigeria however, did not do biometric verification on voting day, which takes Ghana’s process ahead of Nigeria’s as far as biometrics is concerned.

Ghana’s EC Chair also stated that the issue of double registration now belongs to the past, as the system allows for consistent verification of voters registered each day and anyone who tries to register even at two registration centres under different names, will be found out instantly and prosecuted.

This is made possible by the fact that all the centres are hooked to the central data base at the Electoral Commission’s headquarters. This could not be done by Nigeria because their 26 Federal data bases were not hooked up with their central base in Abuja (this is a feature now being pursued).

Outcome of Ghana’s Pilot

Dr. Afari-Gyan, said based on the success of the pilot in certain areas of the country, the EC was optimistic that an average of between 100 to 120 persons would be registered daily at registration (polling) centres across the country, when the exercise gets underway, adding that it may be more at some centres.

Although largely successful, the EC Chair enumerated some of the challenges that were encountered during the pilot. He said it had been observed that capturing fingerprints could be a basis for delays, since it is dependent on a person’s nature of work.

Some observations he said was that those with course or greasy palms as well as wrong positioning of persons registering made them spend more time having fingerprints captured by the device.

“Some people by the nature of the work they do, have lost the fine line on the fingers and is very difficult to capture,” he said.

In view of this, he said it had been decided that the fingerprint slab of the equipment will be cleaned after every five people have been registered, while water and wipes will be made available for cleaning of fingers and registering officials told to pay particular attention to positioning of persons registering.

According to the EC Chairman, it was also observed that prevailing weather conditions at a place have some effect on the biometric equipment, while when new batteries are installed, the equipment takes time to respond.

“Batteries left in the equipment for a long time also affects its functioning” he said, revealing that during the pilot at Ellembele in the Western Region, the equipment froze and had to be replaced after only 28 people had been registered.

Ghana’s first biometric registration exercise is now just about a week away and the EC says it is ready and envisages a successful process.

Other panellists at the roundtable which attracted participants from academia, the media, civil society, religious organisations and political parties were Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Director, Centre for Democratic Development (CDD)-West Africa, Nigeria and Mr. Kwesi Jonah, Senior Research Fellow, IDEG, while Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director, IDEG chaired the discussion.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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