Seven days after we put our names down in a hard cover notebook in a village close to our estate, my wife and I finally got to register for the 2011 General Elections. Even though we are to collect the actual cards sometime within the next few days, I think I should share my experience.
Our journey started a week ago (Friday) when we both closed early from work (2pm) and drove back in the direction of our home with the dream of getting registered by sundown. On getting there, we were asked to join the paper queue by putting our names down on a list which forecasted that we would be attended to on Tuesday. To be attended to on Tuesday, the guardian of the list told us we would have to show up at 8am on Monday to get tally numbers against Tuesday. There went our dream of getting registered same day.
On Monday morning, we were there and after 9am we learnt that there were some issues which meant there was still a huge backlog and we had to return on Tuesday evening to receive tally numbers. Tuesday afternoon came and again after plenty of shoving and noisemaking, we were asked to come back on Wednesday morning. Eventually on Wednesday sometime before noon, we received our tallies (41 and 43) and then we had to keep coming from town intermittently to monitor the progress of our registration line.
Due to equipment failure and queue jumping by people who refused to do things the orderly way, we did not get to register until Friday at sometime past 10am. I looked out for the famed “direct data capture machines” but all I saw was one INEC-branded Haier laptop, a desk camera, a fingerprint scanner, and a deskjet printer.
The process could easily have been made more efficient and I’ll just list my observations for the sake of posterity as process optimization is something we seem to take very lightly in Nigeria.
The registration officer was not trained to work efficiently.
He did not lay out his desk in such a way that he could place the pieces of paper on which we had written our details on the desk while typing faster with both hands. Rather, he held the paper in the left hand and picked at individual keys on the keyboard with the middle finger of his right hand while looking down at the paper after each keystroke. This alone cost at least an extra minute for each registration.
2. INEC’s enlightenment campaign did not fully tell people what data was required. If everyone knew that x, y and z personal details were required, more people would have written that information down before getting to the registration officer to make the process faster.
I am almost certain that less than half of those who possess National ID cards have that information entered against their voter information simply because they were not aware it could be useful and did not bring them along. Another precious couple of seconds wasted asking “Do you have your National ID with you?” and the opportunity to cross-match National Identification lost in most cases.
3. The equipment was not as efficient as could be. “Crashing” (whatever that means) which happened several times at our registration centre was a problem even though residents had donated a standing fan for the purpose of keeping the computer cool.
* An external mouse should have been supplied to the Registration Officer since navigation with the touchpad of a laptop is known to be slow.
* An ordinary laptop should not have been the equipment of choice as more time could have been saved with a touchscreen tablet computer with the operating system stripped down to run just the basics necessary for the registration application.
All in all, it has been an experience with more miles added to our vehicle and several gallons of fuel burnt up while waiting with the engine running for the sake of our little baby who wouldn’t have managed the heat and dust so well. We found out later that we could have played the nursing mother’s card to get my wife registered earlier but I’m not sure it would have saved us more than one day of waiting.
I must however commend the entire registration team from the Registration Officer to the Immigrations, Police and NSCDC Officers who were mostly polite and calm even under heavy pressure from queue-jumping traditional rulers and the electorate who had run out of patience after several days of waiting, lost revenue, and possibly looming queries at work.