Being a speech by Chude Jideonwo for the UNDP’s conference on ‘promoting Credible Elections in Nigeria’ as chairman of the panel on ‘Addressing the Limitations of ICT in Elections’ on 5 March, 2013 in Abuja, Nigeria
Technology is certainly the most significant component of our lives today – not just ICT, but other kinds of technologies across the field, from space to bio to industrial.
But ICT is the all-conquering superhero – it’s the one that has changed the world more radically, more actively, on a daily basis.
And because of this, it has been positioned as the solution to all of the world’s problems – from hunger to war, bad music to bad governance. If you listen to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and his band of innovators, connectivity is the world’s most urgent imperative.
Is this the reality? Does technology have a limitless capacity to solve the world’s most complex, most urgent problems, in this case the recurring decimal of incredible elections in Nigeria?
Like global warming, ICT has become, to forgive the pun, a force of nature. If you do not glorify and then bring sacrifices to the alter of this new god, you are dismissed as disconnected from reality, an enemy of progress — corrupt, even. I mean, ICT has come here to change the world, to shine the light into darkness. If you are not the Devil, why are you afraid of light?!
The multiplicity of experts in a field with a low bar of entry makes it even more difficult to speak honestly and question forthrightly what value ICT brings in specific scenarios, in this case – reducing election malpractice and promoting transparent processes. Where every person, at least in urban centers, has access to a mobile phone, a social media account, and at the end of the line, a computer, how do you draw the line between what is productive and what is not?
Prof Ibeano of the Independent National Electoral Commission, who spoke yesterday, apparently has found a compass for that problem: We will not leave ICT to ICT professionals alone, he said, but we will not leave ICT professionals alone.
I found it a pretty remarkable statement. It says plenty – it speaks to potential disconnect from reality by those who want to wield ICT like that man whose only tool is a hammer, it speaks to a palpable arrogance by those who will not engage peculiar problems with customised solutions, it also focuses on the proliferation of participants in a space that often requires expertise.
Indeed, when some express frustration at the ubiquity of ICT advocacy, I tell them that I understand. I play in the field. I am a media entrepreneur and we run technology and technology-based startups, and yes our platform, YNaija.fo, repeated that salacious piece of news – ‘a bowl of rice registered for elections!’, a charge that reverberated across social media.
I tell them that when two or three Nigerians are gathered, there is a cabal. If the cabal is on a roll with success positioning ICT as a solution for all problems, then it will require the host of heaven to change that reality.
But of course, there are limits. There are limits to what Ushahidi, ReclaimNaija, even our own ReVoda at EnoughisEnough Nigeria can and have achieved. There are cultural, sociological, financial and other factors that limit their capacity, their success, their ability to scale, the essence of their existence in the first place.
Will human behavior be fundamentally altered because newspapers have shifted from print to online, because office gossip has moved from the restaurant to Twitter or because election monitoring now has a few more phones attached? No.
I dare say like print media, electronic platforms and every other fundamental leap over the centuries, ICT is collectively only a new way to view the world and to solve its problems. Even the death of Jesus Christ didn’t save the entire world, after all.
Therefore we have the responsibility to ensure that our clamour for technology is not being used to paper over more systematic deficiencies, that take time, good governance and the will of both government and populace to overcome. It doesn’t matters not if you have the best e-voting system in the world when men with deep pockets can change the course of an election.
Societies have held credible elections WITHOUT the wonders of technology we must remember. So we should be casting our net wide when it comes to this – and any – subject; looking for methods within and beyond these technologies.
And the panelists here, I suppose, I hope, are here to give this reality check. One that is sorely needed as the country continues to embrace new methods, new tools, new systems, new realities.
Today’s discussion around the limitation of ICT for credible elections is not a wet blanket over the immense potential that it has and how it has solidly engaged a new generation and enabled more advancement than even before.
Rather it is a discussion that should help us do better, be better and engage problems with an eye on solving them, not just to be seen as solving them.
It is one more stop in the continuing war against the single solution syndrome.