Odds Against 2019 Polls

                        

With no less than 5,000 kilometers of porous borders and shorelines, arms buildup for both insurgency and electoral intimidation, as well as an apparent unwillingness by the Federal Government to embrace technology for the electoral process, may cast doubts on the outcome of the 2019 general election, according to Sunday Independent investigations.

Though Federal Government, through its security agencies, have since assured observers of its capabilities in handling the forthcoming elections, facts on ground, backed by concerns expressed by the international community leave very little confidence in the minds of voters, especially on security and vote counting.

Our investigations further revealed that the success indices for observers in the coming polls will be determined by how well voters are secured before and after elections; safety of electoral officers from intimidation and harm, security of election materials during and after elections and the sanctity of election results from the polling centres.

Independent observers whom the newspaper spoke with in the course of its investigation express doubts given some recent developments.

“While INEC appears to have put in very much into preparing for the election, government security agencies appear to rely more on the use of brawn, physical show of force than a tactical, preventive measure,” explained an EU observer in Abuja who has been monitoring security buildup for the election.

Though the official told the newspaper that they are not yet authorised to speak to any news medium, the source added that their findings as a group will be made public at the appropriate time. Intelligence from government agencies itself corroborates this thinking.

For instance, figures from the United Nations Centre for Peace and Disarmament suggest that of the 500 million loose weapons in West Africa, 70 per cent, approximating 350 million, are in Nigeria. This is just as the Ministry of Interior has also admitted that quite a large consignment of weapons is being smuggled in from North Africa, in particular, Libya, as a consequence of the crisis in the country.

In addition to that, the insurgency in the North East, adds more to the problem. Equally In the Niger Delta, militants are supplied weapons, not only by trade-by-barter (with stolen oil), but also by politicians, in order to carry out actions against opponents. The developments are causes for worry.

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In our EU source’s estimation, there has been the expectation that INEC and security agencies would incorporate more use of geospatial technologies and ICT.

“We understand the federal government failed to sign into law ICT component that would have better safeguarded election results and that is quite unfortunate,” the EU source said.

According to the source, there is always less incentive to cause violence during and after elections when the process is transparent and greater possibility of being caught.

“Electronic transmission of election results would have allowed for better transparency in this regard,” the source added, stating that a lot of observers had expected government to also build on the 2015 approach where geospatial infrastructure where brought into election process.

In February last year, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, opened negotiation with the Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT, with a view to deploying the infrastructure for live coverage and transmission of results of the 2019 general election. The negotiation, according to INEC, was to allow it have direct access to all nooks and crannies of the country. This was because NIGCOMSAT has direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting, multimedia, video streaming and hotspot capabilities.

INEC needed an extension of satellite coverage to areas currently not covered by 3G and 4G networks (the so-called “black spots”) so that INEC can transmit election results from each polling unit nationwide irrespective of location in real time; and carry out voter education and sensitisation through electronic message display. But President Buhari’s refusal to ascent to the e-voting bill passed by the National Assembly may have put an end to all that.

Be that as it may, however, there are indications that INEC may have also ignored use of other aspects of geospatial infrastructure for election purposes, which under the former commission boss, Professor Atahiru Jega, was initiated.

In 2013, Jega initiated collaboration with National Space Research and Development Agency, NASDRA. According to the memorandum of understanding, MoU, signed by both bodies, INEC requested satellite coverage in the conduct of the 2015 and future general elections. In the agreement, NASRDA would provide high resolution imagery covering the entire country as at 2012; images showing new settlements in Nigeria; images of population density in Nigeria; locality list of Nigeria; digital terrain model of Nigeria showing among other things, road network, lowland, highland, drainage pattern, swampy areas, Niger Delta areas, arid and semi-arid areas.

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Indeed, it may well appear that stakeholders both in security and governance have so far underestimated the value of satellite infrastructure in elections, demography and security in the country. As far back as 2005, Nigeria, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, launched Nigeriasat-1. The satellite was one of the five equally spaced micro-satellites called Disaster Monitoring Constellation, DMC, meant to revolve at a sun-synchronous orbit. At the time, the constellation offered advantages over its peers because it provided daily multispectral imaging of any part of the Earth in three Landsat-equivalent colours of green, red and near infra-red. In one sweep, the satellite could do coverage of 600 kilometers.

Nigeriasat-1, though finished its life course in 2011, but the country, under Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan, replaced it with two more, Nigeriasat-2, a facility with better quality than its predecessor. It, also, simultaneously built Nigeria Satellite Experiment, otherwise known as Nigeriasat-X, both joining the fleet of constellations that the country parades in the outer space. Particularly with Nigeriasat-X, the country was able to showcase to the wide world that it has come of age as far as space technology and resource exploitation are concerned. This is because the third satellite was built solely by Nigerian scientists.

Nigeriasat-2 and Nigeriasat-X are improvements on their predecessor. For instance, where the Nigeriasat-1 could only capture images of 32 meters in size and above, Nigeriasat-2 could see images of 2.5 meters in black and white.

Nigeriasat-X can capture images not less than 22 meter and in colours. The satellite is meant to provide a bridge between Nigeriasat-1 and Nigeriasat-2. What this means, according to Ebenezer Ogunbadewa, one of the builders of Nigeriasat-X, speaking with this reporter, is that the Nigeria’s satellite project is useful in security, delineating electoral constituency among other things like agriculture, climate change, mitigation of disaster and environmental monitoring.

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With a near 5,000 kilometers of porous borders and large swaths of largely unmanned littoral (shoreline) space, satellite facilities could have come handy for the elections proper.

“The trend in security today is that you either put boots on ground or you use artificial intelligence. Nigeria has so much of its satellite resources wasting away,” explained a director at the NASDRA when asked how much of its facilities will be tasked ahead of the forthcoming election.

According to the director, decision to ignore NASDRA may just be political and not because of a lack of capacity. There are, however, talks mainly from the federal government side that the Nigeria Satellite facilities may not have clarity needed for security during election. But reacting to this claim, the NASDRA source told Sunday Independent that the agency’s satellite facilities have been put into use before in similar situation.

For instance, in the aftermath of the alleged killings in Baga, a suburb in Borno, a state under siege from Boko Haram insurgents, in 2013, the observatory satellites disproved allegations that the Nigerian army engaged in wanton killings and destruction in the sleepy town. Though a foreign satellite’s image upon which a human right organisation based its allegations at the time were produced, the images from Nigeriasat-2 showed more clarity and put the matter to rest.

Also, ever since Defense Headquarters, DHQ forays to Mali in 2013, it has relied more on the Nigerian satellites for interdiction in war against Boko Haram. Even if Nigeria Sat2 and Nigeria SatX don’t have the specification needed for the election, NASDRA’s mandate allows it to source for such images by collaboration with other satellite companies.

In the law setting up the agency tagged National Space Research and Development Agency Acts, 2010, for instance, it provided in Part Two section Six under article K that NASRDA remains the repository of all satellite data over Nigeria’s territory and accordingly, collaborations and consultations in space and data related matters in Nigeria shall be carried out or undertaken by or with the agency.

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