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Quick Count And The Heroes Of March 28


Inside Swiftcount

TMG Data Clerks at the Quick Count National Information Centre in Trancorp Hilton, Abuja

There comes a time in the life of a nation where it must willingly decide to turn the curve. At such historic junctures, a people are left with the choice of either rising to Olympian heights or going down the abyss.

Epochal moments like these demand of a people the need to rise above their limitations and aspire for higher ideals. If a people eventually heed this call on the side of nobler things, they would have put themselves on the road to greatness.

Going by the facts of what transpired on March 28, 2015, Nigerians have just shown a hunger to travel on the road to greatness. It is not about which candidate won or lost in the partisan arena, in a tough presidential contest.

The results of this historic elections and the rare statesmanship that trailed it, signposts the beginning of great things for Nigeria’s democracy.

So as Nigerians continue to celebrate the milestone and the triumph of March 28, 2015, it may not be out of place to begin an assessment of the roles played by various stakeholders.

In a country struggling to identify its heroes, especially on the national stage, the last one week has triggered the greatness that underlies the Nigerian spirit. In this collective victory, there are those who ensured Nigeria’s claim to being the giant of the African continent is no longer a manifest destiny embedded in rhetoric.

First in the line of tributes are the Nigerian voters who braved the odds to get their voices heard through the ballot box. For hours, they stood in the long queues and braved the elements including a scorching sun and in some cases took the beating from the rain.

The next hero is the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega. His calm resolve to get Nigeria through this delicate point stood out.

Even in situations that could have derailed the process, the INEC Chair used his man management acumen to get things under control.

Then comes the incumbent, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whose decision to put the nation first has already engraved his name in a special way in the annals of our nation’s history.

The courageous display of statesmanship will remain an important talking point in Nigeria’s democratic evolution. The winner of the elections, General Muhammadu Buhari’s message of reconciliation and togetherness in the face of the lacerations of electoral competition, is instructive. More than ever before, this is the point for Nigeria to apply the balm, and galvanize its people for the task ahead. The President-Elect’s steps in this direction is commendable.

However, while there are the easily recognizable heroes, whose roles the world can easily pin point and connect with, there are those behind the scenes whose efforts would have to be brought to the fore, lest we forget the importance of their contributions to Nigeria’s finest hour. In this category are the thousands of election observers who braved the odds to keep an eye on the process.

One of the civil society groups, which deployed observers for the 2015 presidential election, is the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 460 civil society organisations in Nigeria. As the nation’s premier citizen election observer group, TMG decided to deploy the globally tested Quick Count methodology to observe the presidential election.

Quick Count, an advanced observation methodology, employs well-established statistical principles and sophisticated information technology in verifying accuracy of election results. Quick Counts, also known as Parallel Vote Tabulations (PVTs), provide the most timely and accurate information on the conduct of voting and counting and is the only observation methodology that can independently verify the accuracy of official election results.

TMG undertook the Quick Count to provide voters, candidates, political parties, and INEC with independent information about whether the official results for the presidential election truly reflect the ballots cast at polling units.

Nigeria’s foremost civil society organisation had pointed out in its preliminary press conference that if the official  results  fall  within TMG’s   estimated range then the public, political parties and candidates should have confidence that the  official  results  reflect  the ballots  cast  at  polling  units. “If the official results don’t reflect the   ballots cast, TMG will expose it,” the statement had read.

With around 4000 citizen observers deployed to the representative random sample of polling units, there was a need for an information centre for receiving observer reports via coded text messages. The TMG Quick Count National Information Centre (NIC) was located at the Lagos-Osun Hall, Transcorp Hilton in Abuja. Throughout the week of the election, the NIC was a beehive of activities.

Young Nigerians who had volunteered to work as data clerks caught the attention of visitors at the Hilton on account of their bright purple vests with the pay off line; “let the votes count,” written on them. Working in groups divided according to Nigeria’s six geo political zones, plus a different desk for critical incidents, the Quick Count data clerks at the NIC were in constant touch with the 4000 observers on the field.

Their work was coordinated by TMG’s six Zonal Programme Officers (ZPOs). The field observers sent their answers to a checklist of questions about the electoral process via coded text messages.

As such, at different times on Election Day, the TMG Quick Count data centre had important information to share with the media, stakeholders and the public via social media. For example, the data collected showed that as at 7:30am on Election Day 43 percent of officials at polling units nationwide had arrived for the business of day.

This important piece of information was also shared with the INEC such that it could rev up the movement of polling officials who were yet to arrive. Similarly, the next crucial update came at 11:30am when Quick Count observers reported that 68 percent of polling units had opened nationwide. One other crucial report on Election Day had to do with the card readers.

At 91 percent of polling units across the electoral terrain, TMG observers found that there were card readers available. Knowing that accurate information about how the electoral process was unfolding would be critical to the credibility of the elections, local and international media made the TMG data centre their home on Election Day.

The TMG NIC also played host to key figures in the diplomatic community, who did not hide their desire to see Nigeria go through a smooth transition.

With a mixture of anxiety and hope in their eyes, they visited the TMG Quick Count data centre in their numbers to have insights into how things were going.

Among those who visited include; the head of the United States delegation and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James F. Entwistle, the United Kingdom’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Poccock, and the UN Under Secretary General for West Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambers.

Others are former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jonnie Carson, Project Director, UNDP Democratic Governance Project, Moutarda Deme, Chairman National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Reene Sanders, among many others.

On hand to receive the guests and show them around the Quick Count National Information Centre was the TMG Quick Count Working Group team led by Chairman, Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi and the members of the Executive Committee. To answer technical questions about the Quick Count, were Project Manager, Lazarus Apir, Training Manager, Paul James and yours sincerely.

Technical support was provided by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Regional Director for West Africa, Chris Famunyo was fully on ground. NDI’s Elections Advisor, Richard Klein gave verve and technical direction to the project.

The winner of the elections, General Muhammadu Buhari’s message of reconciliation and togetherness in the face of the lacerations of electoral competition, is instructive. More than ever before, this is the point for Nigeria to apply the balm, and galvanize its people for the task ahead. The President-Elect’s steps in this direction is commendable.

He was supported by Phil Brondyke, Christine Schoellhorn, Mercy Njoroge, Francis Madugu, and Bem Aga. TMG’s Quick Count successfully verified the outcome of the elections as announced by INEC. Although the TMG Quick Count Verification Statement found that the overall outcomes reflected the ballot cast, it nonetheless flag some grey areas in the collation process, which INEC would have to study.

Specifically, while the pattern of results in the rest of the country fell within the Quick Count estimates, the South South did not. In the light of the governorship elections of April 11, realities like the South South scenario as spotlighted would have to be avoided for the goal of credible polls to be achieved.

In the end, as soon as INEC declared the results, and Nigerians began jubilating, all personnel that had worked so assiduously for over one year to make the project a success also celebrated the triumph of democracy.

To these men and women who had to give up many nights of sleep to help get the voices of the Nigerian people heard through the electoral process, their avowed mission to “let the votes count,” has been accomplished.

They too are heroes of Nigeria’s democracy. Ajanaku is Media Manager of TMG, a coalition of 460 civil society groups that deployed the Quick Count to observe the Presidential Elections of March 28.

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