Connecting Digital Networks to strengthen electoral processes: A NEW SIGN OF HOPE

Guest post by Oludotun Babayemi. He is the Co-Founder of Connected Development [CODE]. He spends most time using data to tell stories of marginalized communities while building capacity of CSOs, media & government ministries, department and agencies on the importance of open data and how to effectively use data for maximum impact. He tweets via @dotunbabayemi
On March 28 and April 11 2015, the Nigerian citizens went to the polls to elect their president and members of the national assembly (in a national elections) and state governors and their state assembly representatives (in a state elections). Amidst tension and anxiety over the polls due to insecurity in the north eastern part of the country, and incessant hate speech that characterized the pre – election atmosphere of the country, some activists and several non-government organizations developed several initiatives that will encourage a peaceful, free and fair pre, during and post election era.
Connected Development [CODE], which has an election observer status, as accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission, with support from Indigo Trust UK, developed an Ushahidi based crowdmap called “Uzabe” (Zabe pronunciation means “Vote” in Hausa Language), that would help security agencies in the country, collect real time information from election observers in 31 states in order to respond to emergencies, and further share these information amongst security operatives. This was a huge task, as CODE became an intermediary between an “untrusted” institution and citizens that do not trust the government.
CODE planned to use 1,076 observers reporting from 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to report to Uzabe and other closed platforms via Short Message Services (SMS) and Whatsapp. Reports from these observers were handled in a situation room that housed information managers of security and intelligence agencies such as the Navy, Air Force, Army, and the Defence Intelligence Agency who forwarded information to respective Nigeria Police heads and the National Emergency Management Agency.

Training of security and intelligence officers in the general situation roomTraining of security and intelligence officers in the general situation room

Reports from the platform were also shared during the elections, on partner radio stations such as Wazobia FM, Nigeria Info FM, Nigeria Television Authority, and an online news agency – Premium Times. Members of each of these agencies were also present in the situation room.
Preparing for the elections
We developed an election observer guideline with a code of conduct, and recruited observers online (via our trusted groups and organization network), and a dedicated Whatsapp group was created for each state. We developed a workflow, a reporting guide for observers, and a reporting checklist for observers.Trainings were conducted with observers in all the states via SMS, Google docs, Email and the Whatsapp group. 100% of our observers uses and reads their SMS, 98% of them are using Whatsapp, 70% of them reads their email on time. We had a week long training for the security agencies on how to report on the platform and how to create geo – referenced reports from the platform.

The Uzabe local Back end team in Abuja, during the test deployment on March 14, 2015The Uzabe local Back end team in Abuja, during the test deployment on March 14, 2015

On March 14, 2015, we had a test deployment to ascertain how Uzabe and SMSSync would cope with incoming messages and several users. This allowed us to estimate the amount of time that would be taken to process information from entry into the platform to its approval, and to also test the robustness of the platform.
Managing reports during the elections
Creating reports from 1,076 sources (via Whatsapp and SMS) in real time would have been an herculean task. However, with the expertise of 105 trained “Digital Jedis” from 22 countries (including experts from the Ushahidi Team, Stand By Task Force (SBTF), Peace Geeks, and Info4Disasters), with coordination done via Skype groups, we were able to create 346 reports from 468 SMS and Whatsapp messages during the March 28 national elections and 298 reports from 294 SMS messages and Whatsapp messages during the April 11 state elections. The platform was kept running around the clock, with volunteers in different parts of the world.
 

Statistics showing number of reports from categories during the national elections on March 28Statistics showing number of reports from categories during the national elections on March 28

Two mirrored open platforms (made available to the public) were created: One for the national elections and the other for the state election, with a restricted platform directly used by security agencies in the country, and dedicated to some particular set of observers.
In the national elections, 346 reports showed the elections were largely peaceful as 138 of the reports stated everything was fine, while 33 security issues were reported. Smart card reader issues reported  during the national elections were 55, while during the state elections were 11. For urgent issues that needed quick security or humanitarian emergencies, messages were copied into the coordinating platform of security agencies for quick attention.

Statistics showing number of reports from categories during the state elections on April 11Statistics showing number of reports from categories during the state elections on April 11

 In the state elections 298 reports showed that the elections went well, and there were reports of low turnout of voters,and security issues were 57 (which included civilian violence, intimidation and harassment, attacks, and gunshots) reported from places like Abia, Rivers, Lagos, Zamfara and Imo. During the state elections, between April 8 and 15, 2015, interim reports curated had 2,884 users and a page view of 4,377 from organizations and individuals in 59 countries.
“Uzabe made our situation room become a beehive of real time information as head of the Nigeria Navy, the Nigeria Defence Headquarters, and the Nigeria Army, and other intelligent agencies all congregated to feed from the system, and we hope we can collaborate more on other deployment” said Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Unokhua.
“It is noteworthy that your team, with the help of Uzabe, can give us reports from 16 states of the country, while we have only gotten 3 reports from our reporters in 2 states, and we just only 6 hours from the opening of polls” – Willie Willie of Wazobia FM Abuja responding to our real time report on radio during the deployment.