Friday, April 15, 2011

Nigerian activist groups use mapping and mobile technology to prevent electoral fraud

Story by Nmachi Jidenma

Nigeria’s parliamentary elections officially kicked off on Saturday, April 9 marking the country’s fourth election since its return from military rule to democratic rule in 1999.

Historically, Nigerian elections have been notorious for being marred by violence and electoral fraud. However, this year, a group of young Nigerians and civic advocacy organizations have come together to help solve this problem by using mobile technology and crowdsourcing tools to monitor the elections for fraud and other electoral irregularities.

One of such technologies is a portal called Reclaim Naija. Reclaim Naija is powered using award winning Kenyan crowdsourcing platform, Ushahidi. The portal allows Nigerians to submit reports about the voting exercise ranging from incidences of electoral malpractice to violence via their mobile phones and the web. The reports are then visually displayed on a map on the website, giving a visual display of citizen electoral reports around the country.

Another electoral monitoring tool that has been deployed for the elections is an application called Revoda. Revoda is a mobile application that enables Nigerians to report as independent citizen observers from their respective polling units across Nigeria. The mobile app works with both smart phones and feature phones and plans to tap into Nigeria’s high mobile phone subscriber base. Currently, there are over 80 million Nigerians with mobile phones, a number that represents an over 50% mobile phone subscriber rate. There is thus a tremendous opportunity for mobile apps such as Revoda to empower Nigerians with access to mobile phones so as to ensure a free and fair electoral process.

According to Gbenga Sesan, one of the Nigerian youth activists behind Revoda, “the use of Revoda during the 2011 elections will showcase the power of popular participation. Revoda connects voters to the entire process and makes it fun – especially for young voters who are avid technology users. Revoda provides untrained citizens with a medium through which they can share their objective and subjective election experiences.” In addition, media houses such as NEXT Newspapers, a leading Nigerian news service whose Founder was listed as one of Fast Company’s 100 most creative people in business in 2009, recently also launched an electoral reporting portal that accepts voter reports via mobile phones and the web.

So far, over 6,000 Nigerians have downloaded the Revoda app and Reclaim Naija has recorded over 6,000 electoral reports from Nigerians. These numbers are expected to increase considerably during the  Presidential elections coming up this Saturday.

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