SMS ELECTION MONITORING IN NIGERIA
The Election Monitoring Report compiled by the Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM) on the Nigerian presidential elections held on 21 April 2007.
The idea of using mobile phones to monitor elections was developed by NMEM. We are proud to announce to the world that is was extremely successful. We also recommend that other organisations and countries study our project, and plan to use it in their own future elections.
The primary goal of the project was to use technology to give the ordinary citizen an opportunity to tell the world what really happened in their area on election day.
The spread and reach of mobile telephony in Nigeria is mind boggling: in the last four years more than 30,000,000 Nigerians have become mobile phone users.
Traditionally Eeection observers and monitors deemed credible are often foreign diplomats, bureaucrats and professionals who are sent to visit as many polling stations as they can and inform the world of their impression of the polls.
Their effectiveness is limited to the number of places they can visit in a just one day: in a country as vast as Nigeria with a land mass of 925,000 square kilometres and a population of 140,000,000; without maps or road signs to use in navigation, these foreign observers often limit their activities to Abuja, the capital, Lagos and a few major state capitals. Places like the Niger Delta with its reputation for violence and kidnapping of foreigners are no-go areas.
Most election observers especially in Africa are very conspicuous with their UN or EU branded 4-wheel drive jeeps, 'branded' t-shirts with 'observers' boldly printed on it and large ID tags around their necks.
This is often necessary for security reasons which allows them to move around freely on election day where movement is often restricted. This, however, reduces their effectiveness as people are prone to act properly when they know they are being watched, especially by foreigners.
This is why we decided to use ordinary citizens of Nigeria, all voters themselves to report back to our SMS hub on what really happened on election day from their own polling stations. The use of ordinary Nigerians to observe and report on the election, we believe, encourages participation by people that would be apathetic as well as provide timely, accurate and impartial information on the conduct of the elections.
It is ultimately the same ordinary citizens who validate the credibility and legitimacy of the eventual electoral outcome. Our monitoring is peculiar because people knew that if they try to rig the election there could be someone behind them that may send a text message reporting the incident.
The Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM) is organised by the Human Emancipation Lead Project (HELP) Foundation. With the assistance of Professionals for Humanity (PROFOH), another Nigerian NGO, the network started out with 54 associates resident in each of the 36 states of the country, and Abuja.
These associates were trained to recruit volunteers from their states and instruct them to forward our SMS text invitation to as many people as possible to create a nationwide spread.