Sam Omatseye: Who is afraid of INEC Card Readers?

by Sam Omatseye

jega-inecMan makes machine. Man fears machine. The creature becomes god to its maker. The fear of automaton makes us cowards of progress.

That is the irony of the card reader. Some politicians, especially of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the other parties that have not even published an ad nor afforded a rally, have rejected the device. They remonstrated before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) demonstrated it. Even when its test showed that it worked for most part, they would none of it.

The PDP hierarchy, including the governors that visited Lagos last week, is living a lie. Humans inhabit their own illusions and can deny the evidence before their own eyes. “The mind is its own place,” wrote poet John Milton in Paradise Lost. “It can make heaven of hell and hell of heaven.”

They complain that some cards were rejected at the tests. Of course, that happened. Reports attributed it to potential voters’ hands that were slimy or oily or muddy, and what that calls for is voter education. Come to the voting booth not only with clean hearts but also with clean hands. Cloned cards were uncovered, evidence of experimenting by some fraudsters. The lag time was a factor, too. Some people felt it took too long for the machine to authenticate some potential voters.

We expect INEC to improve its work, and that’s the point of the test. For those not happy that it might take a lot longer on the polling day, I ask patience. Better to spend a day and elect the right person than to go quickly into perdition by rigging into office a phony for four years.

The machine does not rig. People do. It does not know PDP or APC. Why not let the card reader rather than people determine who wins and who loses! Who is afraid of accuracy?

Some balk at the machine because they think they will lose. When the PDP complained about the percentage of PVCs distributed, they were hypocrites. Ekiti polls PVC distribution was less than 40 per cent, but they never kicked up any dust over it. Now they know the power of card readers, and they are bubbling with fear.

Is it not the same government that glowed over its technology savvy when it introduced cashless banking, and e-financing on the official level?

What the PDP is doing has so many instances in the past. Humans who loathe progress resist technology. The name given them is Luddites. These were English men in early 19th century who protested the birth of new machines in the textile industry because they replaced jobs. The PDP men are the Luddites of the 21st century. They fear they will lose their jobs.

In spite of the Luddites, the textile industry used the machines, and the world saw progress. More jobs leaped out of the new technology, but they were new jobs that required new skills. Such hugely transformative works are called disruptive technologies. We have them in the offing now, and the next 50 years will be different just like the last 50 years. The womb promises such geniuses as fusion, robotics, genomics, etc. Where was Steve Jobs 50 years ago, or cable television, or wireless phone? Did we at independence contemplate companies like MTN, GLO, Etisalat that now outshine the mainstays of the day? Now we even have a National Communication Commission even though it still has to learn how to regulate properly, like enforcing regulations that make carriers pay their dues to other carriers and policing the parasites whose applications prey on the infrastructure of the big operators. But those are challenges of a new Nigeria, a sign of modernity.

The PDP is afraid but all we urge is a little courage. Do they know that slavery and slave trade ended in the 19th century less out of charity than technology? With the industrial revolution sprang new machines, and they made superfluous the sweat and brawn of black men and women from the continent that novelist Joseph Conrad called the heart of darkness.

They now wanted Africa for raw materials and not raw men. As my teacher, Professor Tunji Oloruntimehin, memorably put it, “it was an act of enlightened self-interest by the Europeans to give the Africans a new role in the international economic system.” So Wilberforce, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, even the Quakers poked the conscience of the slaver and appealed to the tribunals of sympathy. You can add a writer like Harriet Beecher Stowe with her subversive novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When the author visited Lincoln during the civil war, the president said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this war.” Yet it was a new greed for the other African resource that singed the beast of war. Eli Whitney, for instance, invented the cotton gin in 1807, the same year that slave trade was abolished. The gin cancelled the work of slaves working the cotton plantations.

We need a new mindset, a scientific mindset, and if leaders lack that in the 21st century, how can the society ever develop an inventive imagination. Philosopher Karl Popper once said that we cannot predict the future because we cannot predict technology. We are at the mercy of technology. Today the United States leads the world for that reason, unveiling marvel after marvel. The Luddites were British but Britain was the heart of the industrial revolution. That was why it created an empire where, as some of its citizens boasted, the sun never set. The industrial revolution in Europe followed the scientific revolution that helped to rupture the Holy Roman Empire. As my other teacher Professor Femi Omisini echoed, it was “neither holy nor Roman.”

The PDP governors should bow to the card reader. The Presidency and its party should not try to subvert the future by manipulating the judiciary for a court judgment against it. Even the courts benefit greatly from technology. Where would justice be without biometrics, DNA, etc.? “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” crooned Alan Kay, the computer icon. The past invented today with all the gizmos and their bells and whistles. To reject the card reader is to reject progress.

There was a story of a movement that called for a museum of all inventions. They said humans had reached the limit of imagination and no new invention was possible. One of them was, of all people, Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the US patent office. Hear him: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He said so in 1899. But that was before the Wright brothers gave us the aircraft, Gugliemo Marconi the radio, before man ascended the moon and Steve Jobs radicalised our lifestyles. In 1943, IBM chairman Thomas Watson said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Did Obama not change election campaigns with social media? Yet the same American president ran into a snag when his website on healthcare collapsed. His society flayed him, but they didn’t want it to fail. Now it is humming. To kill technology is to kill time. “You can’t kill time without injuring eternity,” said D.H. Thoreau.

When leaders campaign against technology they fail as role models and cast aspersions on the future. They stop the society from dreaming. Once a society stops to dream, it lives in its myths, which are lies that suffocate. Let us remember what Karl Popper said, “Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.” If we don’t fight our myths, we cannot make progress. We will lag behind even Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone that have used the card reader.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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