Elections are a critical component of democratic governance. They provide an opportunity for citizens to choose their leaders and to hold them accountable for their actions.
However, elections can also be a source of tension, conflict, and violence, particularly in countries with weak democratic institutions, ethnic and religious tensions, and a history of electoral fraud.
To mitigate these risks, the Ministry of Interior set up the Ministry Inter-Agency Situation Room (MISR), and Command and Control Centres, where Nigerians can send situational reports in real-time, as well as authorities to respond promptly to any issues that may arise during the recently held Presidential and National Assembly elections.
The situation room, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Fire Service, Civil Society organisations, and of course members of the fourth estate of the realm, was set up to monitor the elections in real-time as well as coordinate efforts for prompt response in case of an eventuality.
To achieve this feat, a real-time mobile app, ‘N-Alert’, was deployed by the Ministry of Interior to monitor the situation across the country with results later proven to be instrumental in addressing electoral fraud and violence in the just concluded elections.
The app, called “N-Alert,” was developed by a team of tech experts from the Ministry of Interior. It was designed to allow voters to report any incidents of violence, intimidation, or electoral fraud in real time.
N-Alert utilises a combination of audio-visual and geospatial location identification of the caller and scenes of incidents on the Ministry Inter-Agency Situation Room (MISR) and Command and Control Centres, Dashboards of the four Agencies under the Ministry of Interior Services and the Nigeria Police Force for joint inter-agency operations.
Before the election, the Ministry had embarked on a campaign to sensitise a on the need to download the mobile app on their smartphones and report any incidents they witnessed at their polling unit in real time.
You will recall that the Federal Government developed and launched the Nigeria Internal Security and Public Safety Alert System (N-Alerts) in May 2022 for Nigerians to send alerts to all security agencies in the Ministry of Interior in real-time.
The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, during the launch of the app, had charged Nigerians to take advantage of the N-Alerts Smart Phone Applicationa to report security emergencies during the National elections.
Aregbesola had called on all Nigerians to download and make use of the Application to report any situation or incident in and around their Polling Unit to the Ministry Inter-Agency Situation Room (MISR) for a prompt response.
According to reviews from Nigerians, the deployment of the app helped to deter potential electoral offenders, as they knew that any violation of electoral guidelines would be reported in real-time and that swift action would be taken. This is notwithstanding the pockets of crises recorded as well as addressed by the security agencies.
Nigerians have, however, applauded the deployment of the app as it is generally adjudged to have significantly helped to increase transparency and accountability in the election process.
On election day, the situation room received reports from several polling units across the country and the response team was promptly deployed where necessary.
Reports of vote-buying, ballot-box snatching, and other forms of electoral malpractice in some polling units across the country were made and the situation room immediately deployed response teams including security agencies to the affected areas for timely intervention.
In one instance, the situation room received a report of violence in a polling unit in a hotly contested constituency in Sokoto State. The situation room promptly dispatched a team of security personnel to the area, and the situation was brought under control.
The situation room also facilitated the resolution of disputes arising from the elections. In one case, a political party alleged that some of its agents were prevented from accessing polling units in a particular area.
The situation room investigated the claim and found it to be true as security agents were also immediately deployed to address the crisis and all the electorates were allowed to exercise their franchise even as the election results were subsequently accepted by all parties.
Speaking to a voter who doubled as a citizen reporter on the platform from Benin City, Joseph Ernest, said that the deployment of the app was a significant step towards ensuring free and fair elections in the country.
He praised the tech experts for their contribution to the election process, saying that the app had helped to reduce incidents of electoral violence and fraud significantly.
Similarly, Fatima Abdullahi, a citizen reporter from Sokoto said N-Alert in conjunction with the situation room played a vital role in ensuring a peaceful, free, and fair election in Nigeria as its timely response to incidents of electoral fraud and violence helped to prevent the unfortunate situation in her polling unit from escalating and potentially derailing the entire electoral process.
Also, Christian Titus a citizen reporter from Rivers State hailed the deployment of the N-Alert, saying “the app will help to build confidence in the electoral process as citizens have been given a platform to report any violations of electoral guidelines on real-time, which will help to curb election violence and fraud and ultimately guarantee free, fair and transparent elections.”
Meanwhile, it is worthy of note that the smart mobile application which is available for free on Android and IOS devices for Nigerians to download will be put to test again this coming Saturday as Nigerians will turn out to elect their governors and the State House of Assembly lawmakers.
While the app continues to receive accolades as a success by election observers and voters alike, it is hoped that the app will be used in future elections in the country and in other parts of the world, where electoral violence and fraud are prevalent.