The OpenVR (short for Open Voter Registration) is a biometric software that was introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) into the Nigeria electoral system in the year 2011, to serve as a viable platform to be able to capture as many possible voters.
The OpenVR is an open source program that runs on Ubuntu Linux. It is one of the component of the Direct Data capture (DDC) machine. It is built to function out the box without any configuration, and compatible with the peripheral hardware components (finger print scanner, web cams, printer, external USB hard drive etc.) that it would need to function during voters registration exercise. It is a one-click-to-install solution – it automatically installs and configures the video drivers, sound drivers, network and wireless card drivers (even though it’s not a network based solution) printer and other devices. The interface is intuitive and easy to follow by DDC operators when entering data.
When the software was first used in 2011, it was a success and that is the main reason why it was retained and used again in 2015 general elections. In its first deployment in 2011, it was reported to have been able to aggregate over 85 TB of data from more than 132,000 DDC machine and server installations.
According to the project’s lead developer, Femi Taiwo, the reason why the Ubuntu platform was choosing is because of the “ease of customization, rigorous quality assurance, hardware compatibility and a renowned security track record”. According to him the software was built with high security in mind since it would be operated in a network absent environment. There was need for the data captured to be secured without any unauthorized alteration when being transferred or backed-up using removable drives.
It is good thing to know that the biggest open source efforts coming out of Nigeria was developed by indigenous software professionals including the likes of;
Femi Taiwo – Lead Software Developer.
Nyibi Odero – System Architect.
Ronke Domingo – Project Manager.
Sola Ajayi – Software Developer.
Fisayo Orimoloye – Software Developer.
Doyim Kassem – UI Designer.
Chukwuemeka Ujam – Biometrics Expert.
Though it looks like the parent company responsible for the development was INITS, the software gathered international technical support from agencies like the International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES) and the United Nations Development Pro gramme (UNDP). According to Femi, it took the highly determined team about three months to develop from August through November.
The first time I came in contact (a user) with the OpenVR was in December 2014, during voters registration that preceded the General elections in March the following year. Then, I was working as an ad-hoc staff of INEC as a registration officer. During the training period for ad-hoc staff, on booting the system I knew the software was running on a Linux system, possibly Ubuntu because it had this Ubuntu-like theme interface. Anyway I wasn’t that sure of Ubuntu, but I was very sure that it was on a Linux framework the app was running on. Some days after the voters registration began, I started having issues with the laptop I was using. It was official to report it to the authorized INEC engineer for fixing which I did. After the engineer tried various way in fixing it, none of which worked. So he decide to back up the data already on the system and then had to first un-install the OpenVR software and reinstall, that’s when I saw it! It was the beautiful Unity desktop environment of Ubuntu – finally my suspicion was confirmed. From that point on I interacted with the system in a new light, knowing fully well that I was in a very familiar territory – in fact I was proud.
One issue I had with the development of the software is that though the software is built on an open source platform, the code is not accessible. I’ve scouted online to lay my hands on the codes but to no avail. A sourceforge link was given on the software’s developer website, but it contained no files. I have tried to email some of the developers whose contacts I found online regarding this issue, none have replied me. Does this mean it isn’t a truly ‘free’ software as claimed by its developers? Anyway time would tell.
But this experience shows the power of FOSS, and what could be achieved if the power of FOSS is fully unleashed. I just wish the government could see this and extend this to other of its ICT operations.
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