As the world comes to embrace democracy as the best way of changing and retaining governments, there are still a lot of wear and tear standing in the way of transparent democratic processes across various climes. Some of these attritions stem from manipulation of the electoral processes. In Nigeria, part of this challenge include legislations to empower the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
There have been several transitions in the experimentation of various models in the conduct of elections in the country.
For instance, former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attiharu Jega during his tenure came up with some technology that provided solution to some of the identified problems in election management that were being done manually. Thus, the Smart Card Reading Machines, Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and Electronic Data Capture were introduced with a view to forestall the many infractions of ballot box stuffing and collusion with politicians. The essence was to allow unimpeded stuffing of ballots.
The introduction of PVC and Smart Card readers, to a great extent, dealt some decisive blows against election rigging.
Nigeria, even as deregistered parties are still in court, may have over 90 registered political parties contesting the coming Anambra and Ekiti elections, as well as the one in 2023. How does one conduct transparent elections with over 90 political parties participating without proper technology?
Interestingly, the world has become so dependent on technology that one cannot discuss elections and not mention the role of technology;.
According to the Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, INEC, Festus Okoye, the Commission has scheduled the Anambra Governorship poll for November 6, 2021.
Till now that the electoral umpire is preparing for the Anambra State Governorship election, the Electoral Reform Bill has not been passed into law.
With a remarkably distracted National Assembly, there is an aura of uncertainty about the chances of passing a new bill by the Senate and House of Representatives before the Anambra State election.
Earlier, the presidency had explained its decision not to assent to the last electoral bill of 2019 on grounds that parts of the laws usurped the powers of the regulatory body, INEC.
This is coupled with the fact that there wouldn’t have been enough time to get legislative backing to supervise the process, and voters would have been confused.
INEC announced on November 4, 2020, that another round of voters registration will begin in the first quarter of 2021 and end six months before the general elections in 2023. Before this announcement, plans for switching to electronic voting were revealed last September.
The Commission also said they need to control the spread of the coronavirus by limiting physical gatherings necessitated by the announcement to ensure scheduled election timetables are not disrupted, as is the case with the elections in Edo and Ondo States.
INEC boss, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, also recently expressed concern about the inability of Nigerians in Diaspora to carry out their civic responsibility. There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel that such voting, which could only be done electronically, would happen soon.
Yakubu gave a thumbs-up to the commission; saying that the commission can now upload polling unit level results in real-time on Election Day to a portal for public view.
He noted that these are significant innovations that can deepen transparency and credibility of elections and the electoral process in Nigeria.
Specifically, the e-voting has been identified by most analysts as one of the most dependable voting system that can strengthen democratic institutions, but the country’s electoral laws and the Constitution have not been amended to enhance its full usage.
Some unique features that have endeared e-voting to most lovers of democracy include: biometric registration and accreditation, smart card readers for verification, a portal that results can be collated and viewed real time, electronic voting machines (EVMs), and real-time online transmission of voting results directly from voting machines.
The e-voting system has been deployed in the country before, during local government elections. Kaduna State pioneered this step that was applauded by almost all the observers. The expectation is that its large-scale implementation should be pursued by all stakeholder to ensure total acceptability of results in Nigeria.
Since no electoral process is perfect, advanced technologies are introduced to keep malpractice to a bare minimum. Apart from guaranteeing confidentiality, an effective e-voting system ensures that only eligible voters are allowed to vote and the votes cast reflect their choices of leaders. The system can remarkably reduce election litigations as transparency would be entrenched.
But, one of many concerns of citizens is the huge infrastructure and digital divide between the urban and rural areas. INEC might not be able to ensure the total adoption of this technology in the voting process across the country.
Granted, it is true that extensive electoral education is usually needed for large-scale adoption of such technology. It is therefore surprising that up until now, a new electoral Bill has not been passed into law for INEC to do some trials with the forthcoming Anambra gubernatorial elections in November.
The question on every lip is why is the National Assembly seemingly indifferent to the adoption of e-voting? How easy would it be for the public to accept the sudden disruption that could come with information overload if and when e-voting is finally permitted too close to the election period?
In many countries of the world, the incorporation of Information Communication Technology in election management has proven its ability to reduce electoral fraud to the barest minimum, foster credible elections and add credence to transparency. However this can only happen in Nigeria when the bill that ought to empower INEC to carry out e-voting is dusted and passed into law by the National Assembly.
It is believed that as the Anambra State governorship election draws near, INEC would overcome the challenge of delay in the final collation of results. That is, if the use of electronic collation is fully implemented with all necessary legal frameworks. It will save collation officers the risk of working in the dead of the night to manually collate results before the final submission. It will equally save INEC a lot of costs as well.
Prompt passage of an e-voting friendly electoral law will ensure that staff of INEC undergo adequate training on time to reduce the cost and risk of excessive outsourcing of ICT-related tasks to consultants.
INEC has continuously stated that it wants to adopt complete electronic voting in the Anambra State governorship election, however, this is subject to the approval of proposed amendments of the electoral laws currently before the National Assembly.
Some countries have even gone beyond the e-voting process to experiment with blockchain voting which involves voting via crypto currencies to uniquely record and audit votes.
Blockchain voting enables voters to cast their votes from their smartphones from far-away locations. It eliminates voter frauds since the identity of the voter is verified using biometric tools such as a thumbprint scan when using a mobile device to vote.
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West Virginia was the first state in the US to experiment with blockchain voting and it turned out to be a huge success, even though it was just a small number of voters that was used to try out the new voting technology. This relentless effort to improve elections reveal that stakeholders in most countries are really taking the protection and the integrity of their electoral system as a front burner issue.
Nigeria cannot be left out in this vital race. It is key that action should start now, in line with the popular saying that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.
By Anthony Nwakaegho