The use of the Electronic Voting Machines during the last local government elections in Kaduna State has been commended by many stakeholders. One cannot discountenance Governor El-Rufai’s courage in this regard. It is a mark of true leadership that Nigeria’s political leaders and INEC can learn from.
The Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KSIEC) conducted the local government elections recently using the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). Many Nigerians have commended the persistent efforts from Kaduna State to project the benefits of electronic voting to the national electoral body and all other political stakeholders in the country.
It’s important to understand that, electronic voting, or e-Voting, is the use of modern technologies in the process of marking or casting a vote during elections. This definition encompasses political elections, referendums, and plebiscites. A distinction must be made to differentiate e-Voting from electronic counting (e-Counting), which is the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) during the counting, not marking a ballot or casting a vote in an election. E-Counting usually involves the use of optical mark recognition (OMR) scanning machines.
It’s also worthy of note that, scientists have been studying electronic voting for 30 years, and some countries have been using it for almost 20 years. Yet, arguments in favor of its adoption or against it usually take into account only a limited subset of the issues at stake.
Electronic voting experiences already span a significant period. Computer scientists have been working on the subject of exploiting cryptography to secure elections for the past 30 years, and computer-aided real-world elections have been running for more than 20 years, since the deployment of DRE machines for binding national elections in the Netherlands in the late ‘80s.
Voting is a specific social practice, crucial in a democratic regime because it represents a ritual expressing power relations and political values. Changes in the ritual of voting (with its symbols and meanings) might lead to changes in the outcome of the electoral process, such as legitimization and accountability of the representative democracy.
In addition to the technical gap, there is another issue that still requires investigation from a social sciences perspective: trust in the e-voting system is a crucial element when it comes to the actual use of the electronic system within the political process.
In fact, there are very few analyses of the broader social implications of a technology-driven paradigm shift in the electoral process, and none about the effective awareness of voters about its possible consequences, especially if people acknowledge that technology is more than a set of neutral tools assisting the satisfaction of preexisting normative criteria.
However, in Kaduna State, this time around, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which cried foul over the conduct of the election, gave kudos to Governor Nasir El-Rufai. The party chairman, Mr Felix Hassan Hyat, said in a statement that, “the party (PDP) notes that Nasir El-Rufai has consistently promised the people of Kaduna State free and fair local government election through a modernised system of voting, hence his heavy investment in the EVM.
“On this, we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the governor. However, our reports from all over the state show that his aides changed the names of polling unit officers that were trained with untrained cronies. This led to the non-functioning of the EVM in many polling units across the state”. The PDP noted that the manipulation of the machines by the governor’s aides has “made nonsense of the governor’s effort and brought his promise to public ridicule”.
The import of the EVM example is multi-faceted. First, we should note that local government elections have always been prone to manipulation and rigging by state governments and governors, in collusion with pliant and biased security agencies, vulnerable voting populace, and desperate politicians.
Over time, state electoral commissions often skew election results to favour the party in power. That of Kaduna State was not different. Any party in power at the state level — whether the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — would always win all elections conducted by the so-called SIECs. Indeed, the governors are the worst culprits in our unsavoury democratic journey.
Analysts say that the feat attained by the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission in ensuring the use of the EVM is proof that electronic voting is doable, but that the process was aided and scuttled by politicians is also evidence that Nigerians are not ready for free and fair elections. The election was fraught with many infractions, not because of the deployment of modern technology, but of the usual Nigerians approach to elections.
For these Analysts, any electronic gadget can be a force for good or evil, as its usage in the Kaduna State LG elections has shown. Let it be clear from the start, therefore, that the antidote to election rigging lies with attitudinal change, not machines. However, this does not validate the National Assembly’s rejection of the deployment of technology for the conduct of elections, because to a large extent, national elections conducted by INEC are far more rig-proof than local government elections conducted by State Independent Electoral Commissions.
Also, El-Rufai said that the electronic voting machine made it impossible for voters to indulge in multiple voting, while equally admitting the low turnout of voters: “You activate the voting machine with your voter’s card once you have been accredited… the whole process takes less than 15 seconds; it’s very quick and efficient and you see your ballot paper being printed; it is capable of transmitting results to a server, so it is difficult to alter”. Apart from curbing multiple voting, the fact that the results were later manipulated, and the machine’s integrity compromised, should not detract from their efficiency and desirability by millions of Nigerians.
The debate to adopt the electronic voting system and transmission of election results in Nigeria has over the years continued to face stiff constraints from some politicians who have no faith in the technology despite pressure from the larger population calling a further push on electoral reform through information technology, which is increasingly affecting all aspects of life, and to large scope, the political system of every society.
The National Assembly ignored leadership lessons, abdicated their responsibility, and took the electorate for granted in July when they passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law and jettisoned the electronic transmission of election results aspect of it, as proposed by INEC, while justifying this by using the National Communications Commission (NCC) as an excuse.
This is despite the advocacy and lobbying that preceded this, thereby taking us back to the dark days of open ballot snatching and the manipulation of figures, before the 2015 elections.
The lawmakers claimed that they were relying on the National Communications Commission (NCC) survey which indicated that less than half of the polling units (50.3 per cent) in the country have 3G network to transmit election results.
Recall that the INEC bill was passed by the eight Senate led by Bukola Saraki three times and was rejected three times by President Buhari. One of the reasons cited by President Buhari then was that the bill would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide election matters, including the deployment of technology, as deemed fit.
The Ahmed Lawan-led ninth Senate which passed the latest bill (without electronic transmission) into law stripped INEC of the power to do anything concerning the transmission of election results, without recourse to the National Assembly and the NCC. In a nutshell, INEC has lost its autonomy, which amounts to giving with the right hand and taking back with the left hand. The contentious section states that “the commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable”.
However, many Nigerians cannot help but commend El-Rufai’s efforts in providing solutions to pestering problems. With the electronic voting machine used for the local government election in Kaduna, El-Rufai has shown courage and integrity in leadership. A leader does not have to be a populist; he is that person who shows the way, takes decisive action, makes mistakes, learns from them, and makes things better.