The e-voting panacea to electoral fraud in Nigeria
ONCE again the debate on whether Nigeria is indeed ripe for the electronic system of voting, otherwise called e-voting, has come to the fore with the recent call by the independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega on the National Assembly to amend relevant portions of the laws to allow its use in the 2015 general elections. Before delving into the merits or otherwise of Prof. Jega’s clamour, I wish to state that politicians, civil society organisations and the Media ought to divert the needless energy being dissipated on who and which region produces the next president to the quest for a more credible electoral process. If the quantum of human and material resources which are being deployed to this pre-emptive debate on succession in an election which is still three years away is devoted to critical areas of electoral reforms in our quest to deepen democracy, our nation will be better for it.
It is in this regard, that I commend the initiative of the INEC boss in seeking the introduction of the electronic voting system in future elections. It should be noted that the electoral system in Nigeria has been one of the most contentious issues of our nationhood. This is not altogether unexpected in a Nation of over a hundred and sixty million people and a voter population in excess of 70 million adults. From the 1964 general elections (which were largely boycotted by opposition political parties) to the 2011 elections adjudged to be largely free and fair and in substantial compliance with international standards, the mode of electing our public officials have gone through a processing mill which regrettably has not brought out a finished product we can truly be proud of.
While unscrupulous politicians and their collaborators in the security agencies and electoral bodies perfect plans to subvert every electoral system by manipulating its weakest point, the nation continues to suffer ridicule in the eyes of the International community, to the extent that a Ghanaian election observer, Nii moi Thompson, remarked on the 2007 elections that “Nigeria has again failed to rise to the occasion. Even Liberia which is coming out of war had more credible elections than Nigeria” Despite the widely acclaimed success of the 2011 elections, resulting in almost seventy percent drop in electoral litigations, Nigeria will need to devise mechanisms to uphold the strength of the current electoral system and improve on its weaknesses. This is where the call for an amendment of the electoral Act to allow the use of electronic voting becomes very necessary. We cannot continue to act as if we are a nation afraid of doing things the right way in any sector.
I wish to recall that the introduction of the Direct Data Capturing Machine in the last voter registration exercise assisted a great deal in drastically reducing incident of multiple registrations which was usually the starting point in election rigging. This electronic device was however edged out of the electoral process during the actual balloting because a section of the Electoral Act forbids the use of electronic voting. The implication is that while the DDC machines purchased with huge funds were cooling off in INEC offices across the Nation after being successfully used for the voter registration, cases of voter impersonation and inflation of actual votes cast occurred without any means of detection on election day. The equipment, if deployed on election day would have solved this problem because it contains the biometric data of voters which could be matched with the voters card at the accreditation point.
Similarly, the use of e voting devices if legalised ahead of the 2015 elections will considerably reduce the cost of organising elections in view of the fewer number of manpower that will be required at each poling unit. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) which has greatly assisted India cope well with its over seven hundred million voters population contains devices which should make tabulation and computation of elections results faster and eliminate cases of figure alteration between poling units and collation centres.
For those who have expressed worries about the parlous state of our electricity supply as one major challenge against the use of the EVM, it is necessary to posit that these devices have been so modified that a 6 volts battery would sustain a unit of the equipment for up to forty-eight hours. While not under any illusion that the adaptation of e-voting will completely erase all cases of electoral fraud, I am however convinced that the process will remove major lapses observed at previous elections and make it more difficult to perpetrate fraud and subvert the legitimate desire of the voting public. If you are in doubt, ask the various agencies in the public service which have adopted similar technologies in tax collection and remittance, employee verification and salary payment, car tracking, immigration control and other services.
My plea is that the National Assembly should hearken to the plea of the nation’s electoral body and other well meaning Nigerians by amending relevant sections of the Electoral Act 2010 to allow for use of electronic voting devices in future elections. This is the way to build institutions and ensure that regardless of whether a good Jega or another corrupt fellow is the umpire, Nigerians will freely decide who should run the affairs of the executive and legislative arms of government and have the assurance that their votes will assuredly count.
It is my suggestion that as a safe-guard against massive hiccups during initial trials, the INEC should randomly select one state from each of the six geo-political zones where e-voting will be used in 2015. These states should then be focused for capacity building, infrastructure upgrade and voter education at least two years before the elections. The success recorded at this experimental stage should adequately prepare the commission for a full scale adoption of the e-voting system for the 2019 general elections.