By Michael Jegede
Nigeria’s election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recently reiterated its plan to fully migrate from manual to electronic voting system, beginning with the Anambra State governorship election holding in 2021.
Addressing newsmen last month on the sideline of the 2021 budget defence at the Green Chamber of the National Assembly, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, whose reappointment as INEC Chairman has just been confirmed by the Senate, said, “It is difficult to give you an idea of cost or when the process would be concluded, but we are determined that we are going to deploy electronic voting machines, electronic balloting machines very soon in our elections. Possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship election next year.”
Yakubu had equally disclosed in September that in line with INEC’s commitment to fully replace manual voting with automated voting method, 40 manufacturers of Electronic Voting Machines, EVMs, from different parts of the globe were invited to practically demonstrate the viability of the voting machines.
According to him, “For some time now, the commission has been working on the deployment of technology in voting during elections to replace the current manual system which is tedious and requires enormous logistics to deliver huge quantities of printed materials and a large number of ad hoc staff to administer the process.
“To this end, the commission developed the specifications of the functions required of the machine. After extensive discussion and review, the commission took the decision to invite original manufacturers of EVMs around the world for a virtual or practical demonstration of the machines.”
Basically, there are two ways electronic voting can be used for the conduct of elections. The first is the use of electronic voting machines, which are usually located at the polling stations and supervised by officials of the electoral body. In this case, the voters are still expected to be physically present at the polling units to cast their votes with the voting machines provided. The second is the remote electronic voting, where voters can submit their votes electronically via the internet to the electoral body from the comfort of their homes or any location. INEC appears to have settled for the use of electronic machines. Some countries use the remote voting pattern, while some apply both in their adoption of the electronic voting model.
Electronic voting is often seen as a tool for making the electoral process more efficient and increasing trust in the conduct and management of elections. It is in the view of many that the full adoption of electronic voting system would go a long way in enhancing the transparency and credibility of our elections, thereby deepening the country’s democracy. There is also the thinking that electronic balloting would greatly help to prevent and mitigate violence that more often than not, stems from electoral malfeasance and manipulations perpetrated during manual voting.
As has been rightly noted by political observers, building a thriving democracy is dependent on getting the electoral process right. It has been argued that Nigeria’s politics suffers deeply because the electoral process has, in most cases, been marred by massive irregularities, such that wrong persons find their ways into elective offices.
Peter Wolf, an author who works for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, International IDEA, opined that properly implemented electronic solutions can increase the security of the ballot, speed up the processing of results and make voting easier.
In one of his papers published by the International IDEA, Wolf, whose work focuses on the application of digital technologies in elections, emerging challenges and the sustainable and trusted implementation of ICTs in electoral processes, identified some of the benefits associated with electronic voting as follows: faster vote count and tabulation; more accurate results as human error is excluded; efficient handling of complicated electoral systems formulae that require laborious counting procedures; increased convenience for voters; prevention of fraud in polling stations and during the transmission and tabulation of results by reducing human intervention; potential long-term cost savings through savings in poll worker time, and reduced costs for the production and distribution of ballot papers.
Notwithstanding the fact that electronic voting has some downsides and challenges as well, many consider it achievable, and therefore think INEC should not relent in its determination to push through. The merits, it is believed, obviously outweigh the demerits.
Countries with huge populations and intricate political systems, like Brazil and India, migrated to electronic voting technology many years ago. Brazil partly used electronic voting for the first time in 1996 and adopted it 100 per cent nationwide since 2000. India began the introduction of electronic voting machines in 1998; and since 2004, they have been used in the nationwide parliamentary polls. The upshot of the adoption of electronic voting in Brazil and India is said to have been very positive thus far.
According to Giuseppe Janino, the Secretary of Technology and Information in the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court, “Brazil has about 150 million voters. In the 2018 presidential election, we announced the winner only two hours and 16 minutes after the polls were closed. By that time, we had already counted 96.7 per cent of all votes, cast all over the country.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has been vociferous in the call for the full adoption of electronic voting system in Nigeria and Africa in general. At different occasions, he has hammered on the need for countries on the African continent to migrate from manual voting to electronic method of balloting. The former President believes strongly that the only way to get credible elections in Nigeria and the rest of Africa is by fully embracing electronic voting.
Speaking on the presidential panel of The Osasu Show Symposium 2020, held in September, he said, “To me, if Africa especially will move forward, it is not just about routine conducts of elections, this year alone in West Africa made up of 15 states, we have five states that had elections.
“So, in terms of regular elections, we are progressing, but are these elections credible? Are they representing a constructional democratic setting is the issue? Regular elections, fine, but elections per se is not democracy. If the votes of the citizens don’t count, then it is as good as military dictatorship. So, from me, the reforms first get to us making the vote counts.
“And taking a critical examination about the way elections are being conducted across the continent at least from the once I’ve observed, I’ve seen that the only thing that we must do to get there is through electronic voting. For elections to be democratic, that means that the outcome of the elections must depend on the ballot not any other institution, not even the court.
“If the ballots don’t decide who wins, then we are not practicing democracy. And if we are now in a situation where people use force of arms, using thugs that is well in Nigeria to win elections, then we can’t say we are practicing democracy.”
Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, the 2019 presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party, YPP, welcomed the plans by INEC to commence electronic voting with the Anambra guber polls next year, which according to him, will prepare the ground for its usage in the 2023 general election.
Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, however, enjoined the National Assembly to make necessary amendments to the Electoral Act so as to make INEC’s plan realizable. The political economist and lawyer said he feels pleased that the electoral commission has responded to the demands of Nigerians by deciding to introduce electronic voting and some other reforms that are meant to strengthen the country’s electoral process and solidify our democratic foundation.
The Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of YSEG Hotels and Suites in Ibadan, Oyo State, Hon. Olayinka Oladimeji Segelu, equally sees INEC’s proposed commencement of the use of electronic voting machine with Anambra election in 2021 as a good move that should be supported by all and sundry if we want to grow our democracy.
Segelu, a stakeholder in Oyo politics, who aspired for the House of Representatives in 2015, maintained that “the only way we can ensure transparency and reliability in the conduct of elections in Nigeria is to embrace electronic voting as it is done in some other countries of the world. We must understand that establishing an independent body to manage and supervise elections is not enough to guarantee free and fair elections devoid of an efficient and reliable system.
“To start with, the cost of adopting the electronic balloting may be high, but in the long term, the electoral body, INEC, will experience some cost savings because the same electronic machines can be utilized for future elections. We won’t have to be printing millions of ballot papers in every election period for each voter any more.
“I can tell you that the application of the electronic voting method for elections in Nigeria would certainly go a long way in giving credibility and sanity to our electoral process, as manipulation of votes and rigging would be difficult. There will be quick transmission of results. The results cannot be tampered with as accuracy of voting figures is guaranteed.
“Dubious and unscrupulous politicians will no longer be able to have a field day by deviously writing election results in their favour in connivance with some election officials. All these will pave the way for the right persons to be elected into elective positions in the country.
“And our elections would begin to reflect the true will of the people. Therefore, it is important that the enabling law is created and sufficient funds provided for INEC to actualize its plan of commencing electronic voting with the Anambra guber polls in 2021.”
In 2018, Kaduna State, under Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai of All Progressives Congress, APC, made history as the first state in Nigeria to apply the electronic voting system in the conduct of local government election.
Prior to the local government polls, which held on May 12, 2018, the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission, KSIECOM, made a presentation to Governor El-Rufai, recommending the use of electronic voting technology as a way of guaranteeing efficiency and transparency in the process.
The recommendations came after KSIECOM’s Chair, Dr. Saratu Binta Dikko-Audu, led a delegation on a study visit to Brazil for a firsthand feel of how electronic voting works in the country.
As a tech savvy and progressive minded politician, El-Rufai bought their proposal and provided funds for the purchase of electronic machines for the council election, after an enabling law was enacted through the state Assembly.
The governor was quoted as saying, “We invested in electronic voting machines to make sure that the elections are free and fair and we will accept the results of the election. We believe in democracy and the choice of the people is the choice of God. We believe in free and fair elections.”
Noting that Nigeria will benefit immensely from adopting electronic voting, El-Rufai added, “I think it can work at the national level; it has been successful, and we believe it can be duplicated across the country. We think that this is a very solid foundation for the development of our democracy, because a credible, fair and transparent election will determine the quality of leaders going forward.”
At the end of the 2018 Kaduna local government election, voters poured encomium on El-Rufai for accepting KSIECOM’s recommendation. They hailed the use of the electronic voting system and expressed joy with the voting process, maintaining that it was easier, faster and much more transparent.
As against the common situation where the ruling party in a state would always win all the local government areas in any council poll, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, won about six or seven local councils out of 23 – because the use of electronic voting machines did not allow rigging and manipulation of the results.
*Jegede, a journalist writes from Abuja