Politics

E-voting: Kaduna council polls rekindle debate

Stakeholders insist on electronic voting

FELIX NWANERI writes on the renewed clamour for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt electronic voting system, which many believe will boost the confidence of voters in the electoral process if properly implemented

 

Most Nigerians had over time craved for an amendment to the Constitution as well as the Electoral Act 2010 to allow for electronic voting system, which many believe will boost the confidence of voters in the electoral process if properly implemented. Section 52 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), outlaws electronic voting in Nigeria. It states: “The use of the electronic voting machine, for the time being, is prohibited.”

 

However, many have argued that the need for an amendment to this section of the act to allow for electronic voting will address lack of enthusiasm usually exhibited by most eligible voters each election year. The country’s elections have always been marred by gross irregularities such as ballot snatching and stuffing, vote-buying, manipulation of figures as well as thuggery and violence, among others.

 

It is against these backdrops that relevant political stakeholders have persistently clamoured for adoption of modern techniques, especially the e-voting system to improve the nation’s electoral process.

 

So, it was hope, when the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in a policy document ahead of last year’s governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, hinted on the plan by the electoral umpire to “work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.”

 

While many misconstrued this to mean that 2021 is the take-off date for e-voting in Nigeria, spokesman to INEC’s chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, later clarified that “what the policy says under ‘ICT and Voter Registration’ is that INEC will pilot the use of electronic voting at the earliest possible time (not Edo and Ondo), but work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.

He added: “The key words here are pilot, work and towards. As we all know, INEC cannot unilaterally introduce electronic voting because our constitution does not allow/recognise it. That’s why we said we will work towards the full introduction of e-voting.’ That was not the first time INEC will mull adopting the electronic voting system.

Yakubu’s predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, had in 2012, said the commission was ready to adopt modern technology in the conduct of elections as long as it is in line with the provisions of the constitution.

 

Sadly the legal constraints are yet to be addressed. An opportunity to break the glass ceiling and put Nigeria on the path of adoption of technology to enhance her electoral process was dashed recently as the National Assembly voted against electronic transmission of election results. In the Senate, for instance, out of the 88, who were available to vote, 52 of APC extraction, voted against, while 28 of PDP extraction voted in favour.

 

Twenty-eight of the senators were absent from plenary. The APC senators hinged their position to the claim by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that only 43 per cent of the country has network coverage. The PDP senators, on the other hand, said allowing the NCC and the National Assembly to meddle in the affairs of INEC will affect the integrity of elections.

 

The House of Representatives also turned down electronic transmission of election results despite protests by its members of PDP extraction, who staged a walk-out during voting on the issue.

 

As expected, condemnation trailed the lawmakers’ rejection of the proposal that would have empowered INEC to transmit election results from the various polling units.

 

The national leadership of the PDP, through the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the PDP and indeed majority of Nigerians were shocked over the decision of the Senate rejecting the demand by Nigerians across board for the electronic transmission of election results without conditionalities.

 

The decision, according to him, amounts to undermining Nigeria’s electoral process. He added that action of the APC senators was an “atrocious assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in our electoral process in a manner that would engender free, fair and credible process.”

Similarly, the umbrella body of registered politics in Nigeria, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), not only berated the federal legislators for their action but urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign into law the Electoral Act 2010 amendment, when transmitted to him by the National Assembly.

 

The CNPP Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, who spoke on behalf of the group, said “withholding assent will be the only proof that Mr. President is not part of the conspiracy to undermine the country’s electoral process.”

The outcry, notwithstanding, the presidency threw its weight behind the National Assembly.

 

The Special Adviser to the President on Political matters, Babafemi Ojudu, said the issues raised by the lawmakers before taking their decision on the matter should be considered. INEC, on its part, insisted on feasibility of e-transmission of results.

The electoral umpire premised its optimism on the fact that its joint committee made up of telecommunication stakeholders had revised the system and concluded that electronic transmission of results is practicable.

 

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, who gave the assurance said: “INEC has the capacity to transmit election results from the polling units to the Registration Area Collation Centres to the Local Government Collation Centres, the various state, federal and senatorial district collation centres, and the state and national collation centres.”

 

Kaduna LG polls rekindle e-voting debate

 

While Nigerians are waiting for the President’s assent on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as passed by the National Assembly, the debate on the need to revolutionalise the country’s electoral process through e-voting for its results to be less controvertible, however, still rages.

 

A recent development in the polity that  rekindled the debate was the Kaduna State local government elections that held on September 4. It was the second time since 2018 that the state would use electronic voting machines for its local government elections.

 

The state had in 2018, made history as the first in Nigeria to conduct an election electronically, and Saratu Dikko-Audu, the chairman of the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM), who spoke on the feat, said the commission was encouraged by Governor Nasir el-Rufai to deploy technology for the council polls.

 

Those who voted during the Kaduna council elections both in 2018 and 2021, said that the process was easier and faster. Election result sheets were printed from the machines to show that there were no pre-recorded votes before the commencement of voting.

 

Also, accredited voters did not make use of ballot papers rather they faced an electronic voting machine displaying the logos of the political parties that participated in the election. By pressing the logo of a preferred political party, the voter registers a choice that is recorded and acknowledged by the machine.

 

How e-voting works

Electronic voting also known as e-voting is a term encompassing several different types of voting. It embraces both electronic means of casting votes and counting them, which includes punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (self-contained Direct- Recording Electronic voting systems – DRE) or transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks or the Internet.

 

Specifically, two main types of e-voting can be identified: e-voting which is physically supervised by representatives of governmental or independent electoral authorities (electronic voting machines located at polling stations) and remote e-voting, where voting is performed within the voter’s sole influence and is not physically supervised (voting from one’s personal computer, mobile phone, television or the internet). Findings by New Telegraph showed that the system has been in use since the 1960s, when punched card systems debuted.

Their first widespread use was in the United States (U.S) where seven counties switched to it for the 1964 presidential election. However, the new optical scan voting system allows a computer to count a voter’s mark on a ballot.

The DRE voting machines, which collect and tabulate votes in a single machine, are used by all voters in all elections in Brazil and India as well as on a large scale in Venezuela and the U.S.

 

They have also been used on a large scale in the Netherlands but have been decommissioned after public concerns. The internet voting system on the other hand, has gained popularity and has been used for elections and referendums in the United Kingdom (UK), Estonia and Switzerland as well as municipal elections in Canada and party primary elections in the U.S. and France.

 

Arguments for and against

While many believe that deploying biometrics to achieve accuracy will help curb electoral frauds such as multiple voting and ballot stuffing, which among others, have remained the bane of Nigeria’s electoral process, some stakeholders, have in the past, argued that Nigeria is not ripe for electronic voting.

 

Those who hold this view, argued that e-voting would be hard to realise given the high level of illiteracy in the country as well as the deficiency of relevant infrastructural requirements to drive it. Some political analysts even cited an example of the U.S., where it has been contended that electronic voting, especially DRE voting, facilitates electoral fraud.

 

However, those in support of the system, insists that it was time Nigeria embrace e-voting, owing to the several challenges of conducting elections in the country with a population of about 200 million people, out of which are about 80 million registered voters, spread across 120,000 polling centres.

 

This, they noted, is in an addition to the towering number of political parties which makes it difficult, sourcing and procuring of balloting instruments, recruitment and training of personnel, transportation and movement of men and thousands of tonnes of election materials across varied and often difficult terrains over a relatively short time.

 

These analysts were quick to refer to the introduction of the Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDC) in the voters’ registration exercise and concluded that they assisted a great deal in drastically reducing multiple registrations, which is usually the starting point in election rigging.

 

The fears over e-voting as espoused by its antagonists, notwithstanding, some political stakeholders, who cut across party divides, agreed that it is the way to go.

 

Besides maintaining that it will provide a more secured and reliable system that will makes votes count, they added that it will moderate the level of human interaction thereby diminishing its disposition to manipulation and errors.

 

It was further reasoned that because the system is biometric based, there is no possibility of multiple voting and impersonation even as invalid votes as a result of ink smear in the traditional voting system, which has characterised recent polls would be eliminated, while real-time online view of results of votes cast makes it more transparent.

 

Other listed benefits of electronic voting were elimination of bulk paper work and the possibility of the electorate, casting their ballot from any part of the country for the candidate of their choice, thereby eliminating the risk, cost and stress of traveling from one place to the other to vote.

 

Another merit is that Nigerians in diaspora can also vote irrespective of their geographic location.

The urgency of now

 

Despite the fears over electronic voting, some analysts and stakeholders, who spoke on the issue, were of the view that the urgency for Nigeria to adopt electronic voting is now given the ugly experiences of recent elections.

 

A chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Chekwas Okorie, who spoke with New Telegraph, said it will make the electoral process more participatory.

 

His words: “I have been in the vanguard of the crusade, canvassing for electronic voting since 2012, when President Goodluck Jonathan was in power. By 2014, I had done a memo that had gone to then President Jonathan, the leadership and every member of the National Assembly on the matter.

 

“I seized every opportunity to tell INEC and the leadership of the National Assembly that electronic voting is the only voting method that will make our electoral process participatory; that it will take away thuggery, reduce cost and eradicate declaration of public holidays during elections as done in other countries thereby saving us the cost of shutting down the economy during elections.

 

I raised all these issues, but the National Assembly, Jonathan administration and even the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari never took it serious.” Insisting that there is no half measure to electronic voting,

 

Okorie said: “INEC should bypass the collation centres from the wards to local governments, where manipulation of figures takes place, so that result can be transmitted from the polling units to the state and national collation centres; that is what electronic entails.

 

“If you will recall, INEC after the last general election said that Nigeria recorded 35 per cent in terms voters participation. That is even the highest we’ve had in recent times because it used to be between 25 and 30 per cent.

 

That means that about 90 per cent of Nigerians have never been involved in electing their leaders. However, with electronic voting, we will be looking at 80 or 90 per cent voters’ turnout and that is only when you can say that the people have spoken or that victory is legitimate.”

 

The Convener of the New Nigeria Group (NNG), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, who also spoke on the issue, said the technology-driven voting template will protect the integrity and credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process. Ohuabunwa, who is aspiring to run for the 2023 presidency, insisted that electronic voting and transmission of results were achievable in Nigeria, citing the Kaduna State experience.

 

His words: “Kaduna State conducted elections with an electronic voting system in 2018.

 

That was the first time anyone in Nigeria would adopt electronic voting, and the second case of electronic voting in Africa, after Namibia. “That year, the then extant law, namely the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission Act No. 10 of 2012, was amended to establish electronic voting in Section 16 (3) thereof.

 

There were allegations of multiple voting and other challenges. But that did not deter the government.

 

“The latest was the September 4, 2021 local council elections held in Kaduna State, where electronic voting was adopted. It might not have been adjudged perfect, but it was by far better than situations where figures were brazenly manually manipulated.”

 

Emphasising that it would be a Herculean task for desperate politicians to compromise the electronic voting system, Ohuabunwa also disclosed that he had actually advocated e-voting in 2010 in his book titled “Nigeria: Need for Evolution of a New Nation.”

 

The Emir of Zazzau, Amb. Ahmad Nuhu Bamali, who also believes that e-voting is the way, said while casting his vote during the recent local government elections in Kaduna State that “under the electronic voting system, nobody will manipulate figures, As you cast your votes results goes to the collation centre.”

 

Governor el-Rufai, who also expressed the belief that electronic voting is possible in Nigeria, with the right determination, said the success recorded in the September 4 council polls is a demonstration that it is possible across the country.

 

The governor, in a statewide broadcast to thank the people of the state for giving the All Progressive Congress (APC), victory at the polls, said: “The local government elections of 4thSeptember2021furthervalidated the Kaduna State government’s decision to invest in Electronic Voting Machines to promote electoral integrity and transparency.

 

“Kaduna State is proudly upholding a new chapter in elections in Nigeria, using electronic voting technology, championed by a government that is determined to respect the outcome, win or lose.”

 

No doubt there has always been fear over e-voting, but the reservation notwithstanding, experience, especially from recent polls, has shown that e-voting is the way to go as it will provide a more secured and reliable system that will makes votes count

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