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 is to 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, votebuying, 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 a welcome development, when the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in a policy document on the forthcoming 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 for 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.’
This is not the first time INEC will mull adopting the electronic voting system. Yakubu’s successor, 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, but sadly the legal constraints are yet to be addressed. What would have been a breakthrough during the Eighth Senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki, when members of the nation’s upper legislative chamber pushed for electoral reform to strengthen internal democracy, reduce election-eering cost, increase political participation and the conduct of free fair and credible elections through technological innovations and an electronic database, unfortunately failed to get the presidential approval.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in refusing to sign that bill, said: “I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process. Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”
The propriety or otherwise of the President’s argument then, we strongly believe it was time that Africa’s most populous nation and largest democracy adopt the electronic voting system given the challenges of conducting elections in the country with a population of about 200 million people, out of which there are about 80 million registered voters, spread across 120,000 polling centres. The fears over e-voting had always been that Nigeria is not ripe for it as it 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.
This argument, notwithstanding, experience, especially from recent polls, has shown that evoting is the way to go. The process will provide a more secured and reliable system that will make votes count as the system moderates the level of human interaction with it, thereby diminishing its disposition to election malpractices and errors. We also believe that there is the need for Nigeria to adopt e-voting given the number of political parties which makes difficult, the 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.
Most significantly is 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. Now that the next general election is about three years away, we implore all relevant stakeholders on the need to take necessary steps to allow the legal framework that will empower INEC to adopt the electronic voting system in order to give more credibility to the country’s electoral process.