In Support for the Adoption of Electronic Voting System in Nigeria

In Support for the Adoption of Electronic Voting System in Nigeria

Some constant unpalatable phenomena have always characterized the decades of post-independent periodic elections in Nigeria – violence/killings, voter intimidation/harassment, heavy bribery, riggings, manipulation of election results, ballot box snatchings, and so on.

The most recent Kogi and Bayelsa States gubernatorial elections didn’t escape those features.

The Diplomatic Watch, which comprises Austria, the European Union Delegation, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States expressed their displeasure with the conduct of the elections.

In their words: “We are concerned by evident vote buying and credible reports of ballot box snatching in both Bayelsa and Kogi.”

A reasonable progressive society will not allow itself to be repeatedly continuously prone to practices of failure except something was seriously wrong with the Leaders and the Led. Such failures becomes outrageously ridiculous when the solutions that could end it all stares all of us in the face.

When commonsense refuses to be common to a community of people, such people are worthy of an assembly of global wailers who gathers to mourn their blatant foolishness.

Just a few days ago, the immediate former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, expressed his disapproval with the happenings in the 2019 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa state. He made a couple of statements that expressed my thoughts for some years now about the way forward for Nigerian elections. He said:

‘’The signals coming from Kogi and Bayelsa are quite disturbing. The use of thugs, shooting guns and our people are already being killed when the voting process has not even started is disturbing. This would not happen if we have got to a point in this country where voter card matters. That is why I have always advocated electronic voting. If people these days can transfer billions of dollars from one bank to the other using electronic means, then I believe we can do electronic voting perfectly and that will ensure the use of thugs during elections would not come up again.’’

Isn’t that common sense solution to the unreliable volatile electoral system in Nigeria?

Elections in Nigeria has always witnessed a low voter turnout. This is especially common among the youth population.

According to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, there are currently 81 million registered voters in Nigeria. The youths, aged 18 to 35, are about 63% of registered voters which is about 51 million young registered voters.

If the total accredited voters in 2019 presidential election is 29,364,209 and Nigeria has over 51 million young registered voters, then the voting strength of the youths has not been properly harnessed.

Voters’ turnout in the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary elections was far less than expected. The postponement of the election from February 16 to February 23 by the Independent National Electoral Commission due to logistics problem heightened voter apathy, especially among the youths.

The election process which is mostly manual (and therefore subject to electoral manipulations) and the long time it takes to cast vote on election days also discourages voters’ participation. The case of voters being limited to voting only in the polling unit where they registered reduces participation as a lot of them have relocated from these areas to other parts of the county.

The most viable method through which all classes of Nigerian eligible voters can fully participate in elections is if the current manual voting system is allowed to run along with a completely digitized voting system.

It would be very erroneous to think we are not ready for a digitized voting system. The statistics don’t lie.

According to the International Telecommunications Union (2018):

  • About 77 million Nigerians uses smartphone.
  • Internet penetration in Nigeria is at 63% of the population which is about 126 million.
  • 23% of Nigerians access the internet daily.

2013 Reports by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) states that:

  • Nigeria has the highest number of mobile phone subscriptions in Africa – more than 93 million, representing 16% of the continent’s total mobile subscriptions.
  • The number of subscribers are expanding at about 40% every year.

According to Jumia 2019 mobile report:

  • There are over 172 million mobile subscribers in Nigeria, implying a penetration rate of 87% of the population.
  • 44% of mobile subscribers are using 3G technology while 4% are using 4G technology.
  • Nigeria’s broadband penetration is forecasted to rise to 55% of the population by 2025 with 70% having 3G connectivity and 17% having access to 4G networks.

Billions of naira transacted through phones by hundreds of thousands of Nigerians occurs daily in the country.

All these information technology statistics points to the obvious fact that Nigeria is absolutely ready for a completely digitized electoral process. All that is needed is the political/leadership will to execute.

How difficult can it be to fully digitize a voting process that occurs only once in 4 years?

The Nigerian youths, who constitutes the majority of the voting population, love using information technology to execute tasks due to its speed, convenience and efficiency. If people can vote online with their smartphones using their Voter Identification Number (VIN), the rate of youths’ democratic participation in elections will geometrically increase.

There have been arguments like – ”there are vast locations in Nigeria where there is very low or nonexistent internet penetration”.

The Nigerian financial sector has evolved to solve this problem. There is now mobile banking via USSD.

The USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) is a GSM technology that is used to send text between a mobile phone and an application program in the network without the need for internet. Through this internet-less medium, you can make instant transfers, check your account balance, pay bills, buy airtime etc via the dialing of short codes and supplying your bank account information.

So what solutions does this provide for Nigerian elections?

The commonsensical implication is that it is possible for a registered Nigerian voter to vote through the USSD technology for any political party’s candidate of his/her choice through his/her phone without access to the internet as long as he/she can supply his/her Voter Identification Number (VIN) in the USSD voting process.

However, some statistical evidence suggest that the manual voting process should not be entirely wiped out.

According to the EFInA (Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access) 2018 Survey:

  • The Nigerian adult population (18 years and above) is 99.6 million.
  • Out of this, 63.1 million are based in the rural area
  • 20.2 million have no formal education.

Therefore, the complete usage of a digitized voting system could disenfranchise millions of uninformed Nigerians concentrated in rural areas.

This is why a manual voting system needs to be run concurrently with a digitized voting system such that there is less of manual system and more of digital vote in urban areas and less of digital versus more of manual voting system in rural areas.

A digitized voting system will mean less of logistical demands that manual voting system requires, thereby saving us the kind of national embarrassment caused by the last minute postponement of the 2019 Presidential/Parliamentary elections from February 16 to February 23 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was mainly attributed to logistics problems.

A digitized voting system implies a demoralization of the factors and actors that emboldens the farce of an election that plays out in the 2018 Osun State gubernatorial election, the violence and corruption that determines Nigerian election results and the general unreliability of the voting system.

A digitized voting system means every eligible voter can vote from any location in the country irrespective of distance from polling units where they registered.

If the selfish desires of the Nigerian political leaders who came into power through dubious election processes prevents them from enabling an obvious solution that could geometrically increase voters’ participation and bring integrity into our electoral system, then the citizens must rise in unison to demand for such solutions.

It is a shame that when there are weightier issues, the people in government are focused on sponsoring a bill to criminalize hate speech. The successful passage of such bills can only further undermine our democracy and make the electoral system more susceptible to selfish manipulations.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you can vote via your mobile phone in the comfort of your home on election days?  Wouldn’t it be awesome to vote without fear of intimidation, temptations of bribery and mental/physical exhaustion from travelling long distances to queue for hours at polling units?  Wouldn’t it be great to know your vote is automatically validated immediately you vote and thereby less vulnerable to manual manipulations? Wouldn’t it be nice to be spared the ridiculous sight of top INEC officials at collation centers strenuously staring through long sheets of voters’ data which their spectacles couldn’t effectively capture?  Wouldn’t it be great to have a truly free and fair voting system that effectively keep leaders accountable to the governed?

An electronic voting system properly anchored on flexible secure  information technology innovations can make all these happen.

Commonsense solutions should never be difficult to comprehend and activate for any nation that desires progress.

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