Nigeria has a long history of inconclusive elections heralded by election malpractices like multiple voting, thuggery, stolen ballots and personal intimidation.
The proposed use of more technology in the electoral process has been lauded by both government and people as a major way to pave for a transparent and credible election.
The amendment to add technology-enhanced solutions into Nigeria’s Electoral Act was initially made in 2019 before the general election. However, its assent was delayed by the president due to possible disruptions it could cause since it was already so close to an election.
Last year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) started working with the National Assembly to restart the process.
However, as the Senate plans to pass the amended bill submitted by the Committee on INEC this week, some new additions that differ from the 2019 bill have sparked controversies.
Of particular note is Section 50(2), which completely outlaws transmission of votes by electronic means.
“Voting at an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedures determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means.”
Several lawmakers, civil society organisations (CSOs), parties like the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the Southern Governors council have all condemned the additions to the new bill.
Beyond the obvious, below are some explanations on what the current bill means to the current electoral process and a comparison with the proposed 2019 bill.
Manual or Electronic Voting
The current means of voting and transmission of results, according to the 2010 Electoral Act, is the manual process of counting ballot papers and submission of results via forms to an official provided by the commission.
After the recording of election results, the Presiding Officer shall announce the result and deliver same and election materials under security to such persons as may be prescribed by the Commission.Section 65, 2010 Electoral Act
However, the proposed 2019 amendment added a section that allowed INEC to adopt any form of electronic voting. It also enabled the commission to compile, maintain and update election results electronically – National Electronic Register of Election Results.
This new development was welcomed by the commission. According to the National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, INEC is already working towards the use of Electronic Voting Machines for the 2023 general elections.
Similarly, the preliminary test of the electronic process using the electronic transmission of results during the September 2020 Edo State governorship polls garnered commendation from many stakeholders.
However, an adjustment to the proposed bill, while still allowing for electronic voting contains a clause that prevents INEC from transmitting the results electronically.
Justified or crooked?
The decision of the Senate panel to ban the electronic transmission of results while accepting electronic voting does raise eyebrows.
Looking at the country’s long and ugly history with election rigging and vote padding using the manual system, it’s quite easy and reasonable to conclude that the lawmakers have heinous intentions in mind.
First off, electronic collation means that fewer people have the ability to influence results. The progress of elections can be monitored from anywhere, removing the sole responsibility of credibility from the presiding officer and giving him even less opportunity to tamper with results.
This basically defeats the known trend of money sharing to electoral officials at polling points to allow malpractices.
Another is that every politician wants to win elections. In their bid to win at all cost, they have mastered the manual method like the palm of their hands and they know how to game the system. The new electronic system is a mystery which they fear may cause them to lose.
However, despite all the accusations and the sound arguments against it, critical observation shows some inconspicuous reasons why the ban on electronic collation may be justified.
The first is that Nigeria’s internet penetration is still low in many regions. According to the NCC, Nigerian broadband penetrations still stand at 39.6%, well below average.
Some areas in the North, especially in the war-torn regions where telecom mast are being destroyed, don’t have services. Similarly, there are areas in the South-south only accessible by canoes that don’t have the luxuries of internet connection.
If electronic voting is employed this particular class of people could be disenfranchised.
Another consideration is the type of technology that would be deployed. With no specifications in place, it’s unsure what kind of technology the commission wants to deploy.
The use of USSD may be more popular but is also prone to errors. The use of internet services on the other hand is better but there’s still the problem of internet penetration and tech literacy in some regions.
However, if the commission could adopt satellite connections then the earlier complaint of infrastructure deficit is moot.
Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network is a brilliant innovation INEC can leverage on for Nationwide connectivity
Nigeria is already a latecomer when it comes to the adoption of electronic transmission of electoral results. Other African countries like Ghana and South Africa that use similar ballot-based voting processes already transmit their election results electronically.
Whatever decision is reached would tell if the possible exclusion and disenfranchisement of some sections of the population is enough price to pay for introducing developments that could make the general electoral process more transparent and credible.
In retrospect, the countries lawmakers can take a leave from America’s system and adopt a hybrid model tailored to the country, where manual is used for remote regions without connectivity and electronic is used in others.
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