Young Nigerians still want to be involved in future elections despite INEC’s failed gamble on technology in 2023

Ejike Kanife
The Missed Opportunities of the Nigerian Election 2023: A Metaphorical Analysis

Despite the technical failure of Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to effectively apply the BVAS and IREV in the last general elections, and the disappointment and disillusionment that followed, many young Nigerians are still bullish about getting involved in the country’s electoral process.

Several youths who were deeply involved in the last electoral cycle who spoke to Technext, have insisted they will still get involved in the electoral process despite obvious disappointments as it is the only way to eventually get it right.

“As long as you’re in a democracy, participating in elections is a must, otherwise you just watch things getting worse. Morale is down in some quarters and all, but if you say you won’t participate, how do you expect it to get better?” Sodiq a Lagos-based online entrepreneur said.

Dinma, a Lagos-based digital media personnel agrees. According to her, no system is perfect and for a system to work and approach anything close to perfection, that can only be guaranteed by continuous engagements by various stakeholders. 

“For me, while the frustrations of the young persons are valid, abandoning the electoral process will never be the answer or way forward as a complete disengagement will ultimately promote the irregularities they are protesting against. Systemic change often comes with resilience in facing challenges and intentionality in driving the campaign. 

She encouraged fellow young people to see the outcomes of the elections as a blueprint and opportunity to address and interrogate specific issues that affected the election. This, she insists, will boost the possibilities of a more transparent and accountable future electoral cycle. 

Despite INEC technology failure, Young Nigerians still want to be involved in the electoral process
A voter in Nigeria looking at the voters’ register at the polling unit location. Source: Unsplash

Disappointing conclusion to the 2023 elections

There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in the build-up to the 2023 presidential elections. This was mainly because of the emergence of a third force political party, the Labour Party (LP). The LP candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, quickly won over the youths who have been clamouring for a change from the old guard of the PDP and the APC, represented by their candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Bola Ahmed Tinubu respectively.

The enthusiasm was also spurred by the promise of giving Nigeria the freest and most credible election in its sullied electoral history. This promise by the INEC was backed by the latest technology introduced into the electoral process, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).

INEC’s assurances were reiterated both in Nigeria and on international platforms through its Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, and the then National Commissioner, Festus Okoye. Both chiefs claimed that the BVAS would not only serve as a means of authentication but also the only means of instantly transmitting election results from the polling units straight to the IREV. The IREV was also touted as the last recourse in case of irregularities in results.

Many Nigerians thought the introduction of these technologies would signal the end of physical collation and transmission but they were wrong. On Election Day, BVAS failed woefully in the very aspect that would have rendered credibility to the presidential elections; instant transmission of results from the polling units. This made the INEC revert to manual collation and transmission which in turn opened the result up for manipulation.

Despite INEC technology failure, Young Nigerians still want to be involved in the electoral process
Credit: The Cable/Ibrahim Mansur

By the morning of March 1 when the final result was announced, the INEC Chairman had reneged on his promise of instant transmission with BVAS and the APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu had been declared winner of the polls. Of course, this didn’t go down well with the youths, many of whom were first-time voters. They had expected that technology would be the difference maker but it wasn’t.

“For the first time in a long while, we, the younger generation, felt that we had ownership of the process and that technology would be our ally. First, the BVAS was designed to eliminate the old problems of overvoting and result manipulation, while the IREV aimed to improve transparency. With it, we had the opportunity to track results in real-time. The election technology which held so much promise did not totally live up to expectations hence the disillusionment,” Dinma broke down her feelings.

“A lot of people were hoping the introduction of technology to transmit results for the first time electronically would make the difference. It is unfortunate that that wasn’t the case as it later turned out. And if someone tells you to expect something but can’t fulfil it, it’s natural to be disappointed. So I was disappointed. And I think a lot of people were too,” Sodiq said.

Back in 2020, in the build-up to the general elections, this reporter carried out a little investigation into the legal implications of the new electoral act especially as it concerns the application of new technologies. The recourse, of course, was the Nigerian Constitution as the ultimate decider of legal matters.

In that investigation, we noted that the wording of the electoral act itself is ambiguous enough to warrant real trepidation. While its wording empowers the INEC to carry out accreditation with BVAS, it also gives the same INEC the power to decide against it.

In the same vein, for transmission of results, Section 60, subsection 5 of the Electoral Act doesn’t expressly make provisions for electronic transmission. It only says: The presiding officer shall transfer the results including the total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot IN A MANNER as prescribed by the Commission.

2023 elections: the BVAS question and why Nigeria can’t afford to lose in the age of tech

An Abuja-based lawyer, Michael, asked if INEC would be wrong in the eyes of the law if it decides to do away with BVAS, said:

“INEC can’t be wrong to jettison the use of BVAS since it isn’t expressly listed. While INEC reserves the discretion to use whatever technology it deems fit for whatever purpose, my concern is that non-feasibility might lead INEC to resort to manual. It might cite any reason.”

Read more: 2023 elections, the BVAS question and why Nigeria can’t afford to lose

With the Presidential Elections Petition Tribunal deciding as much, the question remains, what can be done to strengthen these aspects of the law and entrench technology into the electoral system?

The legal practitioner, Michael says the answer lies in not giving INEC the discretion to decide to change the mode of transmission/collation of results. Inadvertently, the law should abolish manual collation and be clear that BVAS is the only mode of collation for future elections.

“The provision for alternative channels or discretion on INEC is collating results should be expunged,” he said. “There is also a need for voter education and general education on legal issues as they relate to elections,” he finished.

Sodiq agreed, referencing one of the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal rulings which decided that it was not mandatory for the INEC to transmit election results electronically. To him, the laws concerning electoral technology are too ambiguous and open to any interpretation.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but part of the judgment delivered by the tribunal is that it’s not mandatory for INEC to transmit results electronically. I think for that issue to be tackled and fixed, there has to be an amendment mandating INEC to transmit results electronically in clear and simple terms,” he said.

In Sum:

The 2023 general elections have come and gone. Despite the disappointments and illusions that it left in its wake, young Nigerians agree that it is important they don’t give up on the electoral process. However, the process needs to be greatly improved and a bulk of that improvement has to come from amending aspects of the law that regulates the application of technology.

“Young people also need to take a step back to examine all that has happened and how better they can engage the system. There is a need for people to scrutinize what the law says at every point in time, making sure they zero in on details which could influence the outcomes of the elections,” Dinma said.

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