The use of technology has no doubt made life easy in various ways especially in communication. Through the internet and mobile phones, communication is initiated and executed across the world in seconds. Information is sent and received within seconds and many transactions including voting, have now been based on the use of technology.
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill has been in contention for a while especially during the Eight Senate. The bills passed were rejected three times by President Buhari. It was then re-introduced in the Ninth Senate. On July 15, the Senate passed the Bill that seeks to amend the Electoral Act. In the bill, there were provisions for electronic transmission of results, electronic voting among others. The electronic transmission of results was the contentious part. The earlier clause in the bill was that, “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.” but amended to, “The commission may consider electronics collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the National Communication Commission (NCC), and approved by the National Assembly,” The Constitution gives INEC power over the elections, not NCC or the National Assembly. The Senators voted for the passage of the amended clause. Since this development, Nigerians have been in a debate whether or not Nigeria is ready for the introduction of the electronic voting and transmission of election results.
The INEC responded, “We have made our own position very clear, that we have the capacity and we have the will to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process.” INEC’s National Chairman and Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, said.
The Nigerian electoral process had not been static. There have been introductions of technology that keeps deepening the electoral process which includes the Smart Card Reader which reduced the errors in manual matching of names in wards and polling units, Direct Capture Machines and others.
Many Nigerians are worried about network coverage and how remote areas will partake in electronic voting and results transmission. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami had stated that broadband penetration will be over 70% in the new National Broadband Plan NBP (2020-2025), launched by President Mohammadu Buhari on March 10th, 2020, and that will certainly make Nigeria a truly digital economy.
With the coverage of mobile network providers, which have permeated in the country to some extent. Festus said, “We have uploaded results from very remote areas, even from areas where you have to use human carriers to access.”
The Nigerian technology sector has not advanced in such a record to compete with some technology advanced countries. Nigeria still relies on expatriates for her technology development but it is noteworthy that technology has been used in many sectors of Nigeria in transactions and data collection. For instance, the cashless money policy, several biometric and data collections like the BVN, Sim Card registration, Smart Card Reader, National Identity Number and other forms of data collection. ATM, POS, Internet banking, Remita are done using network coverage. Many of these electronic data collections and transfers have been done successfully and Nigerians have fully embraced them.
Before the introduction of the cashless policy in 2011 by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria operated mostly a cash-based economy, with huge sums of money being moved across the country in cash. With the introduction of the electronic payment system, interbank transfers, internet banking, mobile transfer, automated teller machines – ATMs became widely in use. The cashless economy faced challenges that ranged from fear of implementation, poor infrastructural facilities and embracing the new culture of electronic payments and transactions. Eventually, the electronic payment system was accepted, and a lot of Nigerians including those in remote areas now operate electronic systems at least through the use of the ATM.
Going by the readiness of INEC and the assurance of NCC of broadband penetration across the country, the issue of network access is however not to be considered a hindrance. That takes us to the issue of hacking. Hence, technology has not proven to be 100 percent hack-free, and the banking sector and other data collection initiatives in Nigeria have not suffered widespread hacking, it will be uncharitable to discard electronic voting and transmission of results even before having an actual experience of the widespread hacking.
The use of Electronic Voting System
Electronic voting and transfer of results have been in use in several countries. It can be through voting on machines, through online, on paper ballots but are counted electronically by optical scanners and results shown immediately. Since 2005, Estonia has been using an internet-voting system. Though it suffered an attack, the government and people of Estonia did not pull back, rather, they learned and improved. In 2014, Namibia became the first African nation to use an electronic voting system. In 2018, Democratic Republic of Congo introduced an electronic voting system but out of controversies of accepting the new technology, 7,000 of the 10,000 voting machines were destroyed by arsonists.
Nigeria with her digital advancement should be able to handle electronic voting and transmission of results and the malware risks, meddling from foreign countries and cybersecurity challenges that may come. It is not only cheap compared to manual tabulation and transmission of results; it is safer and gives instant results.
The manual voting, tabulation and transmission of results are easily corrupted through ballot box snatching, election results manipulation and intimidation of electoral officers. It is also very expensive to print and distribute the electoral materials across the country which is of high risk to the outcome and the officers who may be victims of interests and political pressures.
Electronic voting system saves time and resources and would serve the country better except for politicians who have entrenched and perfected their rigging system through the manual voting system. Otherwise, Nigerians of all shades and class should be open to the electronic voting system, and I will say, Nigeria is ready.
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