Nothing should derail INEC’s IT drive

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AS the Independent National Electoral Commission steps up the application of technology in the electoral process ahead of the 2023 elections to general acclaim, reactionary forces are mounting both open and surreptitious campaigns to discredit its efficacy. They should be resisted. While INEC has commendably repeated its determination to stick to its technology-driven electoral procedures, some political actors have been voicing criticisms and objections. Some cast doubts on the relevance of INEC’s Biometric Voter Accreditation System and the Results Viewing Portal, otherwise known as electronic transmission of election results. Their claims are groundless; deploying technology is the right way to go to infuse greater credibility in Nigeria’s turbulent elections.

With less than 70 days to the presidential election, the protest against the deployment of technology is not only coming late, but is also baseless. Such push-back is seen as at worst, an attempt by vested interests to halt the recent improvements in the electoral process, or at best, an instinctive distrust of modernity and innovation. For a country seeking to improve its fledgling democracy, both tendencies are unhelpful.

Opposition is also coming from unexpected quarters. The National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Abdullahi Adamu, had expressed doubts over INEC’s capacity to deliver a credible election using the BVAS and the RVP when he received a Commonwealth delegation on the 2023 general elections in Abuja.  The APC’s National Organising Secretary, Suleiman Argungu, also doubts the efficacy of e-transmission in Nigeria, citing the unstable power supply as one of the obstacles to the innovation. Others claim Nigerian voters “are not sophisticated enough.” They are wrong.

APC’s leeriness is surprising because the introduction of technology-notably the electronic card reader-in 2015 is partly credited with enabling it as an opposition party to surmount possible manipulation and  dislodge an incumbent government, and also because the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the party are expected to share the credit for innovation and cleaner elections with INEC

But the critics’ fears are groundless. Apart from its success around the world, experts at home and abroad have reassured Nigerians of the workability and benefits of technology-backed electoral processes. Resoundingly, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, the umbrella body of telecoms companies in Nigeria, has certified that the electronic transmission of results of the 2023 elections is possible with the quality of telecoms architecture available in the country.

ATCON’s Chief Operating Officer, Ajibola Olude, emphasised that the country’s telecommunication infrastructure had matured to the level it could transmit election results in real time nationwide. Similarly, the Nigerian Communications Commission had since 2018 recommended the adoption of e-transmission for the 2019 general elections on the grounds that it was viable.

According to the Journal of Business and Economic Policy, electronic voting technology enhances the “efficiency, effectiveness, and applicability of the democratic process of electing qualified candidates to serve their countries.” It generates greater voter confidence, providing the “convenience, and confidence to vote without fear of harassment and intimidation.”

Admittedly, technology can suffer glitches; however, the laudable impact of technology on the electoral process has been widely acknowledged.

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Today, more electoral management bodies around the world are adopting new technologies. These range from basic office automation tools such as word processing and spreadsheets to more sophisticated data processing tools, such as database management systems, optical scanning and geographic information systems. Voters in Kenya where technology has also been successfully deployed are not more sophisticated than Nigerians. 

One especially important application is e-voting; the use of electronic technology in casting or counting votes. It has many uses, including increasing participation among voters living abroad and making elections more inclusive for voters with disabilities. European countries began piloting e-voting over a decade ago. The appropriate application of technology in elections can increase administrative efficiency, reduce long-term costs and enhance political transparency.

In 2014, Namibia became the first African country to adopt e-voting, Nigeria and some others have opted to follow suit. Brazil adopted e-voting since 2000, while India has deployed electronic voting machines in nationwide parliamentary elections since 2004. Similarly, Estonia has implemented Internet voting since 2007; in the 2015 parliamentary elections, one-third of Estonians chose to vote online, helping to improve voter turnout among other factors.

Nigerian youths, the largest population segment, are active on the Internet and the traditional voting methods will surely not fit their technology-driven lifestyle. Internet-based voting will aid in bringing the younger voters into the voting bracket.  INEC should therefore address expected impediments to the successful deployment of technologies during the elections by making provision for adequate back-up systems.

Experts also advocate automatic voter registration to ease the registration of new voters, especially those just attaining the voting age. In France, citizens are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18; in Sweden, eligible voters are registered via tax registration rolls; and in Oregon State, United States, voters can be automatically registered once they turn 18, or once they request or renew their driver’s licence. This is cost-effective and also boosts voter turnout, voter registration and participation.

A digital-based process will also make the hijacking of ballot boxes or burning of ballot papers irrelevant to the outcome. Digitalising the electoral process may not be the silver bullet to all of Nigeria’s electoral problems, but it is definitely a step towards cleaner, fairer elections.

Beyond this, political parties, civil society oragnisations and other stakeholders should help in mobilising more Nigerians to participate effectively in the 2023 polls. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said voter turnout in Nigeria’s 2019 elections was “the lowest of all recent elections held on the African continent and second lowest in the history of elections held in African countries.’’

Building a successful democracy is hinged on getting the electoral process right and producing quality leadership.  Since the election outcome is dependent on the process, it is important to have a strong, technology-driven electoral system. INEC should remain steadfast in deploying and constantly upgrading its ICT platforms.   ,

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