From Nahimah Ajikanle Nurudeen
As the country marks the 17th anniversary of its transition to democracy, Chairman of Zinox Group, Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest integrated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) conglomerate, Dr. Leo Stan Ekeh has declared that the time is ripe for Nigeria to deepen its democratic culture through the full deployment of electronic voting during elections.
He made the call at a retreat organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matter held on Friday, May 27th 2016 at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
In attendance at the retreat was the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara; Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Mahmood Yakubu; Senate Committee Chairman on INEC, Senator Abubakar Kyari who was represented by Senator Abu Gumel; Chairperson of the House Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matter, Hon. Mrs. Aisha Dukku as well as other distinguished members of the committee.
Ekeh, who featured as the keynote speaker at the retreat, disclosed that with the rapid pace of global technological advancements, Nigeria stands to reap a lot of benefits from the deployment of e-voting, stressing that the initiative will go a long way in reducing litigations and strengthening the faith of Nigerians in the electoral process. While delivering a paper titled – New thoughts, ideas and innovations on use of ICT in elections – Ekeh affirmed that the gains recorded with the use of the card readers in the 2015 general elections goes a long way to show that with the adoption of e-voting, the country will take a huge leap towards sound democratic governance.
“In your life, there must be a little bit of disruption for you to move forward. The country is ripe for transition to electronic voting. A lot of us are in this business because technology does not lie – it’s either you are right or you are wrong. With the use of the card readers in the last general elections, we saw a significant reduction in electoral fraud and other electoral malpractices. However, a few challenges were also encountered as no technology can be said to be 100% perfect.
“A country cannot move forward where the elected leaders who take decisions are not the choice of the people. It’s like running a company and you are a shareholder in that company. If your son is not qualified to lead, you will be destroying that company by manipulating the system to favour that son. So, this was the essence of our submission to INEC on the adoption of electronic voting – that things should be done professionally with your support and that of the entire nation.
“Today, there are about 774 local governments in the country and each one with about 10, 800 polling units, some of which are in the riverine areas. Even if INEC purchases 1000 vehicles, it will still find it difficult logistics-wise to cover all the areas and this leaves the process open to manipulation by emergency contractors as INEC lacks the requisite man-power.
“If finally adopted and implemented, electronic voting will ensure that you now have reasonable infrastructure to handle this. While you have the mobile units and active screens at the polling units, the database of registrants or eligible voters is sitting at the national database of INEC. Once a voter’s number is entered at the polling unit, it pulls up the details of the voter from the list of registered voters. Verification will no longer be a problem and during voting, once a voter clicks on the icon of a chosen party, the same information hits the INEC back-end. This will go a long way in reducing litigations as INEC can provide verifiable evidence in court.
“With this technology in place, voters will no longer have to travel back to their wards to cast their votes. Furthermore, INEC can also monitor the entire process easily as each electronic voting device is equipped with a tracker and can be configured to shut down immediately voting ends.”
Tracing the country’s march and transition towards electronic voting, digital ICT entrepreneur Ekeh examined the benefits and challenges of the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines used during the 2007 elections and the painstaking process which eventually culminated in the use of the card readers for the 2015 general elections.
“When Prof. Jega came on board, a decision was made to do a proper data capturing of eligible voters. We started the process and I must thank the National Assembly as they supported us despite being a local company. We designed the technology and ended up working for everybody in deploying the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines nationwide including the 600 servers. These helped promote the concept of one man, one voter card, streamlined the electoral process and also reduced multiple registration, ineligible and under-age registrants – we did a lot of these from the back-end. As a result, we were able to deliver a strong database which reduced arguments and other related issues.
“From there, we moved to the use of card readers. Back then, there were calls for proposals for electronic voting which the National Assembly to a large extent didn’t consider as the country was seen as not ripe to embrace the technology then. Most of the issues encountered with the card readers had to do with the National Assembly and the budget for INEC as well as the late release of funds after election dates had been set, among other disruptions. So, INEC had no time to conduct a mock election using the card readers. I had recommended a regional mock then as this would have helped smoothen the process.
“I would like to plead with the National Assembly to support INEC in its effort to adopt electronic voting. Until we embrace this disruption, the nation will not move forward in this regard because the government is the decider of the future of the people. If you appoint a CEO who cannot read a balance sheet, it’s impossible for that company to grow. This is the crisis the country is currently facing in the knowledge business.”
Also speaking at the event, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood disclosed that one of the major cost of elections being borne by the Commission was as a result of the numerous litigations which were a recurrent feature of conducted elections in the country. Prof. Mahmood further noted that INEC’s case is not helped by the fact that it is always joined in suits or petitions arising from elections for which it has to pay lawyers to represent the Commission in court. According to the chief electoral umpire, apart from the over 700 court cases it has had to appear in, the Commission has been dragged to court a whopping 12 times in the past one week.
Reiterating the Commission’s commitment to the conduct of credible elections, Prof. Mahmood affirmed that the journey to electronic voting is a gradual one which will undoubtedly go a long way in strengthening the nation’s democracy.
The retreat, which was supported by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), also featured a review of current electoral laws in Nigeria and a status report on amendment bills before the committee.
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