Only few days back the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) published the timetable for the next general election so as to bring about certainty in the electoral calender of Nigeria. The agenda setting exercise gained significant mileage when the Senate announced the passage of a legislation to bring into practice the use of electronic voting in Nigeria.
It bears repeating that just before the end of March 2017, the senate passed the bill legislating into being (consequent upon presidential assent/veto override) of the electronic voting and card readers for the INEC. In the considered thinking of the legislators at the upper chamber of the National Assembly, the fresh amendments to the electoral act is meant to introduce the use of electronic voting in elections. Section 52 (2) of the amendment passed by the senate reads: "The commission shall adopt electronic voting in all elections or any other method of voting as may be determined by the commission from time to time." It explained that "the amendment mandates e-voting without ambiguity but also gives the commission discretion to use other methods if it is impracticable to use e-voting in any election."
Integrity of the electoral process remains the biggest problem dogging the practice of democracy in Nigeria. Therefore, the amendments, if well implemented, will ensure transparency in polls and check the disenfranchisement of eligible voters and other attendant crises of the electoral process, the lawmakers had reasoned.
Specifically, section 49 of the new amendment tagged "Accreditation of voters, transmission of accreditation data, issuance of ballot papers to voters, etc," states: "A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter's card to a presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered. The presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the commission from time to time for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate."
The senate explained that this aspect of the amendment "gives solid legal footing and clarity to the commission's introduction of smart card readers for accreditation of voters during elections", adding that it equally "makes room for introduction of other election devices by the commission, as may be necessary, in the future." According to the lawmakers, the amendment also "makes allowance" for the likelihood of failure of card readers and mandates the commission to remedy such a situation.
However, whereas it may sound revolutionary that at long last Nigeria is joining the ranks of advanced societies that adopt the electronic voting mechanisms, there are a number of challenges that ought to be confronted.
Let me make it clear from onset that I support any mechanisms put in place to checkmate the perennial abuses of the electoral process. My only concern is how Nigeria can address the fundamental challenges of this revolutionary voting method.
Apart from poor infrastructure, the economic recession is a major drawback in such a way that it may be difficult to find the quantum of cash that would be required to buy the electronic voting infrastructure. So the challenges are real. These challenges are in two parts, namely human factor and the factor of gross underdevelopment of the nation's infrastructural backbones.
Speaking about the human factor, it is important to state that Nigerians need to undergo fundamental and clearly intensive orientation to depart from the temptations of manipulating whatever process and mechanisms that are put in place such as the electronic voting machine being contemplated. The nation is still at the primary stage of dismantling the criminal infrastructure of sophisticated cybercrime gangs. This model being contemplated which in any case is in tune with global best practices could definitely be undermined by these teething problems of technicalities. We also need to strengthen the necessary institutions that ought to dispense justice to administer legal sanctions on alleged manipulators of elections.
These critical areas of gaps are yet to be fundamentally addressed. There is therefore the urgency to put all options on the table and to proffer the most pragmatic panacea just before Nigeria can begin the use of electronic voting in Nigeria. The second inhibiting factor is the infrastructure gaps facing Nigeria. For decades, many scholars have come to the consensus that the electricity power situation has been a major cause for concern.
To underscore the collapse of the electricity power sector we were reminded that just few days back , that the top six GenCos providing the country with electricity (Egbin Power Limited, Transcorp Power, Shiroro, Kainji/Jebba, Sapele, and Geregu) would shut down their power plants if the federal government, through the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader (NBET), refuses to pay its N156 billion debt to them. This serious power infrastructure gap may fundamentally pose a serious challenge to the full implementation of the e-voting.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, email@example.com