BusinessDay

Nigeria’s undemocratic electoral system can learn from Big Brother Naija’s voting structure

“This is Big Brother. Will the Head of House, please report to the diary room.”

Everyone loves the deep baritone voice of the unidentified “Big Brother” who, according to the show, “is always watching”. Even the housemates confess that one of the things they would miss the most after the show is the notable voice of the big guy behind the numerous cameras within the highly decorated and lavish apartment that houses the contestants.

The popular entertainment show aired by Multichoice is praised for being one of Africa’s most prominent family shows hosted in Nigeria. This year’s version is the sixth season, themed “shine ya eyes”. As usual, the organisers did not disappoint their audiences as the contestants competed for the N90 million grand prize.

The show’s success lies in a strictly designed voting system that ensures favourite housemates are kept in the house until the final day, when the grand prize will be announced to the winner. As such, individuals worldwide become attached in some sense to their favourite housemates, and they exercise their voting powers to keep their beloved entertainer in the competition. Most times, fans remain loyal to their chosen celebrity even when the show is over.

In past seasons, characters like Bisola, Cee-Cee, Tacha, Mercy, Erica, Laycon and of recent, Liquorose, Cross and Whitemoney are some housemates that fans voted for in large numbers. Many spent fortunes on recharge cards to keep the voting numbers up, to ensure that their favourite celebrity wins the prize money.

Interestingly, this programme is highly watched and followed by the young and old, the rich and poor, the illiterate and literate, as well as citizens and non-citizens of Nigeria. Full participation in the voting process also follows a non-tribal, non-religious and non-gendered bias among fans across the globe.

Read Also: Whitemoney wins BBNaija Shine Ya Eye edition

More interestingly, this programme is hosted in Nigeria, a country whose electoral process is known to be marred with the direct opposite of what the BBNaija voting process epitomises.

Nigeria’s leadership choice is bruised with gut-deep corruption by political leaders on the one side and by an unnecessary bias towards class, tribe, political leaning, or religion on the other side. Indeed, Nigeria has a lot to learn from the electoral leadership that the country’s entertainment sector provides.

Corruption erodes all aspects of good governance and effective service delivery to the people. Issues such as vote-buying, bribery, using public treasury for campaigns, excessive media campaign, intimidation at the polls, spending beyond reasonable limits, and manipulating results are expected outcomes in any electoral period in Nigeria. All these are undemocratic and morally poignant consequences that debase the country’s electoral democracy.

Resorting to the electronic voting system, as does the BBNaija show, is expected to birth the emergence of true democratic choices of the people.

The show’s voting system includes the former SMS voting platform, which has been scrapped, probably due to the many instances of vote sponsorship by fans of high net worth. This may have been made to purge the voting process of similitudes of vote-buying, which prevails in the Nigerian electoral system.

Now, voting for favourite housemates is done through Africa Magic’s online voting poll, which is available to everyone around the globe, Africa Magic’s mobile and websites, MyDstv and MyGotv applications that are available to Nigerian subscribers only.

This voting system is tenured, as it automatically opens up every Monday night and closes on Thursday by 9 pm. Voters can give a maximum of 100 votes via mobile and websites.

This transparent voting system is praised for having yielded reliable results free of bias and prejudice of any form. A reputable entity openly confirms results before being announced for the first time by a famous announcer. Over the years, many more individuals have been encouraged to vote for their favourite celebrities using this simple and transparent system.

In 2019, about 240 million total votes were cast in favour of the programme. By 2020, over 900 million votes were recorded. This year’s total votes is estimated to be around 1 billion, according to the show’s headline presenter, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu.

This voting outcome serves a lot of lessons to Nigeria’s voting system. High votes in BBNaija’s programme and the relative low polls during the country’s general elections plead a strong case for mobile voting.

Nigeria’s electoral voting experience is characteristic of less than expected voter turnouts. The fear of a violent outing, intimidation or harassment by political thugs, loss of faith in the electoral and political system of the country, fear of manipulated results, fear of ballot snuffing and snatching, stress and lateness of electoral staff are some of the reasons for the low turnout of people during elections.

During the 2019 presidential elections, out of 82.3 million voters collated by INEC, only 29.3 million voters were accredited, representing 35.6 per cent of the total voting population. By the end of the elections, the total votes cast was 28.6 million, and the total number of valid votes was 27.3 million. This means that 33.1 percent of eligible voters elected the president in that year. The same trend was experienced at the state levels.

Therefore, it is essential to seek ways to emulate and encourage the electronic voting system if the country’s electoral process must see a true renaissance. The government must see the need for this and move to work with the private sector to achieve this feat.

Voter information using Bank Verification Number (BVN) or National Identification Number (NIN) can be helpful. The government can also work with commercial banks, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), immigrations, higher institutions, religious bodies, the National Population Commission (NPC), public hospitals and various embassies to gather other relevant information about Nigerians who are either resident in the country or are abroad. This is to ensure that accurate voter information or data are gathered for proper identification and accountability.

Furthermore, the government must sit at a round table with tech firms and other network service providers to discuss the administration of electronic voter services.

While it is mostly agreed that the paper-based voting system in Nigeria is expensive and generally overwhelming, learning from BBNaija’s novel e-voting system will usher the country into a new era of a cheaper, faster, more efficient, accurate and credible system of choosing the best and well-deserving leaders for the nation.