INEC, electronic voting and 2023 general election

With the commencement of the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on June 28, 2021, one can rightly say that the countdown to the 2023 general election has effectively begun.

In the last two months, there has been political alignment and realignment with some governors and notable politicians switching camps. The latest to defect is Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State who moved from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In some of the states, governance has since taken the back seat as attention has been shifted to 2023. A state like Yobe comes to mind as the Governor, Mai Mala Buni seems to have relocated to Abuja since he was appointed to head the APC Caretaker/National Convention Committee.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in trying to be re-elected as a governor, but it should not be at the expense of governance. It has become a practice in Nigeria that once a governor is elected, he tries as much as possible to impress in his first term, but play to the gallery in his second term if he manages to be re-elected, his second term.

Essentially, if there is one area of our national life Nigerians and indeed all the stakeholders are yearning for a serious change, it is to have a credible electoral process through which people of integrity, character and competence are elected into leadership positions. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

As the number one stakeholder in the electoral process, INEC’s ultimate goal should always be to conduct free, credible and transparent election that would stand the taste of time and that journey starts with capturing people that have attained the voting age of 18.

Over the years, lots of people have been dis-enfranchised either by error of omission or commission. For the fact that millions of Nigerians attain the voting age of 18 years every year, it therefore, becomes imperative that such exercise should be taken with the utmost seriousness it deserves.

Although one had expected that the electoral umpire should have started the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise much earlier so that there will be enough time to accommodate as many that would want to register, its determination to rights the wrongs of its past mistakes is something worthy of commendation.

Many are of the firm belief that once the electoral process is right, every other thing will fall in shape. They further contend that the poor leadership the country has been suffering from was as a result of defective electoral system which allows all manner of people to find their way in leadership positions.

This is why many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill before the 9th National Assembly is passed on time so that INEC will be well empowered with right legal framework going into the 2023 election.

After the gubernatorial elections in Anambra state on November 6, 2021, the Ekiti poll on June 18, 2022 as well as the Osun State governorship election on July 16, 2022, the electoral umpire has barely eight months to prepare for the main election.

Sadly, the 2019 general election fell short of standard and expectations given the violence and malpractices witnessed across the country. No doubt, election in Nigeria is still a far cry from being free and fair. For instance, the just concluded party primaries in Anambra State have thrown up so many questions than answers – factions emerging here and there.

It is worrisome that despite the gargantuan amount of money that has been spent on previous elections, it appears like our electoral process is jinxed. For instance, in 2011, Nigeria spent N139 billion on elections; N116.3 billion in 2015 and N189.2 billion in 2019. Yet, the polls were nothing to write home about.

As 2023 is already in view, how do we curtail the irregularities associated with our electoral process? How do we get the electorate to come out en masse and vote knowing that their votes will count? Analysts have clearly said that this process starts with the passing of the Electoral Act Amendment bill, which strongly canvasses for electronic voting.

In view of this, INEC has proposed to buy about 200,000 electoral voting machines to cater for the 176, 846 polling units in the country. The commission’s Electronic Voting Implementation Committee has been reconstituted and has commenced work.

However, the commission has been seeking an amendment of the legal framework that would enable electronic voting. The commission has remained committed to introducing electronic voting machines in the electoral process to replace the manual system that has put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.

Although there have been divided opinions on whether Nigeria is ripe for electronic voting, Mahmood Yakubu said at the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives in October 2020 that elections in the country were “too manual, expensive, cumbersome and archaic.” He added that “the encumbrance of the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed.”

Lending his voice to electronic voting, former President Goodluck Jonathan said electronic voting is the only way to ensure credible elections in Nigeria and the outcome of elections should be decided by the ballots, not by any other means — not even the courts.

“And taking a critical examination about the way elections are being conducted across the continent at least from the once I have observed, I have seen that the only thing that we must do to get there is through electronic voting.

“People may feel that someone could manipulate, smart boys who can hack into the system and do all kinds of things, yes, but still people still use electronic system to move hundreds of millions of dollars across the world. So, I still believe very sincerely that that is the way to go,” Jonathan pointed out.

One of the most celebrated provisions of the Electoral Act Amendment bill is Section 9, which mandates INEC to embrace technology such as keeping an electronic register of voters in addition to manual or hard copies — making it easier to collate and disaggregate data on voting patterns of different categories of the electorate which will be useful when planning elections.

Linked to this is the amendment that mandates the electoral umpire to use smart card readers, which utilise biometrics to authenticate voters.

Section 49 (2) mandates the presiding officer to use the smart card reader or any other technological device prescribed by INEC for accreditation, verification and authentication.

Section 49 (3) adds that “where a smart card reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours.”

Globally, technology has always been at the heart of any election and Nigeria should not be left out. It is only wise that INEC leverages on it in conducting polls that would be acceptable to majority of Nigerians. But before then, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill must be passed and signed into law.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.