Editorial: Let digital platforms drive electoral reforms

WITH the challenges confronting the conduct of elections in the country rising astronomically, the Senate has begun the process that will lead to an improved digital electoral framework for the 2023 general election. A bill to this effect passed Second Reading last week. This is a welcome development, coming just a few days after the charade that hallmarked the governorship contests in Bayelsa and Kogi states.

Under a raft of measures in the bill is the recommendation, “The (Independent National Electoral) Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit,” just as the national electronic register of election results shall be kept by INEC at its headquarters. The document should be made accessible to any political party or individual that may so desire, through the issuance of a certified true copy. Other details are: “In respect of data of accreditation of voters, including polling unit results for an election, the Commission shall not shut down its central database kept at the national headquarters until all election petitions and appeals pertaining to that election are heard and determined by a tribunal or court.”

Fees for aspirants to obtain the nomination forms of political parties have also been pegged. Accordingly, a presidential aspirant will pay N10 million, governorship aspirant N5million; senatorial N2 million; House of Representatives N1million; state assembly N500,000; and council chairmanship N250,000; while a councillorship aspirant will pay N150,000. This will end the bazaar of sorts, which parties create during such a period, evident in the levies of the All Progressives Congress in the February/March polls. The party had charged N45 million for its presidential form; N5 million for expression of interest and N40million for the nomination. Governorship went for N22 million; senatorial N7million and House of Reps N3.8million. Many financially less endowed aspirants denounced it, and viewed it as a plot to sell the ticket to the moneybags. Such exclusionary design sits at odds with democracy.

Since the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999, every election has turned out to be war or an orchestrated assault on democracy, manifesting in widespread shootings and killings; thuggery; impersonation; vote-buying; snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes and false results announcements. Such an atmosphere makes a mockery of the integrity or outcome of the electoral process. Against this background, INEC, under Attahiru Jega in 2015, introduced the card reader and permanent voter card devices. The innovation was impactful.

However, politicians’ audacious efforts to neutralise the benefits of the reform have resulted in heightened advocacy for a radical overhaul of the electoral process through technology. Apparently, available safeguards for free and fair elections are either not enough or are embarrassingly failing Nigeria. Manual counting and collation of results have done incredible harm to the country’s democratic process. At these levels, results are brazenly altered, thereby subverting the will of the majority. The victims are plainly told to go to court.

Much of this evil can be checked if appropriate technology is significantly brought to bear on the conduct of the country’s elections. With the e-transaction revolution in the banking sector, typified in the use of cards at Automated Teller Machines, PoS and telephones for cash transfer embraced by all bank customers, the jejune argument by those opposed to e-electoral process, which emphasises that the country’s low literacy level makes her unfit for it, can no longer hold water.

Some countries in Africa have demonstrated that this is the way to go. Namibia, for instance, in 2014 organised the first fully digitalised polls on the continent, according to the AFP. Ghana’s elections in 2012 and 2016 embraced aspects of this e-revolution, just as Somaliland used iris (eye) recognition technology in her 2017 presidential election.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015, thanks partly to the card reader and PVC innovation, owes the country a duty to improve the system. He should waste no more time in setting up the electoral offences commission, which the Muhammadu Uwais panel strongly recommended. The Ken Nnamani panel, which his administration set up in 2016, also made far-reaching proposals, among which was this critical commission.

Caging the fire epidemic
Electoral violations are now as common as the stealing of Nigeria’s crude, which a foreign think tank once observed had assumed “industrial scale.” INEC, as presently constituted, is not equipped to tame this savagery that has bedevilled the country’s electoral processes. The ongoing amendment to Electoral Act 2010, therefore, will be incomplete without the creation of the commission to handle the ever-increasing abuses recorded during elections.

Those who inflict violence on Nigeria’s democratic process should be arrested, prosecuted and jailed in critical mass, no matter how highly placed. The country has trifled enough with the integrity of the ballot. It is time it turned a new leaf of punishment for electoral malfeasance.

Punch Newspaper Editorial Board

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