The challenges bedevilling conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria have become so legendary that reviewing them regularly and suggesting solutions cannot be too much. The rate at which politicians grow desperate to either occupy political offices or ensure a surrogate is enthroned is quite alarming. It reminds one of the poem of the iconic poet, Niyi Osundare, The Leaders and the Led, in which the poet paints the jungle politics among animals jostling to occupy the position of leadership. While some know the purpose of public service, others just struggle to be there without any inkling as to what they will use the position to achieve for the people, except personal aggrandizement and enrichment. The voice of the Forest Sage, interpreted to mean the tortoise, is the caution and wisdom punctuation reminding of what is required to be a leader and what the followers must imbibe to groom qualitative leadership. I have said in many instances in the past that, while our leaders in many cases are bereft of ideas or vision to lead the masses to egalitarian status, most followers, who are voters, do not know why they are voting. Aside from this is the electoral system of manual nature being fraught with lots of inadequacies and, at times, fatal consequences.
Our subject of interrogation today, therefore, is the electronic voting system. We have, over time, witnessed divergence of opinions on this issue. While a school of thought believes that it is the solution to the problem of electoral manipulation in Nigeria, the contrary view is to the effect that not only is it not the prognosis, but it is equally likely to fortify and scientifically facilitate a more refined way of manipulating the electoral process, thereby compounding our electoral woes. My view, over time, has been that a mixture of both manual and electronic modes be adopted in Nigeria’s elections. My position is premised on the fact that the Internet availability in Nigeria is still relatively poor, particularly the bandwidth. There is hardly any significant coverage in the rural areas and the country cannot afford to exclude this sizeable number of Nigerians from exercising their franchise.
This factor played out in the last general election in 2019 in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that had earlier boasted of deploying electronic voting across the country suddenly realized that it was just being unduly ambitious in view of the limitations confronting availability of Internet in most parts of the country. It had to jettison the idea at the last minute. To this extent, I believe that in those areas of poor Internet presence, the country might have to adopt the conventional manual voting system. However, if it is possible to effectively use satellite to power the process, the advocacy for manual voting in this regard may be dispensed with. Last Sunday, I read about 50 companies jostling for the contract for the introduction of electronic voting system to the electoral process via the procurement process of INEC and I was elated.
Among the 50 bidders, I believe that a company with the capacity to put in place national coverage will emerge. If this is eventually so, I support fully the introduction of electronic voting system in the entire country. This will, among others, enthrone some measure of transparency in the country’s electoral system, eliminate thuggery that leads to voter apathy, reduce, if not totally eliminate money politics, as money could not be received, while voting electronically would allow a person’s conscience to thrive and prevail. Electronic voting will also eliminate multiple voting and tampering with electoral materials.
Electronic voting will enable more informed people to participate in elections as opposed to the present system where majority of the voters determining the leadership of the country are largely uninformed, endangering all of us.
Most elite avoid going out to vote due to fear of political thugs and other miscreants whose bread is often buttered by unscrupulous politicians to facilitate electoral manipulation and are always ready and available to unleash mayhem to secure victory for their sponsors. It is certain that the suffering endured by the masses under the scorching sun while queuing to vote will be forgotten as anyone can vote in the comfort of his home or office.
Electronic voting will also assist in guaranteeing the rights of Nigerians in diaspora to participate in the electoral process at home notwithstanding their location in any part of the world. The agitation to allow Nigerians abroad to take part in determining the fate of our electoral fortunes has been on the front page of campaign for free and fair election for quite a while but this has been impossible due to the backward status of our country technologically and the reactionary postures of the authorities. It is certain that Nigerians resident abroad deserve to be allowed to contribute to our democratic evolution considering the amount of money they remit home annually, which runs into billions of dollars. This is in addition to the fact they are Nigerians and have a stake in the Nigerian project. They, therefore, contribute in no small measure to our economic fortunes and there is no reason why they should not have the opportunity to determine how we are governed. They are also subjects of whatever nature of governance we put in place as they have investments and relatives at home.
The parochial view presented by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives about two weeks ago denying the Honourable Member representing a constituency in Benue State the opportunity of presenting a petition on behalf of Nigerians in diaspora of Benue origin was quite disappointing. Such an individual who would not recognize the rights of Nigerians abroad to agitate for better security for people at home will definitely not appreciate why such Nigerians resident abroad should be allowed to vote in our electoral process. Kudos to the Speaker of the House who later rectified this egregious error.
However, back to the issue of electronic voting, one must realize that there is nothing that has advantages without its own disadvantages. As attractive as the electronic voting system is, it has its own flaws in terms of susceptibility to hacking and manipulation from the back end. The allegation of manipulative tendencies in electronic voting has been quite prominent in the elections of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the past five years.
The adoption of electronic voting has been embraced by the umbrella association of all lawyers and one would be tempted to give kudos to the association for this feat, which, hopefully, eliminated the humongous expenses that characterized NBA elections in the past. Unfortunately, each election of the NBA in the past five years has been condemned by a section of the Bar alleging electoral manipulations. Till today, it is doubtful if this has been satisfactorily addressed to allay the fears and disappointments nursed by some members of the Bar. The truth, however, is that, in each successive season, there is an improvement in the technology adopted. It is my conviction that it will eventually be perfected to the extent of insulating the system against any manipulation. There are, therefore, lessons for Nigeria to learn in the experience of the NBA. My hope and admonition are that the commission shall ensure that all the necessary protocols are installed to forestall such manipulation of the system. The integrity of the system must be ensured.
The involvement of all stakeholders including the political parties, in the procurement process and ultimate selection will lend credence to the integrity of the electronically voting system eventually adopted. This will engender confidence of all. The government must ensure that our votes actually count as no nation progresses where injustice prevails.
It is certain that with reduction, if not total elimination, of rigging and other forms of electoral manipulation, the tendency of politicians to be dissatisfied with electoral results will disappear and losers will accept their fate while winners will be allowed to concentrate on governance. The implication is that less or no patronage will be available to the tribunals and the courts and the tendency to cluster the already suffocated dockets of the court with electoral petitions and appeals will become a thing of the past. Associated with this is the elimination of bribery and corruption of the judiciary, which has become a permanent allegation during electoral disputes. Our judges will be less enticed with money by politicians, as no one will have any business looking for favours from the judex.
In addition, huge expenses incurred on electoral justice will be substantially reduced, if not totally eliminated. It will be a major saving of the scare resources. With this in place, I am positive that Nigeria will be joining the progressive comity of nations in advanced and sophisticated voting systems.
Let me categorically state that, without credible elections, Nigeria cannot have good leadership that will engender good governance in the country. Consequently, it is the collective duty of all stakeholders to ensure that electronic voting system succeeds. It is expected that those who have benefited and are still benefiting from the moribund manual electoral voting system will oppose this move, as they cannot contemplate a better environment where their means of holding onto power shall be dislocated. It is, however, important for all men of goodwill to rise up to the occasion and present a formidable agitation that will see to the success of this effort.
On this note, I urge the National Assembly to urgently do the needful towards legalising electronic voting in the country and the executive, unlike the previous disposition, should assent to the eventual bill on the issue. Where we fail to put in place an enduring structure that can guarantee a better electoral future for the country, we stand a terrible chance of losing our youths to the bounteous harvest of the diaspora.
This is coupled with terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, robbery of all forms and other thriving crimes perpetrated by the youth due to bad leadership and, by extension, bad governance. That is not taking cognizance of the huge loss of manpower we record every year to the grim fate of the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert, where thousands of our youths meet untimely deaths in the course of looking for greener pastures in Europe. It is never too late to correct this anomaly and the nation will be the better for it.