The disclosure by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has commenced the processes that would lead to the replacement of manual voting with an electronic voting (e-voting) system in the country is encouraging. INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, also indicated that the Commission had invited 40 manufacturers of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) around the world to practically demonstrate how the machines could work, preparatory to full migration to e-voting. He described the move as a giant step in the Commission’s continuous efforts at deepening electoral integrity in the country through the deployment of technology. We agree no less with him. It is a step in the right direction.
INEC’s decision is in line with the thinking of many Nigerians on enhancing the transparency of our electoral process through e-voting. Electronic voting is a voting process that uses electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting of votes.
With it, the electoral system will successfully migrate from the present outdated manual voting system that heavily depends on paper records and polling cards to the newer Electronic Voting System (EVS). Central to EVS is the Electronic Voter Register (EVR), which captures the names of all eligible voters, eliminates duplication and discrepancies in the electoral process.
E-voting has obvious advantages, especially in ensuring free and fair polls. Other gains of the system include the speed in ballot counting, reduction of cost in paying staff to count votes manually and providing improved accessibility for disabled voters. With e-voting, election results will be reported and published faster. It saves time and guarantees poll validity by voters being able to vote independently from their locations without interference or fear of intimidation. The system also offers opportunity for citizens living abroad to exercise their voting rights. E-voting eliminates vote-buying and other fraudulent practices noticeable in the current manual electoral system.
Nigeria’s current electoral system is obsolete and calls for urgent reforms. Unfortunately, action in this direction has been delayed for long. Nigeria is long overdue for e-voting. We believe that this is the right time to introduce e-voting in our electoral process. There have been instances of results declared at the polling units not tallying with the eventual figure at the collation centres. With e-voting, this will be eliminated.
The move is even in line with relevant laws of the country, particularly Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the INEC to, “by rules or otherwise, regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions.” The Commission is also empowered by Section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to issue regulations, guidelines and manuals for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the Act.
It is instructive that INEC requires enabling legislations to bring the e-voting scheme in place. We urge the National Assembly and the Presidency to activate the necessary legislations to that effect. This is one initiative, which if efficiently implemented, will make Nigeria’s election conform to international best practices. With 21 years of uninterrupted democracy, it is time for Nigeria to migrate to e-voting in its elections.
However, INEC should ensure that the exercise is seamlessly executed and competent firms engaged for the demonstration. Considering its strategic importance to our electoral system, the exercise must be devoid of partisanship. Let due process prevail in the exercise.
Care must also be taken to ensure that the process is not open to manipulation by unscrupulous elements. We recommend the e-voting be tested with one of the stand-alone state elections before the 2023 general election.
Political parties and other stakeholders should be carried along in the e-voting agenda. There is need to sensitise the electorate on the advantages of e-voting. Community and religious leaders can also be used in the exercise. There is no doubt that e-voting will largely eliminate most of the problems currently associated with our manual electoral process and enhance the transparency and credibility of our electoral outcomes.