The disclosure by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it will work towards the full introduction of electronic voting (e-voting) in major elections starting from 2021 is a welcome development. INEC’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who revealed this, indicated that the Commission would commence a pilot scheme of the exercise after the Edo and Ondo governorship elections slated for September and October, respectively.
Electronic voting entails the use electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting of votes. The new measure is in line with the demands by Nigerians to deepen the use of technology in the conduct of our elections. With e-voting, it is hoped that the country’s electoral system will successfully migrate from the present outdated manual voting system that heavily depends on paper records and polling cards to the new Electronic Voting System (EVS). Central in 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, to a large extent, is expected to ensure free and fair polls. Other advantages of the scheme 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 and in rural areas, far away from polling stations, to exercise their voting rights. E-voting eliminates vote-buying and other fraudulent practices noticeable in the current electoral system.
There is no doubt that our current electoral system is obsolete and calls for urgent reforms. It is not ideal that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, still operates manual voting, even when registration for voters has been digitalised. The manipulation of the present electoral process has obviously led to election results being contested in the courts, with corresponding waste of time and resources.
The move by INEC to fully digitalise our electoral system is commendable. It is in line with relevant laws of the land, particularly Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010.
Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution 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.
We urge the National Assembly and the Presidency to activate the necessary legislations to put the e-voting project in place. This is one initiative, which if efficiently implemented, will make Nigeria’s election conform to international best practices. In a 21st Century world, the country is ripe enough for e-voting, which we believe will enhance the transparency of our electoral system. With the card reader already in place, the next stage is to fully embrace electronic voting in all its ramifications.
As from 2021 when INEC intends to commence the exercise and the 2023 general election in the country, there is ample time to amend the constitution to accommodate this and also perfect the technology. The Commission needs to start early enough with necessary training of staff required for the exercise and relevant voter-education. The recent inauguration of a 20-member Inter-Agency Technical Committee by INEC to evaluate requirements for the successful deployment of indigenously developed e-voting solution is a step in the right direction.
We urge that the e-voting programme does not go the way of the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill which the President declined assent, claiming that passing a new bill a few months to the 2019 elections ‘could create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process.’ This is the time to start the necessary spadework to ensure a seamless transition from manual to e-voting.
All the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) required to ensure the successful take-off of the scheme should work in concert to make it work. The world has become a global village, Nigeria cannot afford to stay behind. It should move fast and embrace e-voting. Nigerians will be glad with the Muhammadu Buhari administration if e-voting is one of the only legacies it will leave behind. The President should not dither on the project.
We call on all the political parties in the country to rise beyond partisanship, collaborate, speak with one voice and make the initiative a reality. With the ravaging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has made social distancing the new normal, there is no going back on e-voting.