Ahead of the 2019 general elections, EZEOCHA NZEH examines the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to deploy technology in elections without deploying electronics voting.
The 2015 general election has been rightly or wrongly adjudged the most credible election that has been conducted by any electoral umpire in the country. The election, which was conducted the Professor Attahiri Jega led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was won by the All Progressives Congress (APC), whose presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari polled a total of 15,416,221 votes to defeat the incumbent and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), President Goodluck Jonathan, who got 12,853,162 votes.
The APC candidate won in 15 States and the FCT, including, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara, while PDP on the other hand prevailed in Rivers, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Imo, Enugu, Ekiti, Edo, Delta, Ebonyi, Cross River, Bayelsa, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Abia and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja).
Though there were complains of vote rigging and underage voting, especially in the states won by the APC candidate, the 2015 was adjudged free, fair and credible by majority of election watchers and the international community.
Since taking over from Professor Jega in 2015, the new INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has not hidden his intentions and desire to conduct an election that would be adjudged more free, fair and more credible than the 2015 polls. The renowned Professor of History has never failed to emphasise the Commissions assurance to Nigerians that only their votes will count in future elections. This he has so far exemplified in previous elections so far conducted by INEC in Kogi, Edo, Anambra, Osun and few other states.
Believing that the 2019 general election would pose a litmus test for the Commission, INEC has intensified consultations to ensure its delivery of the much talked about free, fair and credible election. The Commission has met with representatives of Nigeria Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigeria Police, as well as other agencies to seek improved facilities that would guarantee swift and adequate provision of network at polling units, seek clampdown on the nefarious activity of vote buying at polling units by overzealous politicians, as well as provide adequate security at polling units.
Above all, INEC has initiated the process of deploying technology in the collation and transmission of results from polling units to collation centres.
The Commission in its determination to meet its promise to Nigerians has initiated the process by borrowing from the Namibian experience, where technology has been introduced in the country’s election process, since 2003.
Unlike the 2015 experience, INEC has also assured that it would deployed more improved Card Reading Machine that would facilitate quick and easy capturing of voters during the elections
Speaking at the opening of a three day conference on use of technology in election in the ECOWAS and SADC region, which INEC hosted recently in Abuja, Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, emphasised the importance of technology in the conduct of free and fair election, even as he ruled the deployment of electronics voting in 2019
He further noted that the deployment of technology has empowered citizens, more than ever before, to sensitize, organise, mobilise and protect their mandates through the use of various social media platforms.
Although he admitted some challenges associated with the deployment of technologies, the election management board boss however pointed out that the benefits far outweighs the disadvantages.
“Given the deficit of infrastructure and expertise in many countries in our sub-regions and the regularity with which elections are conducted, concerns have been raised about cost, choice and effectiveness of technology.
“Furthermore, given the high stakes involved in conducting elections in developing countries, electoral commissions must understandably be worried about the twin issues of communication and security, especially in situations where data resides with, and is indirectly transmitted to the tallying centres through offshore vendors rather than exclusively controlled within national boundaries by the election management bodies”, the INEC boss said.
He also noted that the coming together of election managers and experts from Western and Southern African countries, to share experience would enable them come out with appropriate and cost-effective technology that would increase public confidence in the electoral process and further protect the sanctity and integrity of the ballot.
In her remarks, President of the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Ms. Monica Frassoni, noted that there are pros and cons associated with the use of technology in electoral and democratic process, warning that “the perception of an impartial and competent electoral management body is a precondition for technology to be perceived as an aid to the perfection of the electoral process,”.
She further cautioned that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in elections has been seen both as a facilitator and a spoiler to the process, adding: “All too often, in Africa, Europe and the Americas, we hear about how ICTs has been used to influence the election results.”
“These include: automatic and error free counting, replacement of spoilt ballots, minimising of human error, speeding up voting process, securing of votes on control unit (and) maintaining the secrecy of the ballot,” she added.
Yakubu, who maintained that that deployment of technology in the collation and transmission of election results will not only guarantee the conduct of a credible election, but will take the 2019 general poll beyond any form of manipulations said that INEC will soon send its officials to Namibia to understudy its process of deploying technology to actualize the Commission’s resolve of giving Nigerians the best of election in 209
“Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa that has introduced full blown electronics voting. When I visited the country in 2015, I told them that we will be visiting the country to understudy how they were able to do it. Let me categorically say that the Commission will not deploy electronic voting in 2019, but we will deploy technology in the collation and transmission of results. Without prejudices to the manual processes, we will collect, transmit, and declare results more speedily and more accurately. We have been piloting on this idea of declaring electronics results, including the transmission of scanned copies of Form EC8A from polling units.
“But you know that there are two dimension to the issue of deploying technology, what the Commission can do and what the citizens can do. We have made it possible for citizens to be involved, through what we call the Citizens mandate Protection. In addition to all the statutory forms that will be issued to all the political parties, the Commission has consistently pasted the result in all the polling units nationwide, but you would notice that in the governorship election in Anambra State, we designed a special poster called EC60 E, which we have columns for political agents, if they wish to sign. This will be pated at each of the 119, 973 polling units nationwide.
“With technology, elections are in the hands of the people and I want to assure that technology has come to stay in our elections, especially in the collation and transmission of the results.
“In Africa, elections are going beyond the electoral Commission to manipulate, with technology; elections are now in the hands of the people. Our commitment at INEC is to ensure that only the votes cast by the people will determine election results”.
Also the Executive Committee Chairperson of South African Development Community (SADC), Advocate Notemba Tjipueja, who is also head of the Namibia Electoral Commission, enumerated the benefits of the deployment of technology in the conduct of elections, adding that most electoral management bodies around the world use new technologies in the conduct of elections.
“Just to share briefly the Namibian experience, we have introduced electronics voting since 2003, from a machine which is similar to the Indian machine, and we have been opportune to implement this from 2006, are we were able to get the stakeholders and political parties to buy into the process of electronics voting.
“Of course it is something which is unique to every country because countries are not the same. This has enabled us to improve efficiently on pour election process and eliminate spoiled ballots since 2009. For us as Namibians, we have found out that this has been an experience that has enhanced our democracy and electoral process. Suffice to say that every country has to go to have their own process and have their own consultations, so that they know the shoe that fits their own situation”, she stated.
The conference ended with presentation of a 10 point declaration, where it acknowledged the benefits of use of technology to boost public confidence in the electoral process and for the protection of the sanctity and integrity of ballot in ensuring that leaders in ECOWAS and ECF – SADC region now obtain their mandate through the ballot box, based on the rule of law and will of the people.