…Canvass Proper Testing of Equipment Before Massive Roll Out …Say it Can Undermine Electoral Process if Not Properly Managed …Call for Massive Public Campaign to Build Trust A Stakeholders’ Roundtable on Electoral Technology, comprising the civil society, electoral officials, computer experts, politicians, Police and the media, have counsel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on
…Canvass Proper Testing of Equipment Before Massive Roll Out
…Say it Can Undermine Electoral Process if Not Properly Managed
…Call for Massive Public Campaign to Build Trust
A Stakeholders’ Roundtable on Electoral Technology, comprising the civil society, electoral officials, computer experts, politicians, Police and the media, have counsel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on appropriate use of technology in the desire to guarantee credible elections in Nigeria, saying it can be a double edged sword.
Warning that while technology has the ability to deliver transparent, free and fair elections, it can also undermine the process if not properly managed.
Discussing the viability of the newly introduced Bi-modal Voters Accreditation System (BIVAS), to properly check fraud in the country’s elections, the forum commended INEC for phased technology deployment which commenced since 2011, calling for proper testing of facilities to guide against failure like was witnessed in the recent Anambra governorship election.
Gleaning from the youthful nature of the country’s voting population which is put at 65 percent, the forum reasons that the electoral management body has no choice but to push towards the use of technology in order to be in synch with the demands of majority of the voting population.
Deploring the increasing low turnout at our elections like was witnessed in Anambra where only 10 percent of registered voters voted in the governorship election, the roundtable say INEC cannot beat its chest of conducting a credible election when only a small fraction of the electorate are voting. It therefore urged for new strategy to ensure greater voter turnout.
Organised in Abuja by Yiaga Africa, under the European Union Support for Democracy and Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project, the forum canvassed for massive public campaign and awareness on the new technologies to build the trust of the electorate.
They also want the technologies to be inclusive and appropriate in order to ensure that persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) can easily use them.
Learning from experiences of countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Namibia, which have long introduced electronic voting, the stakeholders were of the view that lack of 100 per cent internet coverage cannot be an excuse to the introduction of electronic balloting in Nigeria since those countries combined the use of internet and satellite facilities to overcome their challenges.
They however want the continued use of paper trails to ensure proper adjudication of electoral matters.
Since the adoption of the electronic register in 2011, INEC has experimented on the increasing use of technology to clean up the country’s elections. From the use of card readers in 2015, it has now graduated to the use of BIVAS. It has also experimented with electronic transfer of results in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections with great success.
But some argue that the massive rollout of BIVAS in the Anambra election was a mistake since it did not benefit from proper testing of the equipment apart from the Isoko Federal Constituency Election.
Setting the tone for discourse, Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, says, “Increasing use of technology is good but it has to be adaptable and inclusive so as not to undermine the electoral process. We also need to build the trust of the people.”
While pointing to the manipulation of elections over the years in the country as documented by the Babalakin report, Prof Muhammed Kuna, special assistant to the INEC chairman, called for the gradual introduction of the use of technology in our elections, contending that “it is critical in the conduct of elections.”
Positing that there’s a “trust deficit” in person to person elections, Kuna says technology enhances trust. Expressing worry at the high cost of acquiring technology against the backdrop of meeting other social costs, he fears this may trigger serious concerns.
He seems to be evoking the earlier proposals by the Prof Alaba Ogunsanwo’s ECONEC committee that other stakeholders like the private sector which benefits from peaceful conduct of elections, should also be tasked to fund the process.
Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, Prof Abdulganiyu Olayinka Raji, says the specific terrain of some of the local government areas in his area of operation makes it problematic for the electorate to access some of the local government headquarters for the purpose of data capture, explaining that some prefer to go to other states whose LGA headquarters are nearer to them to conduct same. Raji called for an easier process like it’s done for JAMB and WAEC candidates who do not have to travel to the offices of those institutions in order to do biometrics and other data capture.
Stirring the hornet nests, Mr Gbenga Sesan, executive director, Paradigm Initiative wants INEC to throw its new technologies open to hackers to test the viability. “Hackers will be able to detect the loopholes in the technology that INEC will need to block,” he says.
Some who felt opening INEC’s facilities to hackers could be disastrous, were not too warm to this suggestion. Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, likened the suggestion to engagement with bandits in the political process.
Sesan however countered to explain that hackers are experts in computer software who are trained to identify loopholes in the technology equipment. “They are good people although a few can be bad but they’ll be useful to enable INEC detect loopholes in their systems.”
Buttressing the suggestion by Sesan, President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof Adesina Sodiya, who also maintained that hackers are good people and their work is desirable, calling for regular engagement between INEC and members of his organisation. He says that the NCS wrote series of letters to INEC on this collaboration but never got any replies.
Spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Bashir Ajibola, who represents Osun Central in the upper chamber, says, “Technology is good and has the potential for delivering fraud free elections but it can also be manipulated if proper safe guards is not taken by INEC.”
Ajibola, also a lawyer, wants the National Assembly to work on new legislation to deal with the new technology particularly those being used by INEC, saying that the regulations on the use of these technologies are inadequate to deal with what’s now in vogue. “We may have problems with the law of evidence if this is not done,” he counsels.
For Police Commissioner, Mr Frank Mba, every new technology comes with new crimes. Alluding to the Covid-19 era when many had to adapt to technology to be able to operate, he revealed that the criminals diverted their operations to the cyberspace. “We have to be careful with our new technology in order not to open new avenues to crimes,” he says.