Systemic disenfranchisement in the Nigerian electoral process: leveraging ICT to deliver credible elections.

Election periods are always interesting times in Nigeria. Not one season has gone without a drama from the electoral umpire and the political gladiators. It becomes more interesting when the social media veterans catch the fire. I actually think there’s more fireworks on social media than you have in most parts of the country before, during and after elections. 

The hate speeches may not begin from there – social media – but that’s where it receives undue publicity and it goes viral in a matter of minutes. The verbal attacks from people with divergent views are usually so strong that friends become enemies. Some people just don’t know where to draw the line. Their views are so dear to them that they don’t understand why others can’t see things from their perspective. They also don’t realize it is their responsibility to convince others to see from their views. This even gets worse because some people who are supporting a certain candidate with a particular view will see the other candidate’s supporters as the enemies of Nigeria. 

To maintain your sanity, you would have to stop visiting some social media sites, block some friends and reduce your involvement in some whatsapp groups like I did during the 2019 general elections. You would also have to refrain from answering some questions or responding to over-the-board bigotry of some people you used to consider intelligent or sound. When I don’t drive and I have to use public transportation, I just stay away completely from many political conversations because they are often devoid of logic. These debaters, who are semi-literate in many cases, simply argue blindly and unconsciously for religious and ethnicity. That simply means the deep rooted cause of support for certain candidates has no connection with competence or values but they want others to support this person because he’s from their part of the country.    

It is no longer news that parties spring up every four years and a few others re-strategize to form alliances that ought to be potent enough to help them put the opponents off balance. Many of them come up with very interesting taglines or payoff lines. The ultimate aim is to secure a seat in the government house but the advertorials say otherwise. When these new parties try everything and they can’t get much, they form “strategic alliances” with the existing political parties that have found their footing – catchment areas, perceived strongholds or political domains. 

In recent times, the arguments around our general elections have become more heated and they are usually centred on the things that used to bind us together when there are no elections. Until elections, Christians and Moslems dwell together in most parts of the country peacefully. We intermarry and build our worship centres in very close proximity. We go to the same work places and share a ride on a daily basis. We do businesses together and things don’t go wrong. No one feels marginalised. We come together for community development purposes. We initiate projects and are usually able to bring them to conclusion until there is an election to be conducted. 

When the elections come, we become polarised. We are usually divided along ethnic and religious lines. Most political parties are conscious of the religious and ethic weapons which are always used to persuade, blackmail and pursue hidden agendas serving only the personal interests of the political class. In our twenty years (20) of democracy, the subject of presidential candidates have never been discussed without talking about a Christian/Muslim or Muslim/Christian tickets. This simply means both Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates cannot be Christians or Muslims at the same time. We also go on to consider what part of the country they are coming from. So if the President is from the North, the Vice must be from the South. 

That’s how we’ve been depriving ourselves of the best possible candidates for years. Rather than argue around competence and the prospects of the candidates, we want to see whether or religious or ethnicity is represented. So long as someone has something we can identify with, we can support them and claim that they will bring the technocrats to get the job done. Technocrats are good but they are still limited to the exposure and leadership style of the person bringing them on board. So it is a win-win situation for us when most of the elected leaders are also technocrats and not just politicians. 

Nobody wins when the winner of the election is just Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba with no specific competence or value orientation that the nation needs! This is the first systemic disenfranchisement that was initially pushed by the political class but has now been accepted by most Nigerians. 

When the leaders of other nations are talking about climate change, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence, our leaders are still struggling with restructuring which is an undertone for income redistribution among states. Millenials are beginning to determine what happens in other countries and their governments are heavily relying on them to make things happen. Dear Nigerians, let me remind you that Artificial Intelligence does not understand Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba.  

On the global stage, the debate is not about languages. It is about balance of trade, regional powers, continental harmonisation of resources and the expansion of GDP.   

All these political arguments and permutations don’t seem wrong to many of us but that’s exactly where the problem is. We are focusing on getting people of a certain faith or ethnic background into the office much more than we are focusing on improving our processes to deliver credible elections. Nigeria certainly has many great people. This cannot be debated. This point is also proven by the excellent track records of many Nigerians home and abroad in their various professional fields. Sadly, we can’t get up to ten percent of the good people in Nigeria into the public offices because of poor processes leading to the selection or election of the public officers. 

I think we should be having more important discussions about the structure we have built for conducting elections and the systems we have put in place to automatically sift the good people away and allow the bad people get into public office easily. We should be having more important discussions about the elegantly elaborate elections which bring more thieves than honest men into public office. Think for a moment. Who would throw about three to five billion naira into a venture and not expect returns? Even for those running social enterprises and other non-profits, there is an expected return so what do you expect from a state governor who is expected to spend almost five billion, if not more to win a seat? 

While I totally acknowledge the fact that some discussions are ongoing, I also know that we are a nation that talks a lot with very little being done after the talk. We don’t seem to find it easy to convert talks into policies which can clearly become laws of nation to implement the change we seek. 

It is the desire to move from talk to action that some young Nigerians and some elderly ones have begun to advocate electronic voting or the quest to leverage ICT more than we are currently doing. Before I delve fully into the issue of leveraging ICT to deliver credible elections, let me explain the systemic disenfranchisement captured in my topic. 

System 

The system being referred to here comprises the government and the agency of government saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections. Clearly, this system means the federal government, the legislature, judiciary and INEC. 

Many focus on INEC as though it is not the creation of law which is principally the responsibility of the legislature in Nigeria. The strength and the limitations of INEC have always been and will always be determined by the Legislature through the accent of the Executive. Principally, the one hundred and nine senators (109) and the three hundred and sixty (360) house of representative members are the ones to give us a fair legal frame work that INEC can run on to conduct elections. 

They are already failing in this responsibility and the system failure from the legislature is already being transferred to INEC. Simply put, if the laws do not change or be constantly reviewed to catch up with the rest of the world, INEC can’t change what it is currently offering Nigerians anytime soon.  

The executive determines who heads the commission conducting our elections. To this end, one is only reminded that he who plays the piper actually dictates the tune. Many Presidents have argued that they never intervened in the electoral process. You and I know better. If we rely on an agency to run elections for us and the head of that agency is appointed by someone with vested interest, how much of independence can the agency truly have? 

Beyond the independence of the agency conducting elections, the executive now has to look out for someone who is visionary in order to move the processes for conducting elections faster and make them easier for everyone. 

Systemic Disenfranchisement 

Having said a little about the system, it should now be clear that systemic disenfranchisement is everything that happens within the system to deny some eligible voters their rights to vote. Whichever way in which the system does not make adequate provision for voters to be able to vote is systemic disenfranchisement. Another clear way to look at it is to consider all the laws that are now preventing eligible voters from voting on election days. Systemic disenfranchisement could also reflect in tactics deployed by politicians to frustrate INEC which will consequently affect some voters directly or indirectly. 

We need to understand that Systemic disenfranchisement stems from a number of things and they include: 

  1. Obsolete legal framework 
  2. Politicising issues around electoral processes
  3. Lack of strong will to improve electoral processes
  4. Corruption on the part of politicians and INEC staff
  5. Desperation to win elections by politicians.
  6. Limited vision on the part of policy makers and election handlers
  7. Refusal to revisit data from past elections for comparisons to improve future elections.
  8. Lack of innovation
  9. Refusal to leverage ICT platforms maximally for credible elections.
  10. Delay in budget approvals to conduct elections.
  11. Lack of power to run registration centres 

What are the ways in which the system is disenfranchising the people? 

  1. Low voter education 

It doesn’t seem like the media around here sees the publicity for electoral process as a civic obligation. Many talk about the election but hardly do the right voter education using the materials from INEC which are readily available. INEC itself mostly does a poor job on voter education until someone begins to protest or make noise from somewhere about unpreparedness for the election. They spend some time doing press conferences and meeting people who are referred to as stakeholders but the real stake holders are usually left out at the grassroots. There is a strong need to increase voter awareness. The agency should also not have a reactionary approach to many of the issues being raised by the public. It is also important for INEC to note that there are many of the real stakeholders who will not watch press conferences of anything on TV, radio and the internet. Some are not engaged by any form of media and need to be reached physically. 

In fairness to INEC, there are some useful information on their websites which will guide voters going the extra mile to get information. They spend some time explaining to political parties how the process has been planned. That is hardly enough because the politicians and political parties are just a fraction of the real stakeholders. The international observers that INEC meets from time can sometimes be a distraction. While it is good to assure the outside world that we are going to have a peaceful election, it is far more important to arm the voters with the right information. We pay so much attention to European Union (EU) and American observers before, during and after our elections and also spend a considerably good time meeting with them before the election to show them how transparent the electoral process would be. We need to spend some of that time or recruit more hands to dutifully engage the people here and increase the confidence in the electoral process among Nigerians.        

2. No continuous voter registration 

For a long time I have wondered what INEC refers to as “continuous voter registration.” I am now beginning to question my ability to comprehend simple English. Continuous voter registration ought to mean that voters can continuously register before, during and after elections. In the three years between an election and the next one, we hardly see or hear about any registration centre for voter’s card. Make shift registration centres are set up shortly before elections and we expect to be able to attend to all the prospective voters. Now we are officially two hundred million people and the figures will rise before the next election. With poor planning, someone will refuse to open a voter registration now and still expect to serve us adequately. According to INEC, there were eighty four million registered voters in the 2019 elections. That is less than half the population of Nigeria. Ever since I came of age to be able to vote, voter registration has always been an issue. 

I finally got a permanent voter’s card in 2016 by coincidence. It was a coincidence because my wife and I had travelled to Ondo state to celebrate with her mother who was having a retirement thanksgiving service. It was also a few months to the governorship election and INEC reopened the voter registration exercise for the residents of the state. Since the process wasn’t as tedious as it would have been in Lagos where I live, I quickly took advantage of it despite knowing I wasn’t going to be around for the election.  

My wife and I got our cards and we were so excited until we needed to go to the bank for a transaction and wanted to try out our new IDs – the newly issued voter’s card. Surprisingly, these government issued IDs were rejected by the banks! What? How can that happen? What’s going on? These and many more were the questions on our minds. After a while, I began to tease my wife that her people in Ondo state had issued a fake ID to us. The banks had checked out our IDs online and didn’t get any information. When we protested, they told us how to check out our information to be sure we had a genuine voter’s card. We tried it repeatedly and our information didn’t bring any result to prove that we were carrying genuine voter’s cards. 

In late 2018 when the preparation for 2019 general elections went to top gear, I returned to an INEC registration centre in Yaba, Lagos with the intention to re-register. Just before doing that, I went to talk to one of the officials and told him they had issued an ID which returned no information even on their website. Even the banks rejected the ID. I guess the young man knew what had happened but he wouldn’t admit it. So he started bragging. “Who told you your ID is fake,” he asked. “What happens if I enter your ID number and your information comes up?” I told him to try it. By this time, I guess he knew the data base had been updated so he confidently entered my details and the information came up online! I was surprised and elated at the same time. 

From this story, the implication is that it took more than two years for INEC to update her database to reflect an information capture via a computer. I am certain many of you have similar or even worse experiences.        

3. Few voter registration centres 

You certainly know that we don’t have enough voter registration centres and that is a big systemic disenfranchisement. According to INEC (information available on their website), there are 119,973 polling units in Nigeria. Off course, there are fewer registration centres.   

Because there are few voter registration centres, the few available ones take a longer time to be able to process all the information they were gathering. Many didn’t bother to go to registration centres because they were too far from them and they needed to go to work or lose their jobs. Some communities with several voters that can’t be neglected don’t even have registration centres and have to go to the next community or town. That now leads me to the next challenge. 

4. Horrors of voter registration exercise 

There are registration centres in Lagos where people have to wake up as early as 3:30AM to get on the queue by 4AM so that an INEC official or ad-hoc staff can capture their data. In some cases, the intending voters practically sleep in the premises where the registrations are taking place. The interesting part is the fact that some of those who get to the registration venues at 4AM only make it to number 100 or below on the registration list. 

Most likely, by the time the INEC officials arrive around 9AM or later, one of the materials need would still be with someone who was yet to arrive. At other times, the registrations would be done but you would not get any slip because the printer isn’t working. Sometimes when every material needed is ready and working, there would be no fuel in the generator so the prospective voters who were attempting to register for that day would contribute money for fuel in order to get the generator to work. There are many days of not have good service or having problems with a slow computer. Some people spend weeks or even months trying to get a voter’s card and we can share many more horrifying experiences including loss of lives in the registration process.      

5. Delays in production of voter’s card 

It still baffles me that a debit card with a chip and top notch security which can be used anywhere in the world will be issued by a bank in three days and INEC can’t issue a voter’s card in four to six months. When you want a debit card that can be used within Nigeria, you will walk into a bank and get it in less than thirty minutes. In fact, the international card can now be issued instantly by some Nigerian banks. Now let’s compare the features of the debit cards and the voter’s card. 

Debit Card Voter’s Card 
Cannot be used for voter accreditation Can be used for voter accreditation 
Can withdraw cash from ATM Cannot withdraw cash from anywhere 
Can be used on POS terminals Cannot be used on POS terminals 
Can be used for online transactions Cannot be used for online transactions 
Can be used to transfer money Cannot be used to transfer money 
Requires pin code to access Does not require pin code to access 
Can be used internationally Can only be used in Nigeria 
Stores and updates financial info Only shows biodata 
Works on several machines Only works on one machine 
Options are user defined Options are limited to INEC 

Table 1.0 – comparison between Debit card and voter’s card 

Following the comparisons above, the debit card which should be a lot more complex to produce will still be produced in three working days at most. The other ID which serves only one very limited purpose will take several months to produce. 

Please stay with me because I will come back to offer recommendations. 

6. Mismanagement of voters’ data and register 

After the horrors of registering to be able to vote, I am sure many of you remember your name may not appear on the voter’s register when the final register is released. How do you explain the fact that someone has been issued either a permanent voter’s card or temporary voter’s card and the person’s name is not on the final register of INEC? Why has INEC not provided a means for people to check their registration status just days after a physical registration to allow complaints and correction of errors? Many people on discover their names were omitted from the register when it is too late – usually days to election or on the day of the election. Something usually goes wrong between the registration point where the data is collated and the final destination of the data. Because the local officials may not have been prepared for this recurring eventuality, the voter is again disenfranchised by a system that was designed to make things work for them.   

7. Transfer of voter’s card in case of relocation 

While INEC has put to consideration the possibility of relocating after registration in a location, they haven’t put in place what I would call the best measure. What they have in place requires you report to the nearest INEC office to formally request the transfer of your voter’s card. I know someone who has done this and it worked. However, some people move around a lot. They can’t keep going back to the INEC office each time they move to a new location and they need to vote. Someone who works in an oil company as an engineer will probably travel a lot. A pastor in some of the large churches in Nigeria will be relocated as many times as possible. I even know a mission where it is almost guaranteed that the pastor will not vote in the next election from the same place where he voted during the last election. There are bankers and sales people moving from one part of the country to the other consistently. We have to go beyond a physical transfer of voter’s card which you are required to do each time you move to a new location to be issued a new card. 

Instead of requesting a new card, what most people have done is to just forget about voting. 

8. Voting where you registered 

Most prospective or eligible voters will only register in a place that’s close to where they work or live when the continuous voter registration is on. It’s also funny that something is called a “continuous voter registration” but it has a start date and an end which is usually not enough time for people to register because of their work and businesses. On the day of election, movement is restricted and people can’t travel or drive to their registration points to vote. You can only vote at a polling unit which is a walking distance from your house. This has been a problem for the twenty year life span of our current democracy and it is more than a huge shame that we keep on with this problem without fixing the issue. 

When you go to a bank to open a bank account in Nigeria, most banks don’t rely on your office or business addresses except you’re opening a business account. You can fill the account opening forms from any part of Nigeria and the banks will still ensure they do their due diligence regarding the address you have filled. When you return to your locality, you can continue banking there without any issue. So why should we register electronically in a certain place and the registration is not useful anywhere else in Nigeria despite the presence of computers and internet? 

Voting where we registered has completely defeated the essence of doing data capture on computer and the issuance of permanent voter cards. While we do not have clear statistics on how many Nigerians are not voting because they were far away from the polling units where they registered, it is obvious that many of the eligible voters can’t vote because they can’t get to their polling units.     

9. Restriction of movements on election days 

It is not in the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that you cannot move around during elections. Some lawyers have also argued that it is clearly an infringement on the rights of the citizens – freedom of movement – to place restrictions on movements during elections. I totally understand why the government has been introducing restriction of movements in 20 years for all of our elections. We have had too many cases of ballot box snatching during elections. Some people who desperately want to win elections connive with some INEC officials to get sensitive election materials before the Election Day. We have seen thumb printed ballot boxes brought to the polling units and sometimes the votes just increase magically between the polling units and collation centres. 

With the restriction on movements, these crimes ought to be eradicated but these crimes are still there. Clearly, the restriction on movement hasn’t helped us to deliver a credible election and it still makes us lose billions of dollars each day there is restriction of movement. With a GDP of over five hundred (500) billion dollars and 365 days in a year, we can safely conclude that we lose more than 1 billion dollars each day there is a national restriction of movement or any other unnecessary public holiday as we often have.   

10. Distance of polling units on election days 

There are serious logistic issues and one of the major issues is the distance of polling units to the voters. Sadly, the distance of polling units to the ad-hoc staff and INEC officials is also an issue. There are too many INEC officials who experience some extreme difficulty getting to their service points before voters do. 

I am of the opinion that the farthest any polling unit should be to the voter should be about a kilometre or two at most. The closest polling unit to me is not less than three kilometres and it is far more than that for many other voters. With the palpable tension that usually define most of our elections, distance to polling units make it worse for voters. The distance is one more reason for them to stay at home watching TV rather than going out to vote. One must add that the presence of military men and mobile police discourages people who have to go a distance to vote. While the military and police have been deployed to help maintain peace, their presence have always agitated some voters.   

11. Malfunctioning card readers 

During the 2015 general elections, it wasn’t news that card readers didn’t function well in certain areas but it was news that in the President’s polling unit, the President’s voter’s card wasn’t recognised by the card reader. President Gooluck Ebele Jonathan has to wait a while before he was finally able to vote. Would it have been different if he wasn’t the president? Most likely. Many others couldn’t get verified by the card reader and that was the end of voting for them. It had to be because there were many people on the queue and the staff cannot waste time trying so hard to accredit only one voter. In some cases, the polling units resolved to use the manual register which couldn’t eliminate the possibility of a voter without a valid voter’s card. 

As though it is not embarrassing enough that the only thing the card reader does is to verify the card of the voter, voters are sometimes disenfranchise when card readers are taken to a wrong location. Card readers are programmed, according to the INEC chairman, Prof. Yakub Mamood, to work for twenty four hours in only one given location. The card reader’s value and functionality can be increased. We can also deliver credible elections and get real time results using the card reader if we use it right. 

Election data in Nigeria from 1999 to 2019 versus the country’s population per time. 

I took my time to look up the election data in Nigeria since we returned to democracy 20 years ago (1999). I was looking out for the number of registered voters versus the number of actual voters and the country’s population in those election years. 

We have held six elections in the 20 years under review. Those elections held in: 

Year Country population Registered Voters Actual voters Percentage of registered voters versus population 
1999 119.3 million 57.9 million 30.3 million 48.5% 
2003 139.1 million 60.8 million 42 million 45.7% 
2007 147 million 61.6 million 35.3 million 41.9% 
2011 162.9 million 73.5 million 40.7 million 45.1% 
2015 181.2 million 69.3 million 29.2 million 38.3% 
2019 195.9 million 84 million 29.3 million 42.9% 

  Table 2.0 – Years of general election showing comparison with country population, registered voters and actual voters.  

image 2.1

Table 2.2 

Data Source: INEC 

Observation on data 

  1. 1999 – 27.6 million voters abstained from voting
  2. 2003 – 18.8 million voters abstained from voting
  3. 2007 – 26.3 million voters abstained from voting
  4. 2011 – 32.8 million voters abstained from voting
  5. 2015 – 40.1 million voters abstained from voting
  6. 2019 – 54.7 million voters abstained from voting
  7. We have not achieved fifty percent (50%) voter registration in twenty years.
  8. We certainly haven’t achieved fifty percent (50%) voter turnout since 1999.
  9. Our voter registration process, despite the use of biometrics, in the registration for a voter’s card is largely a manual process within the context of automation and ICT infrastructure available in 2019.
  10. Between 1999 and 2003 elections, we grew in population by 19.8 million
  11. Between 2003 and 2007 elections, we grew by 7.9 million
  12. Between 2007 and 2011 elections, we grew by 15.9 million
  13. Between 2011 and 2015 elections, we grew by 18.3 million
  14. Between 2015 and 2019 elections, we grew by 14.7 million 

From the data above, it is clear that our figures will keep rising and our population might hit 220 million people between now and the elections in 2023. If INEC has issues with our current figure which is still growing rapidly, we should not expect the logistics problem of INEC to get easier. They will get tougher if we don’t immediately introduce ICT in every possible step of the electoral process. 

By the way, we should stop saying we are a large country. America has a bigger democracy with 329 million people living in it. India has 1.3 and China 1.4 billion people. During India’s last election, with a population of 1.3 billion, there were 830 million registered voters with 550 million voters turning out to vote. From the 329 million people in America, there were 235 million registered voters. 

The differences in all these figures from Nigeria, which we often summarize as voter apathy, over a twenty year period are mostly based on the issues laid out earlier. It baffles me and many others that year after year we watch all these problems and we continue with them. We spend four more years reviewing nearly insignificant changes to our electoral laws and the powers of the electoral body without scratching the surface of the real issues. We should be asking questions how a country of 1.3 billion people is able to get over 800 million people to register and get more than 550 million to vote. 

The myriads of problems confronting us are sometimes laughable when we look at the plethora of solutions already available through ICT alone. In the age of “Blogging, Social Media, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Automation and Artificial Intelligence,” we are still struggling to get a simple voters’ register together and struggling for days to compile votes. When I follow the American electoral process which clearly has its own flaws, I still can’t help but wonder what on earth is wrong with us. 

Gone are the days when innovations and advancement will require some time to go round the world. Right now, the entire world is catching up with innovations in a matter of days. The more amusing part for me is the fact that Nigerians are leading many of these innovations across the world. Dr. Olutoye, A Nigerian-American brought out a foetus, operated and returned her to her mother’s womb to be delivered safely at full term. The highest paid robotics engineer in world as we speak is also a Nigerian. 

How can we have talents or human resources this amazing and we are still struggling with issues that nations half our size and resources have long resolved? The technology that is already ten years obsolete in some countries are being discussed here as the innovations of the future.   

A simple test ground for leveraging ICT to deliver credible elections in Nigeria would be to consider the growth of the telecoms’ world through reliable statistics. Bear in mind that telecommunications in Nigeria came into full operations about two years after the years of democracy under review. 

We can also take a look at the growth of the banking industry within the last twenty years as they started by leveraging the use of computers, internet, telecommunications and now the advantage of smart devices. Time will not permit that but while we are still struggling with logistics and other seemingly insignificant issues, the following countries have started using or have attempted electronic voting: 

Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Namibia, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, The Phillipines, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland and Venezuela. 

Propositions for eroding the systemic disenfranchisement 

  1. Revising the legal framework objectively– The National Assembly, just in the twilight of the 2019 election, sent a bill as an amendment of the 2010 electoralact to the President for assent. Some of you are aware of the controversies that surrounded that bill when the president declined assent. Again, some ignorantly and hastily claimed that the president thought he was at a disadvantage and there was no need to sign it so as not to lose the election. While not holding brief for the President, let me put a few things in perspective. The contentious bill focused more on the order of the elections and sought to re-order the elections. It appeared the Senators and Honourables wanted the National Assembly elections before the Presidential and Governorship elections. This became an issue because it was argued that INEC alone is constitutionally empowered to decide when where and how elections will hold. It was clear there was a power play as usual where the Legislature is always trying to prove to the Executive that they also have some powers or they just need to remind the exective of their checks and balance role. In order to stop the systemic disenfranchisement, one of the things we must do is to revise the legal frame work and ensure electronic voting is permitted by law. The law must also be clear on how the saboteurs of the electronic voting will be dealt with apart from having a blueprint on how INEC intends to prevent sabottage. Because of the evolving nature of technology, this law will also need to be constantly revised.   
  2. Allow movements on election days as is done in saner climes. We have seen that the restriction of movements on election days hasn’t reduced the crimes on election days. Ballot box snatching still happens and figures are still being manipulated beingpolling units and collation centres.More importantly, we have to allow movements because what we lose per day (approximately $1.3 billion) is a lot. We spend around 200 billion naira preparing for an election and in one day lose 1.3 billion US dollars. 
  3. Introduce voting by emails,smsand websites like we do for reality TV shows. The reality TV shows which offer nothing more than a short lived fame for many of the participants have been carefully crafted to get Nigerian youths voting. The voting Nigerian youths get nothing. They even spend money and a recent reality TV show laid claims to making around 30 billion naira from Nigerian youths voting for their shows. Sadly, Nigerian youths will vote for a TV reality show but will not vote in an election which has more impact on their future.  

From the figures of Nigeria’s population, there are more millennials than any other group of Nigerians. Technically, the Nigerian election is for the millennials and we have to design our elections to suit their tech-driven life style to get more voters and increase the transparency of the elections.     

ICT being used by INEC at the moment. 

  1. Direct Data Capture Machine (DDCM) to take biometric data of voters
  2. Electronic Voters’ Register (EVR) to build a reliable voter register
  3. Smart Card Readers (SCR) for voter accreditation
  4. Optical Magnetic Recognition (OMR) forms processing machine
  5. Very Small Aperture Terminal (V-SAT)
  6. Permanent Voter’s Card 

Recommendations 

  1. Partnering with banks to use the existing biometrics captured for BVN to issue voter’s card. The banks have been meticulous in capturing the data of their customers. Interestingly, you have to be 18 to own a bank account or to be able to vote. The process for registering for the BVN is more rigorous. You have to drop a verifiable address and your finger prints have already been captured.  
  • This will also ensure that in most parts of the country, there will be no underage voters since banks do not issue IDs or open accounts for anyone under the age of 18. 
  • I understand banks do not cover the entire country so with the banks covering most cities, INEC can cover the rest of the remote villages that are usually left out. 
  • CBN can deal with any fraud by sanctioning banks because if there is any irregularity with the data for election, the same information affects banking transaction and can lead to financial fraud. 
  • This partnership will also reduce the cost INEC incurs trying to register voters and setting up temporary registration centres every year preceding a general election. 
  • While this may not go down well with many or they may think this is a mere dream, I am certain we can convert our ATM machines to voting machines. We all know where the ATM machines are around us so we can just easily walk to one of them and vote. Whether it happens now or after 2023, just mark my words. The day is coming when our ATM machines will become voting machines. After all, we trust these machines with our money. We take money from them and give them money when we want to send cash into our accounts. If we trust these machines with money, why can’t we trust them with our votes?  
  1. Automatically upgrade debit cards to voter’s cards. We must find a way around the very poor figures of people coming to register for voting. Our cards have to work like debit cards for us to be able to vote in the presidential elections from anywhere within the country. I have said repeatedly that it does not make sense to procure card readers and all the machines do is to read information on the cards or verify the cards. There are several security features that can be on a card and anyone can be trained to identify them. If we have machines that we can insert our cards into, we should also be able to use those cards from any part of the country. The machines should know if we voted somewhere or not and grant access or deny just as it is with insufficient funds. If debit cards are automatically converted or upgraded to voter’s card, it means anyone who is 18 with a bank account automatically has a voter’s card 
  • When banks are permitted to automatically update existing debit cards to voter’s cards, it costs almost nothing for the banks to do this. 
  • The banks are only adding one more information or feature on a card 
  • INEC will save billions of naira on printing cards 
  • Voters will be able to get their cards in thirty minutes or at most, three days! 
  • This also means that voter registration can continue until at least 48 hours to elections since the data for registration will be updated daily. 
  • The stress the voters will have to go through to get a voter’s card will be removed. 
  • Having a debit card double as voter’s card will increase the number of registered voters and actual voters  
  1. Allow internet voting. We need to convert CBT Centres to polling booth. Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) partners with owners of Computer Based Test (CBT) centres to conduct examinations and the results are reliable. If that can be done, why can’t we convert the CBT centres to polling booths for those who will want to use them on election days for online voting? With internet voting we will: 
  • Increase the number of voters 
  • Not have to worry about more polling units 
  • Ensure voters don’t worry about distance of polling units 
  • Eliminate transfer of voter’s card.  
  1. Voting by sms short codes. There are more than 165 million active mobile lines being used in Nigeria according to NCC. 
  • I take into cognisance the fact that many Nigerians still carry more than one phone line. 
  • I also do not want to ignore the number of people who are literate enough to send an SMS unaided by others. Some will require help to send their SMS.  
  • On that note, I may assume that the real number for active mobile lines might be around 120 million. 
  • If my assumption is correct, 120 million is still 40 million above the registered voters for the 2019 general elections. 
  • All the 120 million phone lines can send SMS so we should be able to vote via SMS just as we do with TV reality shows. 
  • INEC can even make money from SMS voting rather than spending so much money. Multiply 120,000,000 by N10. That’s one billion, two hundred million naira (N1,200,000,000). 
  • Some people might also be concerned about multiple voting from an individual but that’s the least of our worries. Multiple voting can be blocked easily. The first step is to ensure that every line is only enabled to vote once. The next step is to harmonise data across the telecoms companies just as we did with BVN in the banks. So if you have two or more phone lines across different networks, the information provided during SIM registration will pick that. Don’t forget that your biometrics were also captured for SIM registration so we can do it in such a way that once your first line has voted, all other lines with the same biometrics are instantly blocked from voting. 
  1. Install GPS or any tracker in election materials for staff going to remote areas. While we are working on improving the processes of elections, we should also be concerned about the safety and security of the INEC staff. The staff going into the creeks and some other remote areas are at great risks and we can make them safer by installing trackers or any GPS device in their bags. We should also be able to put panic buttons in their hands that they can press if they are being threatened to alter figures or their lives are in danger. 
  1. Collation of results should be done electronically. From the time voting closes in all the polling units across the federation, it still takes around 48 hours or more to collate results and announce a winner. In the 2019 general election, it took more than 48 hours. This is so because all the INEC staff and party agents at the local wards have to travel to the state level for a collation at the state INEC collation centre. When there, the returning officer of INEC in that state takes the result personally to the national collation centre in Abuja. All returning officers have to come to Abuja and some of them have to drive several hours by road before getting a flight to Abuja. Some can’t get a flight. They have to drive all through.  

A simple excel sheet can make these result collation easier and faster than going to Abuja. A simple Google form can send the results to Abuja faster than traveling there. If we are worried about the security of the open platforms available, special data collation sheets can be built as apps and from the state levels, all results can be entered for the INEC chairman to receive all results within 6 to 12 hours after voting has close at polling units. 

I know a large religious organisation in this country that has a portal for receiving monthly reports that includes data and payments. Most of the people doing the reports don’t have to travel for up to an hour and the reports from all over the country will drop in less than 24 hours. Most banks in Nigeria operate using a portal that’s specially designed for them. They operate and access the information of any customer from any branch. They can also send any information to anywhere without having to worry about security breach. If banks are sending sensitive information from wherever they are and there are minimal issues, why can’t INEC send figures securely? 

  1. INEC situation room should be a digital centre with a screen showing summary of various results being sent in from all the states in real time. Once the party agents have verified results at polling units and state collation centres, there is no need for another verification at the national collation centre.   

The existing problems that ICT and electronic voting will resolve 

  1. Huge cost of INEC logistics reduced. Sometimes one wonderswhy INEC needs so much money to conduct elections until you realize that election materials have to be delivered to some locations by helicopters.INEC certainly does not have helicopters and will have to partner with the Nigeria Air Force to make that happen. I don’t think this is a partnership that happens by mouth and mere documents. The cost of printing some election materials, moving them to the CBN vaults and moving them to polling units can be reduced with more ICT leveraging to conduct elections or register voters.  
  2. Logistics causing INEC staff to arrive polling units late can be cut out. We should be worried that INEC does not have a reliabletransport partner except the regular transports on the road who sometimes disappoint or are harassed by the police and military men barricading roads on election days.These transporters can be compromised and the way we move the sensitive materials is what allows the electoral fraud to happen in some cases. Electronic voting machines, voting my emails, internet or SMS will reduce this logistic issue and the credibility issue around it. 
  3. Credibility of elections will increase. Many people have lost faith in the electoral processbecause they believe the process was already rigged before it began. They believe the system is rigged and the INEC staff are compromised. No argument will change the minds of people like this like ICT.I have personally told people that if votes don’t count, politicians wouldn’t be buying votes. If politicians are still buying votes then you should know that your votes are desperately needed. Try as we may, wouldn’t listen. If electronic voting and results being transmitted in real time, maybe we can change their minds and show them that a credible process for election is possible. 
  4. 4. There will be no inconclusive elections. Violenceand irregularitiesare some of the major reasons elections are declared inconclusive. In some cases, cancelled votes resulting from voters thumb printing across the ballot lines add to the issues of inconclusive elections. With electronic voting and other ICT facilities in place, votes will be immediately rejected and voters can try again or be guided appropriately on how to vote. Votes will no longer be cancelled or invalidated at the point of counting the votes. The thousands of votes that are usually cancelled at the point of vote counting is in itself a form of system disenfranchisement. Many of you who are seated here would have bragged about voting for someone in the past but you can’t prove that because there’s a possibility your vote was not counted! 
  5. 5. Votes are updated to INEC collation centre real time.The real time collation of the results actually solves more of the credibility problems. People know that voting takes place and they also believe that the rigging happensafter the voting and before the votes are collated. Consequently, we will be making the election more transparent and believable when we introduce real time announcement of election results. 
  6. 6. Election results can be announced less than12hours after voting has closed across the country. With results trickling in real time, most results would have been collated in 12 hours. Worst case scenario with ICT would now be announcing results 24 hours after elections.  
  7. 7. Overall election cost is reduced. 200 billion is a lot of money to conduct election. A road that I use very often in my axis was recently awarded for only 20 billion naira.There are over 100 tertiary institutions in Nigeriaand most of them are simply glorified secondary schools as we like to call them. 2 billion for each tertiary institution can make a huge difference. Leveraging ICT which we already have in the banks or will introduce will drop the cost of elections. A typical election budget covers the cost of printing papers, ad-hoc staff allowances, police and military men’s allowances and logistics. With ICT, few hands would be needed and there would be fewer votes to protect. Votes can’t be snatched electronically though INEC will have to ensure the votes are passed on to its server securely so that hackers are not paid to block votes coming to a certain candidate.  
  8. Voter apathy will reduce when people know they can vote from the comfort of their rooms. People don’t want to lose their lives over votes that may not count at the end of the day. Once people see that they can vote from anywhere in the country without stepping out of their house, voter apathy will reduce. Even if they need to go to a polling unit to use an electronic voting machine, they are still certain their votes will count andthey will be eager to deliver the votes that count.The romance between this current generation and technology is inseparable and unstoppable. The earlier we find ways to get our results from millennials through technology the better. Think about it. Your mobile phone is now your: 

– Television 

– Radio 

– Camera 

– Computer 

– Calendar 

– Diary 

– Note pad 

– Dictionary 

– Encyclopaedia 

– Classroom 

– Entertainment box 

– Fax machine and many more. 

We have to find a way to deliver credible elections through this phone since the phone is now everything to everyone. The time is not far from now when any service that cannot be delivered via phone will not be needed. And any product that cannot be delivered through book from a phone will most likely waste away in the store of the owner. 

If we introduce more ICT into our elections and eventually settle for electronic voting, we will be setting the pace for Nigerians in diaspora to be able to vote.   

  1. Ballot box snatching will be eradicated 

Conclusion 

You may not share my optimism but many of these things will happen faster than you can imagine. Just like the many corporations that have refused to innovate and were forced out of business or were bought over, this innovation is something we have to embrace willingly or allow it to be forced on us. 

For you to envision the possibilities of these things I’ve just shared with you, simply picture a Lagos State House of Assembly with more than half of the members being under the age of 35 and are tech savvy. The laws will change rapidly and before you blink, these propositions that sound like fantasies will become normal electoral processes. You should also know that when Lagos sneezes, Nigeria catches cold. 

Consequently, I want to encourage more young people who are visionary and are always excited by technology to get into the political space. People change technology and technology turns around to change people. If we don’t change the laws to allow technology to operate, we will keep talking about a future which is already becoming the past of some people.    

References: 

  1. Centre for Democracy and Development – Nigeria electoral trends, 2018
  2. Manik Hapsara, Ahmed Imran and Timothy Turner. – E-Voting in developing countries, January 2017
  3. Toba Paul Ayeni, Adebimpe Omolayo Esan – The impact of ICT in the conduct of elections in Nigeria
  4. Jega AM (2012) Report on the 2011 general elections. Independent National Electoral Commission
  5. The US Census Bureau
  6. World Bank
  7. www.cddwestafrica.org
  8. www.imedpub.com/articles
  9. www.quora.com
  10. www.cnn.com/asia
  11. www.electionguide.org
  12. www.worldometers.info 


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