Nigeria must try harder to ensure e-voting
Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has again ruled out the possibility of electronic voting in the 2015 general elections. Speaking at a forum in Abuja, Jega said: “technically, there is no proposal that electronic voting should be adopted in 2015.” He further noted that “right now, we haven’t gotten to that stage…what we want is the removal of a major hindrance for INEC to even begin to explore the possibility of electronic voting.”
That major hindrance from all indications appears to be the amendment of Section 52 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act 2010, which makes it an offence for INEC to use e-voting. Only when that hurdle is removed can INEC forward a proposal for e-voting to the National Assembly. Other hindrances listed by the INEC chairman include the need to do “a lot of sampling of existing machines right now.”
Unfortunately, hardly had Jega voiced his concerns about the improbability of e-voting in Nigeria in the foreseeable future, than the two leaders of the National Assembly, Senate President David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, registered their vehement opposition to any proposal for the use of electronic voting. In separate interviews, both Tambuwal and Mark said Nigeria is not yet ripe for the use of e-voting.
According to them, “having the law changed does not automatically mean that e-voting will be rolled out. We have to test it, but without the law, it is not possible to test it.” Yet the pertinent questions remain: Why, if we may ask, are the two key officers of the National Assembly against electronic voting? When will Nigeria be ripe for anything? Why do our public officials always resist change?
Given our sad experiences since independence with the existing method of voting manually, there is no justifiable reason not to experiment with e-voting, no matter how expensive or difficult it would seem to be. In any case, there is sufficient time between now and 2015 for INEC to experiment with e-voting and make corrections along the way. But even if we argue that 2015 might be too early to test e-voting, foreclosing the idea altogether is not the right way to go.
In advocating the use of electronic voting, we are not oblivious to some possible problems it could encounter. The unreliable public power supply is one major hindrance. Training the needed manpower is another. There will also be need for sufficient voter education through intensive public enlightenment. And we recognise the fact of illiteracy. Yet all things considered we believe the time has come for Nigeria to join the rest of the world in adopting the process towards e-voting.
It is an indisputable fact that Nigerians have lost confidence in the extant electoral voting method because of its susceptibility to manipulation. There are also those who contend that reliable e-voting system could eliminate disputes over electoral fraud and rigging of results and thereby obviate the need for long-drawn litigations. There is therefore no reason for INEC not to push for the adop tion of e-voting, if only to prove its neutrality as an umpire committed to free and fair elections. And the National Assembly also owes it as duty to Nigerians to make sure they passed INEC’s proposal for amendment of the relevant sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act if and when such is presented to them.
As we seek to enthrone transparent elections where the votes of the electorate will not only be counted but would count, INEC should be encouraged by all the critical stakeholders, including the National Assembly, to give e-voting. a trial.