Femi Ogbonnikan in Abeokuta
Four erstwhile African leaders, including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, converged on Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, at a two-day meeting aimed at proffering solutions to the disruptive use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on electoral process on the continent.
The three other ex-African leaders were a former President of Ghana, Mr. John Mahama; former President of Sierra Leone, Mr. Ernest Koroma, and former Prime Minister of Kenya, Mr. Raila Odinga.
Under the leadership of Obasanjo, the ex-leaders met on the theme, ‘High-Level Working Group Meeting on Mitigating Disruptive Applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on the Electoral Process in Africa’.
The session, which began last Monday and ended yesterday, also had in attendance, the immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega; Dr. Muthoni Wanyaki and Amir Osman from the Open Society Foundations.
Others were Advocate Pansy Tiakula from South Africa, Dr. Greg Mills from Brenthurst Foundation, and experts on ICT, among others.
In his opening remarks, Obasanjo noted that the essence of the meeting was “to review electoral systems in Africa, especially inputs, processes and output/outcomes as well as examine the strengths and weaknesses in the use of ICT in electoral systems in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
“To illustrate how ICT can be used to ease the electoral process rather than inhibit it; to document good practices in e-voting across the world and extract lessons for Africa; and to propose models of successful deployment of ICT in electoral systems in Africa for the sustenance of democracy in the region.”
Obasanjo recalled that “about three weeks ago, the Africa Progress Group (APG) which he chaired was formally inaugurated, and it’s delighted that the Secretariat of APG is the venue of the important meeting that has to do with the progress of Africa.
“One of the pillars of Africa’s progress in my five “P”s as adopted by APG at its inaugural meeting of November 27, 2018, is Politics, while others are Prosperity, Population, Protection and Partnerships.
“This meeting on the election process is within the framework of the pillar of politics. Deficit in the election process will translate to deficit in politics (and vice versa) which in turn will impede sound governance, a much sought-after element in the development of Africa.”
Obasanjo added that,“during the course of this meeting, we will be addressing one of the key issues that is at the heart of credible elections in Africa – Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the election process.
ICT is here to stay, pervading and increasingly impacting all aspects of our lives including the conduct of elections. “But it can be a good servant or a bad master. This is why, I believe, that the outcomes of our deliberations will have far-reaching implications for the quality and credibility of the election firmament in Africa now and in the future.
“It is a subject that has engaged the attention of numerous regional and global organisations, including the African Union. This meeting presents an important addition to those previous efforts. More than an addition, our meeting hopefully will present new and refreshing insights to how ICT can be better used in delivering credible elections in Africa and for the rest of the world.
“We can achieve this with the array of people assembled for this meeting; persons who have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the use of ICT in the election process and experts who are skilled in ICT and how its downsides for electioneering can be mitigated while enhancing its usefulness in enhancing credibility and integrity of elections,” Obasanjo explained.
In his paper titled: “Practical Experience in the use of ICT in the Election Process in Africa: The Nigerian Experience”, Jega submitted that two essential areas that technology has not yet been fully utilised are the electronics collation and transmission of results; and electronic voting.
The former INEC boss said the use of appropriate technology “goes a long way to improve the efficiency of the conduct of elections, as well the integrity of elections, worldwide and especially in Africa.”
According to him, “opportunities need to be explored and adequately utilised. But, we must constantly remember that use of ICT in elections is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
“That end perhaps, is electoral integrity for deepening and consolidating democracy. We need to constantly deploy measures that can ensure secure and sustainable use of ICTs in our electoral processes. We must think carefully, choose well, and make haste slowly,” Jega added.