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E-Voting: As Kaduna Sets Standard For NASS, INEC

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As the demand for electoral reforms continue, the success of e-voting system at the recent local government polls in Kaduna State may have raised the standard for subsequent elections in Nigeria, writes EMAMEH GABRIEL.

“At considerable cost, the Kaduna State Government invested in Electronic Voting Machines to promote electoral integrity and transparency. It appeared the logical next step following the game-changing introduction of the smart card reader by INEC for the 2015 elections. But these costs are actually savings since the machines can be used for several elections, while avoiding the cost of printing secure ballot papers.

‘‘Despite apprehension by some political experts, we never doubted that our people will embrace electronic voting. Voters have acknowledged the successful operation of the Electronic Voting Machine, with its user-friendly interface and quick voting process.”

These were the words of Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, while basking in the success of the recent local government elections.

Not until the conduct of the recent local government council elections in Kaduna State, some Nigerians had dreaded the use of electronic voting. This was so not only because of the fear of compromise and deployment of manipulative devices, but for the level of illiteracy in the country, lack of voters education and sensitisation and the concerns of sustaining the system if it is adopted.

The card reader system introduced by the Professor Attahiru Jega led-INEC before the 2015 general elections was received with caution by Nigerians, who at the time nurtured the fear that it could be susceptible to compromise. However, although it had expected glitches, it has since become a mainstay of the electoral system.

The debate over whether or not to adopt electronic voting system in Nigeria has over the years continued to face stiffer constraint from some politicians who have no faith in the technology despite pressure from progressive elements who call for a further push on electoral reforms, especially through maximizing the full potentialities of information technology which is increasingly affecting all aspects of life, and to a large extent the political system of every society.

Electronic voting system has been a controversial issue in Nigeria in the last few years, while the agitation for e-voting has gained traction over the years. Some politicians, especially in the National Assembly are yet to embrace this technological innovation in full, despite the gains achieved through the card reader device.

Nevertheless, the idea behind adopting the e-voting system is to help improve and speed up the process of voting. The existing system, some experts have said, is not only time consuming but also places huge financial burden on the government and also paves way for wastage and corruption.

However, in what seemed almost impossible to many, the Kaduna State Government last week proved critics wrong when it successfully conducted the first electronic voting system in the country. Indeed, it was the first to be conducted by a subnational government in Africa. This however came months after rigorous lobbying and debate in the Kaduna State legislature.

It would be recalled that the debate to adopt an electronic voting system in the state for the local government elections started more than a year ago. Subsequently, the elections which were earlier slated for December 30, 2017 was suspended by KAD-SIECOM because Bill No. 10 of 2012 of Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission was not passed into law. The bill was however passed in February 2018 to allow the use of electronic machines for voting in the state local government and council elections.

The election has continued to receive wide commendation. The opposition have not wholly condemned the process or cry foul over the conduct of a local government election as is usually the practice in the country where ruling party in states habitually sweep all the local government council elections.

The PDP had won four out of the 18 local government areas in the state as announced by KAD-SIECOM, leaving little doubt as to the credibility of the elections.

Nevertheless, the success of the election has placed a huge moral burden not only on the leadership of the ruling party who were the major beneficiaries of the card reader introduced into the 2015 election but also on Independent National Electoral Commission  (INEC), the National Assembly, other state houses of assembly and electoral commissions across the country. Whether they will be ready to explore this dimension for the general elections in 2019 remains a major challenge.

The Kaduna State governor, while expounding on the benefits of the e-voting system told state house correspondents that “with the electronic voting now we don’t need ballot paper, so we saved N1.7 billion in ballot papers alone. And, these machines can be used for three or four more elections because they can last for ten years, all we need is to upgrade the software to add more parties and so on.

‘‘So, we believe that overall, it is good value for money and it has worked very well. What we are very happy about is that ordinary people could use it, the interface was friendly, simple and you can finish voting for the chairman and chancellor in less than 15 seconds.”

He however accused INEC of denying them the use of card reader just a week to the election for reasons he had described as ‘unacceptable’.

According to him, “when we were designing the machine, we had the option of integrating the card reader, so that you come with your voter’s card, put in your voter’s card, biometrically confirm that it is your card and then the machine will open for you to vote. But we thought that it would be too complicated since people are used to being accredited separately, it is better we take INEC’s card reader for accreditation and then our machine for voting.

‘‘But a week to the election, INEC said they were not going to give us the card reader. The reasons they gave to me were not acceptable. I called the chairman and I tried to persuade him to make it available to us but we didn’t get the card reader’’, said el-Rufai.

However the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC has repeatedly underscored its willingness to explore technology in ensuring that elections are transparent. While it has repeatedly said it is willing and eager to oversee a much improved transparent, free and fair electoral system, the laws for e-voting has to be passed by the National Assembly.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, national chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Chief Chekwas Okorie, hailed the Kaduna State governor for braving the odds and seeing to the adoption of e-voting in the state. He said it is a wake-up call for Nigerians to embrace electronic voting to have their voice rightly express on whom to entrust their mandates to.

‘‘Nigeria is over ripe for electronic voting. It is something we in the UPP have been preaching. We wrote to the seventh assembly on this and even to the present national assembly, the same way we wrote to President Buhari to display our commitment to the efficacy of electronic voting. ‘‘Nigeria is over ripe for it. The reason is that Nigeria has been using electronically generated register since 2011 general election. Nigeria used electronic generated voters’ cards in the 2015 general election.

‘‘So one can say that the basic infrastructure to electronic voting is already in place but just the political will to implement it in full is the major problem we are having. It is the only way to give Nigerians the voice to elect their leaders and this they have been denied of over the years to truly determine who deserves their mandate.

‘‘The PDP government refused it because it would have exposed them to the anger of Nigerians, so they refused to allow Nigerians to exercise their franchise freely. Today the table has turn and the APC government is beginning to tow the same line. It is for that reason that I commend Governor El-Rufai of APC. He is a democracy revolutionist of our time as a result of his boldness in implementing the e-voting system against all odds, he said.

‘‘It is for the very first time a ruling political party of a state did not win hundred per cent of all the elective position in an election as against the trend in recent times.  The confidence in the electorate has now been regenerated. INEC has no reason whatsoever not to use it for the 2019 general election. And if President Buhari is the democrat that he preaches about, he will do what he promised Nigerians, even the UPP delegation that visited him after he was elected, he promised me and my delegation that they would deploy more technologies in subsequent elections given the fact that card reader was the technology that guaranteed his success, advised Chief Chekwas.

On his part, Samuel Ehis Irabor, a Benue State based legal practitioner said there is already an existing law backing the use of electronic voting if the political will as displayed by el-Rufai is there. He said it may not be perfect but with time there would be improvement, stressing “what matters most is that the move has been made.”

He continued “on a personal note, El Rufai must be commended for the efforts and particularly the innovation put into the Kaduna LG elections. As they say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.

‘‘On the legality of the use of electronic voting system, it is not in doubt by virtue of Sections 3 and 4 of part 2 of the 3rd schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that State Electoral Commissions have the right to “organize, undertake and supervise” elections to a Local Government Council. By the ejusdem generis rule of interpretation, the use of electronic voting can be held to fall under that scope.

‘‘Relatively the Kaduna LG elections should be marked as successful as the results have been collated and announced in majority of the wards and local government with the opposition making a very remarkable outing. As to the hitches experienced, these things are normal even in technologically savvy countries as any design made by man cannot be held to be fool proof.

‘‘We can only aspire to improve on the process and as time goes on the benefits are ours to reap in terms of less man-hours spent during the voting process as well as its capacity to keep otherwise ubiquitous thugs at bay as the voting is real time and online.

‘‘Ahead of the 2019 polls, the Kaduna model should be improved on with a mind to replicating it nationwide. Politicians must also learn to play the game by its rules while the voting populace must inculcate the habit of not trading away their future for immediate inducements, advised Mr Ehis Irabor (Esq).

Another legal practitioner and public commentator Omogbai Jeremiah, said “It is a step away from the mundane practice bedevilling our electoral system. el-Rufai has done what most of his colleagues, even in the APC cannot dare because they know how they got into power.

‘‘This is a clear message that Nigeria can do better and people can be elected without rancour and blood birth. el-Rufai and the Kaduna State House of Assembly have challenged other states and even INEC and the National Assembly. It is now left for them to prove to Nigerians how patriotic they are to the country.”

Mr Dele Olawole, the founder and CEO Nigerians United Against Corruption International, however interrogated whether the electorate were properly educated before the major voting exercise was carried out. He said despite the importance of the innovation, caution must be observed to prevent any form of compromise.

‘‘It has been portrayed as the first ever electronic vote in Nigeria and second in Africa. Any improvement at combating fraud, ease of voting and rapid result announcement should be commended. Without doubts, a lot of thoughts went into this but like many things in Nigeria – the fire brigade approach caved in as the voters were poorly educated, ill-prepared. Agreed there are will be challenges and hope Kaduna government learn from this.

“One question asked is if the technology should be deployed across the nation. Why not? But we must learn from the mistakes and what happens when the machines cannot transmit signals to remote servers. How are the machines verified as it is not fool proof? Have there been a well conducted research into its hackability?” he asked.

He added that the only machine that cannot be hacked is the one that is offline. “A lot of time is needed coupled with a lot of education and if the machines should be used at all, it should be in phase. India is using the same type of machine for their elections today, Mr Dele further advised.

Mr Andrew Johnson, a teacher and public commentator stated “I find it insulting for people to tell us we cannot use a simple ‘punch-in-machine’ in 2018. Who taught us the use of ATM, the android system and the likes? E-voting is the solution to rigging, violence and fund wasting.

‘‘There must be mass education of the merit and use of the machines. Then introduce its use, the mode and means of it and deploy it without an option. There is an enabling law for now, which can be adopted and strengthened by making it the only option.

‘‘But we need to test it as it is now, just as Kaduna had done. Kaduna State has come to epitomise our collective malaise.  If the state, within a short time of four months can bring it’s largely illiterate population to speed and make a success out of e-voting, it will be insulting to say Nigerians cannot adapt and adopt such in a grand scale.”

The conduct and the outcome of the local government elections in Kaduna State have come and gone, though there were pockets of hitches in few local governments and wards, what is of more concern to Nigerians is how this technology can be deployed in subsequent elections in the country.

Kaduna State under Governor Nasir el-Rufai has taken the lead and it appears not only to be effective and efficient but also cheap and saves cost, according to the state government.

As el-Rufai had said, likewise others, ‘‘the era of rigging elections is almost over I think that is when people will have confidence in the process and will come out en masse and vote for their leaders.”

The challenge now goes to the federal government, precisely the National Assembly over the use of e-voting as many believe it would help hasten the possibility of diaspora voting.

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