Proven Ways To Digitalize Elections In Nigeria

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Here’s a transcript titled “Towards Full Digitalization Of Election In Nigeria”. Excerpt of the lecture I delivered last year on NTA @ 40 and which INEC promised to adopt during the 2019 General elections. Did INEC fulfil the promise?

Online Voters’ Registration and Casting of Votes Digital tools and process of election will also aid smooth information dissemination during the election. These will include online voting through an INEC app (which I will be recommend and discuss this later). Voters could easily register online and generate their PVC numbers without actually visiting INEC offices. The questions are, what if under age people access this platform and what of multiple registration and voting? The answer is simple, anybody who wants to do online registration without collecting the PVC will have supply his/her Bank Verification Number (BVN) or NIMC number, which will serve as a source of age verification and identification. If a person has registered and attempts to engage in multiple registrations with same name or fictitious names, the system will detect it through the BVN or NIMC Number. Voters can actually vote from the comfort of their homes, office or anywhere without actually physically visiting the polling booth. How? Very simple! All INEC needs to do is to work with professional application developers to develop a smart voting application. The application will contain the candidates’ names, pictures and party insignias. All the voter needs to do is to open the app and vote for the candidate of his choice. This could be done by clicking on the number attached to the candidate’s name or clicking on the candidate’s box depending on the phone or system the voter is using. This could be done through smart phones, tablets and computers. The question that one might want to ask is “how is this possible?” It is very possible. It is just like voting for a contestant of one’s choice in Big Brother Naija, Big Brother Africa or some other talent hunt shows. Once the voter votes, it is transmitted automatically to INEC headquarters in Abuja, INEC offices in the local government area and state levels where the voting took place. Just like in the American voting system, as the votes come in, they are auto-counted and collated and anybody having access to INEC website can see the votes coming in and the figures cannot be altered or hidden. It is easy to do. The voter has to download the INEC application. And the voter has to use his/her name and PVC number, so the user’s name is the voter’s name, while the password is the PVC number. With this, voters can vote from anywhere. To avoid delays, INEC can actually declare the online voting platform open some days before the actual physical voting. This could help to avoid congestion. This system will reduce the danger of rigging, snatching of election materials, allocation of over bloated election results, electoral violence, threat to the electorate, cost of funding election, electoral frauds, inducement of election officials and the electorate. This will also help to hasten up counting and collation of votes. The question that may be asked is, “what of people who are not able to operate or procure smart phones, tablets or computers?” Recent studies indicate that over 80% of literate Nigerians have access to smart phones and over 70% of Nigerians have access to the Internet. Many of these people who are digital and computer savvy are actually the people who shy away from elections and are usually the critics of election irregularities. The major reasons they shy away or show apathy towards elections are because of delay and long queues during voting, fear of electoral violence, lack of respect for the votes cast and sometimes weather condition. With digital system, more people will vote and the votes will actually count. The votes will be transmitted to the necessary places and will not be tampered with. We do online banking, online purchase, what will so difficult in getting digital voting right? Nothing! Who is afraid of digital voting? USE OF ICT’s ON THE VOTING DAY On the election day the deployment of digital tools and processes is very important. One of the major problems in the Nigerian electoral process is the dissemination of wrong and fabricated information from the voting centres to the collating centres. This is where forging and writing of fake and over bloated results is carried out. To avoid this INEC should deploy voter’s smart cards, card readers, mobile apps for voting, direct electronic recording machines, electronic voting machines, optical scanning mechanism, satellite phones such as Thuraya, digital tracking devices through GPS technology to monitor the movement of election materials and personnel. The digital technologies can prevent rigging and other forms of election malpractices. When the voting is done digitally, the implication is that by voting the voters are also disseminating information about the election. Every participant in the election will be able to disseminate information digitally in one way or the other and receives information smoothly as well. The adoption of this digital method will significantly enhance the electoral process in Nigeria. It will put to the garbage heap of history the dangerous and destructive problem of electoral malpractice in the country. One may be tempted to question this method on the ground of security that bothers on the possibility of being hacked. This is where INEC needs the service of certified and trusted online security experts. INEC should also adopt and deploy machines that should be Internet connected and with large touch screen display monitors in the polling booths. The screens should display the names, pictures and party insignia of the candidates. Once a voter cast a vote, the vote is transmitted automatically to the various collating centres. The vote automatically adds up to the rest votes already counted. The issue of ballot boxes and result sheets snatching will not occur. Even if the machines are stolen, or vandalized the data will not in any way be affected. As I said earlier, the problems of multiple voting, ballot material snatching electoral violence, hooliganism, inducement at polling stations and every other ugly form of election malpractice would vanish from the surface of the Nigerian electoral process. To handle this method of election successfully, INEC does not have to rely on only the regular Internet supply from the regular mobile telephone companies. INEC should acquire satellite phone such as Thuraya phones. Each polling station should have at least two Thuraya phones that are Internet connected. These phones will supply Internet connectivity to the different smart voting machines. This digital method will provide the smooth platform for easy and functional communication among all stakeholders. The voters especially, will have their voices heard. They will be able to communicate their voices through the ballot aided by digital mechanism. Their votes will for once count and the popular slogan “One man One Vote ‘ will be actualized. This digital process will lead to the realization of the age-long Latin saying that Vox Populi Vox dei which means “The Voice of the People is the Voice of God”. When the people speak and their voices are heard the society progresses. The most significant way the people can speak with respect to good governance, equitable, egalitarian, pragmatic and sustainably developed country is through election. When the voice of the majority is heard through the votes they cast, the voice of the people would have become the voice of God. There is no error in the voice of God. Contrarily, when politicians force themselves into elective positions through irregular, illegitimate means or electoral malpractice, they would have silenced the voice of the people and by implication they have also silenced the voice of God. Hence countries like Nigeria and many other African countries that are bedeviled with electoral malpractice have not attained any appreciable degree of sustainable development. Take a look at the countries where the voices of the people count and see how developed they are. Good example include the United States of America, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Israel and so many others. Even Ghana that has just started listening to the voice of the people has attained a positive peripety in her national development. In mid 1960, four countries in the world were projected to attain world standard and sustainable development before the end of the last century. The countries were Nigeria, India, Brazil and China. As at today China is the second largest economy in the world, Brazil has developed to the extent that Nigeria even begs to buy military weapons from her and India has become a kind of Mecca to Nigerians. Nigeria that was projected to top the list of those four countries is today wallowing in the sad wilderness of untold corruption, hardship and abject poverty thus making majority of the citizens to live in sustainable poverty. This is a product of lack of respect for the tenets of democracy and electoral process. The electorate’s votes must count because the electorate is one of the three major pillars that can check government and ensure development. The others are the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. Above all, the fear of the electorate is the beginning of good governance, because only the electorate can determine who should be elected. END NOTES INEC and the entire citizens of Nigeria must key into the digital mechanism not only for smooth passage of information during the 2019 General elections but also for effective, efficient, successful and violent free elections that the entire world will commend and copy. The present poor state of Nigeria in all ramifications is a sad product of the poor electoral system and process whereby the principle and practice of Vox Populi Vox dei is not respected. Many of the supposedly elected politicians become arrogant, corrupt, unaccountable, insensitive, unprogressive, megalomaniac and generally anti-societal progress. Some of the results are what we witness by importing finished petroleum products, importing virtually everything, including toothpicks, and used under wears, our youths becoming economic refugees in Ghana whereby the reverse has become the case. It is no longer Ghana Must Go but Nigerians must leave Ghana. It is pathetic that youths from one of the richest nations on earth, Nigeria, have to become slaves in Libya, refugees in Europe, die frequently while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, become victims of xenophobia in South Africa. South Africa that we assisted just yesterday, that our currency, the Naira that was one of the second highest currencies in the world has become almost the least in the world, that crime, human ritual killings, gangsterism, prostitution, online fraud have become order of the day and that other countries regard us with disdain, is the climax of human and national embarrassment and disaster. The only way to correct these errors and restore normalcy to Nigeria and enthrone sustainable development is by giving power to the voters, by making their votes count. This is where digitalization, as I have been stating counts. Once we get the 2019 general elections right through digitalization, Nigeria will be back again on the path of sustainable development and we shall enjoy this rich land flowing with milk and honey. If we get it wrong, we will be doomed once again. God forbids in Jesus Name. I thank you all for listening. By, Dr. Emmanuel Ufuophu-Biri Associate Professor of Mass Communication & Journalism, Head of Department, Mass Communication & Director, Pre – Degree Programme, Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria.

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