The aim of introducing the Smart Card Reader, prior to the 2015 general elections, seems to have been defeated, as politicians are exploiting the absence of a legal backing for the use of the device during elections.
The recent submission of the National Electoral Commissioner in charge of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, suggests that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in a quandary and that only a repeal of Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, which prohibits the use of electronic voting, including the transmission of the results electronically, by the National Assembly can save the day.
ONE of the fallouts of the recent governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states is that the National Assembly must, as a matter of urgency, update the electoral laws, particularly the non-recognition of electronic voting by the 1999 Constitution (as amended), to provide opportunities for improvements in future elections.
Though technology is the key component that would fast track the drive towards electronic voting, the enabling law must be in place before e-voting can be implemented.
The Smart Card Reader introduced prior to the 2015 general elections under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega was hailed as the decisive factor that aided the defeat of the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan by President Muhammadu Buhari.
But, four years after, politicians appear to have found a way around it.
This was the import of the statement by the National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commissioner (INEC) in charge of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, at a meeting to review the just-concluded governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
He said since the record of the Smart Card Reader did not count as evidence in court during election cases, most politicians decided to ignore it while perpetrating rigging.
He said the non-recognition of the Smart Card Reader by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is a great setback for the commission’s efforts to tackle poll fraud, using technology, because the lack of legal backing has rendered the device legally impotent.
This, he added, has further encouraged politicians not to accord any importance to it.
Okoye added: “We must find a solution to the issue of the Smart Card Reader. The Smart Card Reader has lost its efficacy and vibrancy in relation to the electoral process because the political elite have found a way around it.
So, rather than use the Smart Card Reader, they just ignore it because ultimately they know that when they go to the court what it will be saying is that if you want to prove over-voting, we want to see INEC register or result sheet and not the Smart Card Reader. So, as far I am concerned, the Smart Card Reader has become a redundant instrument and inconsequential.”
In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has challenged INEC to lead the initiative for the adoption of electronic voting (e-voting), if it is serious in its quest for free and fair elections.
The PDP National Chairman Chief Uche Secondus, who made the above plea while receiving a delegation from the commission’s Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) Department, said such legal framework should also address the issues of collation of results and the punishment for electoral offenders.
He said: “We in PDP expect INEC to be at the forefront of the process to have a legal framework for the conduct of free, fair and credible election.
“Such legal framework should address the issue of security, electronic voting, and collation of results and punishment for electoral offenders.
The survival and sustenance of our democracy rest squarely on the integrity of the electoral commission which will derive from the character and the impartiality of its operatives. Free, fair and credible election is exactly what PDP and indeed global democracy demand and expect from INEC.”
Secondus said it has not been easy operating under a ruling party whose understanding of democracy is impunity, intimidation, and coercion. The National Chairman added: “The ruling APC, unlike the PDP, is not disposed to any electoral law that will prevent them from manipulating the system.
We in PDP expect INEC to be at the forefront of the process to have a legal framework for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. I am not going to bore you with issues that are well known to your commission in your reviews of elections but I would like to urge your commission to move quickly and initiate Electoral Act amendment that will legalize electronic voting and remove the influence of the military as the primary security on election day.”
The National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, agrees that the absence of legal backing for the Card Reader Machine puts INEC in a quandary and provides room for unscrupulous elements to exploit the system.
His words: “On the pretext that the device is not working, some compromised INEC officials usually revert to the manual accreditation method, which gives room for a lot of manipulations.
The situation is getting worse. From the fairly laudable 2015 general elections, things have gradually degenerated from one election to the other.
The fear is that if this is allowed to continue, Nigeria may go into a nationwide insurrection by 2023, because I can’t see the number of security agents that would be able to man the South, assuming that the North is calm.
“The National Assembly should adopt the same patriotism and zeal it has employed in returning the country to the January to December budget cycle in providing legal backing to electronic voting.
If possible, the lawmakers should resolve the lingering question on e-voting and submit it for the President’s signature before going for the Christmas break. At most, it shouldn’t exceed January, so that the remaining off-season elections in Edo and Ondo in 2020, as well as Anambra in 2021, can be conducted using electronic voting. These should serve as a dress rehearsal for the 2023 general elections.”
Okorie said Nigeria is overdue for e-voting because countries that are less developed are already using it. He said: “That is what they are using in Ghana. In Ghana, results are transmitted electronically from the polling units.
Indonesia is a Third World country and they are already using it. India with a population of over 700 million is also using it. So, it is overdue; people should stop saying we are not ripe for it. The voter’s card we are using is electronically generated, the voters’ register is electronic, and so the infrastructure is already there.”
A growing number of Nigerians believe e-voting would solve the problem of rigging, as well as that of violence before, during and after elections and thereby restore the confidence of the people in the electoral process. Elections in recent times have been characterized by voter apathy because prospective voters see voting as a fruitless exercise.
This is owing to the fact that elections since the return to civil rule in 1999 elections have been characterised by violence and rigging. As a result, the average Nigerian does not believe that his or her vote counts.
Besides, the process of voting remains complex and cumbersome, in spite of the introduction of the Smart Card Reader since the 2015 general elections. Vehicular movements are restricted and prospective voters usually spend almost the entire day trying to exercise their civic responsibility.
INEC was widely applauded when it introduced simultaneous accreditation and voting during the Edo governorship election in 2016; because hitherto anyone intent on voting must report in the morning hours for accreditation and hang around the polling unit or return in the afternoon to vote. Even at that, voting is still dreaded, particularly by the elite, because of the inconveniences associated with it.
Thus, voter turnout for the 2019 elections is believed to be the lowest since 1999. In 2003, 69 per cent of 61 million eligible voters participated in the presidential elections.
The percentage has reduced progressively since then. It went down to 57 in 2007, 54 in 2011, before dropping to 44 per cent in 2015. In 2019, only 35 per cent of registered voters turned up; less than 30 million out of a possible 84 million eligible voters showed up to exercise their franchise during the presidential election.
To help encourage participation, experts have been canvassing for electoral reforms that would make electronic voting possible.
Others have also called for improvement in governance and socioeconomic outcomes, as well as the reduction of the role of money and godfathers in electoral contests. Such orientation, they argue, would attract the right calibre of candidates that can inspire the confidence of the generality of the people.
As Okorie said, the only hurdle towards e-voting remains the repeal of Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, which prohibits the transmission of results electronically. But, many Nigerians draw inspiration from the Kaduna State experience of May 2018.
The state made history in 2018 when it pioneered electronic voting. The Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECOM) conducted elections to elect local government chairmen and councilors, by using electronic voting machines, after understudying the Brazilian system.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai said the system was to “promote transparency and electoral integrity”. After the initial hiccups expected from a pioneer project, the process was largely successful, as it was quick and easy to use.
The Kaduna experiment suggests that Nigeria can hold free and fair elections that can be won by opposition candidates. This is because four local governments in the Kaduna elections were won by the opposition. It also shows that elections can be conducted promptly and smoothly if e-voting is introduced.
In its statement on the Bayelsa 2019 governorship election, a non-profit organization, YIAGA Africa echoed similar thoughts. It said the political class has perfected their act of undermining the process, by consistently making it difficult for INEC to conduct the elections across the board.
The organization said its Watching The Vote (WTV) data shows that election was not conducted in 24 per cent of its sampled polling units (61 of 250).
It added: “This incident was more prevalent in 28 polling units in Southern Ijaw, 11 polling units in Ogbia, nine polling units in Ekeremor, seven polling units in Nembe, five in Sagbama and one in Yenagoa of the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) sampled polling units. Statewide this data suggests that elections may not have been held in several hundred polling units, thereby seriously compromising the rights of the people of Bayelsa to freely determine for themselves their elected governor.”
YIAGA Africa said Nigeria must retool her legal framework to address the duality of jurisdiction of courts and timeline for the determination of pre-election cases. It said political parties do not follow the rules of the game.
The non-profit organization added that instead “the major parties vied for elective offices by buying votes, rather than speaking to issues, manipulating the courts for political advantage, and compromising the political environment to prevent political competition”
Source : The Nation