•list prospects, grey areas to exercise caution
By Prince Osuagwu
THE National Assembly last week ammended the electoral act 2010, to legalise the use of smart card readers for the authentication of accredited voters.
The amendment also paves the way for electronic voting in future elections. The Senate also empowered the presiding officer at polling units to use any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from time to time for the accreditation of voters to verify, confirm or authenticate the genuineness or otherwise of voters’ card, in addition to the smart card reader.
The passage of the Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act 2010 and for other related matters followed the consideration and adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on INEC last Thursday.
The bill, also stipulates that votes and recorded results must be transmitted electronically directly from polling units in an encrypted and secured form.
The amendment provides that if for some reason the encrypted data is compromised, the presiding officer would have to rely on the manual collation, which could, however, be prone to manipulation. Where the encrypted data is safe, it completely supersedes the manual results.
The amendment is also offering a solution to the ambiguity that may occur in the event a candidate dies after the commencement of elections and before the declaration of a winner by INEC, as was the case during the Kogi gubernatorial election.
The National Assembly, apparently, may have reacted to consistent calls by several Information and Communications Technology Practioners in Nigeria, that the country should look the way of technology for solutions to the perennial problems that bedevil Nigeria’s electoral system.
ICT stakeholders like Chairman of Zinx Technologies, Leo-Stan Ekeh, former President of Institute of software practitioners of Nigeria, Chris Uwaje among others have at one time or the other advocated for electronic voting system as a way to bring transparency in Nigeria’s general elections.
Although they also admitted that technology has its own adverse effects, they contended that it will help in reducing litigations and as well strengthens the faith of Nigerians in the electoral process.
For instance, in May 2016, Ekeh had declared that the time is ripe for Nigeria to deepen its democratic culture through the full deployment of electronic voting during elections.
He had made the call while appearing as the keynote speakers at a retreat organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matter at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
In a paper titled – New thoughts, ideas and innovations on use of ICT in elections – Ekeh affirmed that the gains recorded with the use of the card readers in the 2015 general elections goes a long way to show that with the adoption of e-voting, the country will take a huge step towards sound democratic governance.
“The country is ripe for transition to electronic voting. In your life, there must be a little bit of disruption for you to move forward. With the use of the card readers in the last general elections, we saw a significant reduction in electoral fraud. However, a few challenges still existed as no technology can be said to be 100% perfect”.
He added that “Today, there are about 774 local governments in the country and each one with about 10, 800 polling units, some of which are in the riverine areas. Even if INEC purchases 1000 vehicles, it will still find it difficult logistics-wise to cover all the areas and this leaves the process open to manipulation by emergency contractors as INEC lacks the requisite man-power” .
With National Assembly, having finally adopted e-voting, Ekeh told Hi-Tech that “this is the time to ensure that there are reasonable infrastructure to handle it. No Besides the mobile units and active screens at the polling units, the database of registrants or eligible voters is sitting at the national database of INEC.
“Once a voter’s number is entered at the polling unit, it pulls up the details of the voter from the list of registered voters. Verification will no longer be a problem and during voting, once a voter clicks on the icon of a chosen party, the same information hits the INEC back-end. This will go a long way in reducing litigations as INEC can provide verifiable evidence in court” .
Transition towards Electronic voting
“With this technology in place, voters will no longer have to travel back to their wards to cast their votes. Furthermore, INEC can also monitor the entire process easily as each electronic voting device is equipped with a tracker and can be configured to shut down immediately voting ends.”
Tracing the country’s march and transition towards electronic voting, he said that the impact of the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines used during the 2007 elections and the painstaking process which eventually culminated in the use of the card readers for the 2015 general elections can never be over emphasised.
“When Prof. Jega came on board, a decision was made to do a proper data capturing of eligible voters. We started the process and I must thank the National Assembly as they supported us despite being a local company.
“We designed the technology and ended up working for everybody in deploying the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines nationwide including the 600 servers. These helped promote the concept of one man, one voter card, streamlined the electoral process and also reduced multiple registration, ineligible and under-age registrants – we did a lot of these from the back-end. As a result, we were able to deliver a strong database which reduced arguments and other related issues.
“From there, we moved to the use of card readers.
Smoothening the process
Most of the issues encountered with the card readers had to do with the National Assembly and the budget for INEC as well as the late release of funds after election dates had been set, among other disruptions. So, INEC had no time to conduct a mock election using the card readers”
However, Mr Chris Uwaje, cautioned that adopting e-voting by the national assembly is one thing but achieving full potentials of the system is another.
He highlighted critical areas that government must quickly take care of before celebrating e-voting.
” For the national assembly to finally heed the call we have severally made on e-voting is a big achievement but getting the full benefits of the system is another.
” There are critical areas like broadband infrastructure, uninterrupted power supply, certified IT professional and software majors; network security experts that must be urgently be made to key into the system. The e-voting system is similar to the e-payment scheme and should follow similar pattern of implementation.
” For Nigerians to get full benefits, only tier 3 Data centres should be accredited and used while implementing it. there is need for a plot run in selected states, just like was done in the e-payment scheme; ethical hackers must be involved in cybersecurity defence and open source e-government application should be deployed.
” All these and more should be put in place now, for us to beat our chest and say we we are doing e-voting in Nigeria” he noted.