By Tonnie Iredia
Based on the satisfactory performance of election administrators at the recently concluded Edo governorship election, there is a general feeling that the conduct of election to the office of governor of Ondo state scheduled for next Saturday, October 10, 2020 would be similarly successful.
On her part, INEC has given assurances of her preparedness to do a good job. It is, indeed, heartwarming that the more than 5000 card readers which got burnt in Ondo state last month have reportedly been replaced and put in a perfect state of readiness for voting day.
More importantly, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has confirmed that Z-pad used in the Edo polls which helped a great deal in checking malpractices are already in Ondo state and would be deployed for use on Saturday.
But while the huge applause INEC and other relevant agencies received for their performance in Edo may motivate them to keep the flag flying, the nation should not rule-out the possibility of a setback which the unending desperation of Nigerian politicians can cause.
History tells us that whenever, the electoral body in Nigeria organizes a new device to halt electoral malpractices, election riggers manage to source other strategies which counter the INEC device.
It is therefore not impossible that Ondo politicians have already worked out how to counter the use of the latest device-the Z-pad. One reason we are worried about Ondo is the revelation by Sunday Abegunde, immediate past secretary to the state government that the much commended 2016 governorship election in the state was a façade.
Abegunde affirms that some politicians including himself manipulated the victory of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. If such a highly placed stakeholder can make such a major self-indicting allegation, then it would be foolhardy for INEC, in particular, to take Ondo state for granted.
Besides, the electoral body is herself still shy of taking advantage of the capacity of the Z-pad to serve as a backup to the card reader for voter identification. In the absence of such a back-up, it means there would be no option to the fluctuating temperament of the card reader.
In truth, what election officials are expected to do when the card reader is unable to appropriately capture a voter is being left to personnel discretion. Some news reporters who covered the Edo election told this writer that reactions to such situation varied from centre to centre. In the past, everyone was aware of the use of incidence form, but the cancellation of that has left a fluid vacuum.
Yet, many things can adversely affect the card reader. In one location, the officials suspected that the chip in the voter’s PVC, may have been damaged – an action the owner may have no idea of until voting time. When that happens, as it did at a centre in Greater Tomorrow College in Benin, during the Edo governorship polls, the affected voters were not allowed to vote.
While it is unfair that such voters were disenfranchised due to no fault of theirs, there are greater implications in cases where officials used their discretion to allow such voters to vote. The most obvious is the room it can create for many fake voters to be easily admitted.
By INEC’s arrangement, the Z-pad is currently used only to upload results whereas it can also be used to authenticate problematic cases which can then filter the system and disallow fake voters.
This is why we feel INEC should no longer shy away from the FULL use of the Z-pad. It is hoped that hitches earlier identified in the operation of the device in connection with the identification of voters have been cleared and that INEC is now ready to utilize all its dimensions and sanitize our election process. This in our opinion can make Ondo more successful than the Edo outing.
Those who hold a contrary view and are always quick to caution INEC against the use of technology in our elections have a hidden agenda and the earlier the commission develops sufficient courage to do what is done elsewhere, the better for Nigeria.
We cannot continue to close-up an entire state or nation just because a segment of it is about to vote; we also should not continue to deploy thousands of security and law enforcement operatives to just one event when there are several reports of how other nations have used simple and non-contentious technologies to achieve a seamless exercise.
The self-serving caution by those who keep frightening INEC away from technology is already against the run of play because it is now clear that e-voting is not rocket science.
Instead, it is the new normal in a world of e-payment, e-banking, e-passport etc. in which analogue services have become obsolete. In addition, INEC cannot continue to spend the nation’s scarce resources on election technologies and training of officials on them; only to be manipulated to either deny their existence or to discard them at the last minute for unconvincing reasons.
The level of development of the nation which is usually given as the reason for not experimenting with some technologies is not persuasive. What makes sense is that a nation should not adopt a higher grade of technologies when it has not mastered the basic forms.
Direct Data Capturing, Card reader, Z-pad are basic technologies. They have no bearing with the level of education of the voter because what is expected from the voter in each of them is not different from all that the voter currently does, that is to appear for one’s biometrics to be obtained through registration and then to thumb-print a ballot on voting day.
In other words, the intellectual competence of an average voter is not tested beyond what he or she currently does with other devices like the ATM cash withdrawal arrangements in banks or even the use of the cell phone.
Other African countries such as Kenya and Ghana have not allowed themselves to be so dissuaded from the system by politicians. In 2014, India used the same system to conduct seamless exercises involving 600 million voters. What is Nigeria’s electoral body afraid of?
Quite often, one gets irritated by arguments such as that INEC is hindered by law from making technological progress with our elections. Which law is that? First, the Nigerian Constitution in Section 160 empowers the nation’s electoral body to “make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure” which she is allowed to do without answering to even the President.
Second, the initial voyage of discovery by politicians in enacting an Electoral Act which prohibited the use of electronic voting was amended in 2015 to now read that “voting at an election shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Which other law is stopping INEC now and which law allowed her to use card reader and only half of Z-pad? For some INEC commissioners, the Ondo governorship election of next Saturday is the last they will be involved in, they better grab all the courage they can find to do a good job and write their names in gold.