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2023: NASS, CSOs, INEC disagree on e-voting

“So I think in a way, we can consider that this may have been gradual, but it is in a sense inevitable to ignore in the conduct of elections.

By Angela Atabo

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Assembly and Civil Society Organistions, on Tuesday, expressed divergent views on the desirability of e-voting in Nigeria,

The stakeholders shared their views at a Roundtable organised by Yiaga Africa in Abuja.

The roundtable was to assess the deployment of technology in Nigerian elections, election administration, integrity, and citizens participation.

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, represented by Prof. Mohammed Kuna, his Special Assistant, said the deployment of technology in elections in Nigeria was inevitable.

“So I think in a way, we can consider that this may have been gradual, but it is in a sense inevitable to ignore in the conduct of elections.

“One of the concerns in terms of electoral bodies’ experiences in Africa as a whole in the deployment of technology, has to do with issues about the appropriateness, acceptability and the sustainability of technologies that have been deployed for elections.

“All electoral management bodies have at one point or the other raised these issues to confront these questions, because they are critical questions that may make or mare the deployment of technology.

“The second issue is that of security, not just security of the process itself but also the issue of the protection of privacy of the vote, and of ensuring the sanctity of the votes.

“You deploy technology in order to enhance not only the speed of the process, but also to ensure the protection of the rights of citizens to vote freely, to vote privately and that the sanctity of their votes is protected.”

On his part, the President of Nigeria Computer Society, Prof. Adesina Sodiya, said Nigeria is ripe for e-voting.

“We are progressing in the right direction from Card Reader to BVAS,’’ he said, adding that introducing technology in the electoral process would address current challenges in the electoral system.

“Nigeria is ripe for e-voting, majority of our people don’t want to queue under the sun but if they know you have a strong e-voting system to cast their vote from the comfort of their home, they would embrace it.”

He averred that if the banking platforms, Point of Sale and other platforms could carry out electronic activities, then voting could be done electronically.

However, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Sen. Ajibola Basiru, disagreed with the idea of electronic voting.

Basiru argued that even the country’s mobile networks, although not the same as electoral technologies, were ineffective and could not cover many places, especially the rural areas.

“I beg to disagree with the President of the Nigeria Computer Society that Nigeria is ripe for e-voting, and I say this with all sense of responsibility.

“As a grassroots and practical politician, I have moved around and yes it is easier for us who live in municipality of Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja to talk about digital coverage.

“There are other places you visit you see the problem of infrastructure and there is still network problem in most parts of the rural areas.

“We cannot insulate INEC of overrating their capability and potentials on what they can do.

“With the level of deployment and training it gives, there’s a lot of room for concern on whether for now we can deploy the Card Reader.’’

The Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan, said INEC should test its electronic devices to detect and rectify areas of concern before the 2023 general election.

Sesan said it was also important for INEC to test the system by inviting hackers to push it to extra limit, to know its capability and strength.

He added that the commission should have a robust data protection mechanism, “because if it backfires, the one that will suffer most is INEC, because you hold the most important data”.

In his contribution, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom, Mr Mike Igini, accused politicians of undermining the effort of the electoral commission and the electoral process.

“Having been in this system for so long as an insider, I want to say that the problem we are having in this country has to do with people who are out to undermine the election process.

“So, everything you put together you must look at what we call the human agencies.

“We introduced Card Reader to ensure inclusivity and also use incident forms, but that was abused.

“All cost of election in Nigeria is on account of people who are out to manipulate the process, because when the commission plans for long term, the politicians are out there to undermine what we are doing.

“Like we are planning now to have the BVAS, they are out there trying to undermine that process.

“You put in place something for Nigeria’s interest but  there are people out to undermine the process and we do nothing  or prosecute them,” he lamented.

The Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, commended the National Assembly for amending the Electoral Act in accordance with prevailing realities.

“As watchers and observers and participants in the political and electoral reform process, we note the amendments to confer legalities on electronic transmission of result as the leverage granted to INEC to deploy technology for elections.’’

According to Itodo, technologies are great for elections as it enhances citizens participation and electoral transparency.

He however cautioned that technology could also undermine the integrity of elections and limit the participation of citizens.

Itodo, therefore, said the roundtable was organised to evolve a set of common principles that would guide the deployment of electoral technology in future elections in Nigeria.(NAN)

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