Leveraging Technology For Nigeria’s Electoral System
By Inyene Ibanga

TECH DIGEST – Technology as the most pervasive human phenomenon has disrupted and transformed our daily behaviour – how we play, communicate and conduct business transactions. It has impacted on the most ordinary tasks and created extraordinary possibilities with limitless opportunities for continuous expansion.

Through the power of technology, residents in one corner of the world are able to stream classes/lectures delivered from distant continents beyond their immediate locations. Business transactions are now conducted using digital applications without any physical contact between the parties involved.

Everyday consumers and citizens across the globe are experiencing the ever-evolving and revolutionary attributes of innovative technologies. People have no choice but to constantly adopt and adapt to the growing catalogue of intelligent applications/tools that offer novel, easy and efficient ways of doing things for both individuals and corporate organisations.

Today, we are surrounded by an intense struggle for dominance between technology and the human imagination. And technology has clearly asserted itself as the dominant global power with the unlimited potential to remodel our planet and even beyond.

Foremost economies are largely driven by technology, from their farms, extractive environments, to manufacturing, commerce and other socio-economic sectors. The world, and its population, is increasingly relying on technology for everyday activities.

However, the scale of technological advances for elections and related processes is very low, if not dismal. The technological revolution might have overlooked the electoral terrain, such that paper-based voting (the ballot paper) remains the standard process of casting the ballot in most countries.
While several nations have introduced new technologies into their electoral processes, many others are wary of using electronic means owing to concerns over issues of integrity and the legitimacy of electronic voting.

Most countries in the latter category are cautiously embracing electronic voting only to the extent of the e-voter registration.

For these countries, the possibility of employing technologies for ballot casting, counting, and the transmission of election results is still unlikely.

The electronic voting system, also called e-voting, allows for the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) placed in polling stations to facilitate the process of ballot casting and counting. E-voting utilises either the remote or non-remote system and all tabulations of election results are automated.

The EVM eliminates the use of the ballot paper as the direct-recording machine enables votes to be counted and tallied electronically. It involves the use of computers or computerised equipment (digital technologies) to cast ballots, record the ballot choices, while also counting and providing the results of elections.

Although it is viewed as a tool for enhancing efficiency, trust, security, ease of voting and the speed of processing of results, the electronic voting system requires proper planning and implementation, otherwise it can undermine the electoral process.

Also, e-voting requires extensive funding for the procurement of high grade, secure and trustworthy digital infrastructure to protect the system from any external cyber-attack or unauthorised access.

Great Britain, Brazil, Estonia, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States of America are among countries that have successfully incorporated e-voting into their electoral systems.

In 2014, Namibia became the first African nation to adopt electronic voting. Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Nigeria are among the few African nations equally considering plans to adopt technology in their electoral processes.

In Nigeria, technology has practically transformed activities in all sectors with the exception of the political terrain (the electoral sector), which is yet to fully embrace the technological revolution.
Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies would serve as foundation to rely on for the enthronement of efficiency, integrity and trust in our electoral system.

The increasing reliance on technology is a shift that is here to stay – from the use of PCs and smart phones for e-commerce, e-banking, e-learning (edutech), e-healthcare, e-cab hailing services, to using digital applications for agricultural activities and other sundry endeavours.

But the electoral process is the only area that is yet to feel the impact of technology, as no effort is being exerted in this direction.

This sector remains a stark contrast to the reality of the escalating technological advances that are rapidly transforming human activities in other sectors of our national life.

Certainly, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in Abuja provides a dynamic environment for Nigeria’s technology community to undertake the rigorous search for innovative technologies to address our numerous electoral challenges.

Thus, this piece is a humble plea for the tech community to join other stakeholders to galvanise the National Assembly for the speedy passage of the Electoral Reform Bill to make electronic voting a reality in Nigeria.

With the legislation in place, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be empowered to deploy e-voting from ballot casting and counting, to the tracking of ballots, and the transmission of ballots to a central collation centre for announcement of election results.

Tech startups, innovators and enthusiasts need to challenge themselves through collaborative efforts to develop, test and implement innovative digital programmes to accomplish reforms in Nigeria’s electoral space.

To this end, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) should explore all opportunities provided by the Act establishing the agency to explore all human and material resources available in the ICT sector to leverage technology for efficiency in election management.

This will lead to a fulfillment of the core mandate of harnessing information technology resources for the promotion of efficient national development.
Certainly, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in Abuja provides a dynamic environment for Nigeria’s technology community to undertake the rigorous search for innovative technologies to address our numerous electoral challenges.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy should, as a matter of national emergency, formulate relevant policies to give direction to and oversee the proper incorporation of trusted and secure technologies into the country’s electoral reform project.

Until we try out the prospect of technology in our electoral system, we may never appreciate Nigeria’s potential for growth and capacity to be counted as a force to reckon with in the global digital economy.

In the meantime, the country looks up to the tech community to make the difference by developing innovative disruptions that reflect the new normal in our electoral management system.

Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor, Techdigest.ng and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.

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