As part of the preparations towards the anticipated launch of electronic voting in forthcoming elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission says it has commenced the analysis of the various electronic voting machines showcased by over 50 companies.
It added that it was looking forward to the amendment of the legal framework that would enable electronic voting, noting that it remained committed to introducing electronic voting machines in the electoral process to replace the manual system that had put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed these in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Friday. He explained that the commission was currently attending to procurement issues to the extent allowed by the COVID-19 protocols.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had said during the 2021 budget defence before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters on November 4, 2020 that the commission would deploy the electronic voting machines very soon, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship poll scheduled to hold in November this year.
Yakubu had earlier said that over 40 companies that indicated interest in hard and software production would be invited to demonstrate to the commission how their Information Technology solutions meet the commission’s specifications.
“It is difficult to give you an idea of cost or when the process would be concluded, but we are determined that we are going to deploy electronic voting machines, electronic balloting machines very soon in our elections, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship election in 2021.
But, Okoye said in the interview, “The commission is presently engaged in the procurement of INEC Voter Enrolment Devices (IVED) for the planned Voter Register update processes. These devices will be used to enroll Nigerians that have attained the age of 18 years, clean up the voters register and acquire additional biometric that will be in consonance with the use of Electronic Voting machines.
“The commission invited over 50 companies engaged in hard and software production to demonstrate the different brands and versions of their Electronic Voting Machines. The companies demonstrated the different Electronic Voting Machine solutions available.
“Some of the companies demonstrated the solutions virtually. The commission is analysing all the demonstrated systems for purposes of choosing the ones that are in tandem with our ecosystem, is rugged, simple to use and easily maintained.”
Some political watchers who spoke to one of our correspondents however called on the commission to ensure the process was transparent so as not to deflate the anticipated benefits and people’s confidence in the proposed e-voting system.
…seeks Electoral Act amendment to allow e-voting
Asked if INEC was still committed to electronic voting in 2023, Okoye said, “The commission is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process and the commission is committed to the introduction of electronic voting machines in Nigeria.
“We are therefore attending to procurement issues under the shadow of the pandemic. The pandemic no doubt affected and still affects production capacities of hardware and software companies. We are also looking forward to the amendments of the electoral legal framework that will domicile more concretely the use of technology in the electoral process.”
There has been divided opinions on whether the country was ripe for electronic voting, but Yakubu said at the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives in October 2020 that elections in the country were too manual, expensive, cumbersome and archaic. He added that “the encumbrance of the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed.”
…explains why suspended Ekiti bye-election can’t hold yet
Following the suspension of the Ekiti East state constituency election over reports of violence, the commission said it was too early to speculate on when the election would hold given the level of violence. The election, which held on March 20, left four people dead, including a policewoman, while some others sustained injuries.
Asked when the election would hold, Okoye said, “Innocent voters died. A policewoman on electoral duty died. Innocent persons were injured. Fear and apprehension were created in the minds of the voters and electoral personnel. The indefinite suspension of the election led to loss of resources expended in the conduct of the election and tension has yet to abate.
“It is too early to speculate on when the election will hold. Families are still in mourning and our condolences to the families of all those who lost loved ones during the election. We also wish those that sustained various degrees of injuries quick recovery.
“The commission will meet at an opportune time to review the conduct of the election and take a decision on the way forward. But it is too early in the day to talk about going back to conduct the election. Going back now will send a dangerous signal to the effect that those who died are expendable commodities and do not matter.”
Asked what INEC thought was the best way to curtail the excesses of politicians who frustrate the peaceful conduct of elections, he said the commission was in support of the creation of Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal to handle the issue of arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders.
…Commission to release activities for 2023 elections soon
About two years to the conduct of the 2023 general elections, Okoye said the commission would soon release the timetable and schedule of activities.
The INEC chairman had said in October 2020 that presidential election would hold on February 18, 2023. But Okoye said in the interview, “We are getting ready for the 2023 general elections and the commission will soon release the timetable and schedule of activities for the election. The political parties are already aware of the exact date for the 2023 election.”
…faulty party primaries, forged certificate fuelling bye-elections
The commission has however expressed worry that flawed primaries by political parties and nomination of candidates were making the commission to incur cost when the courts order for fresh elections.
The INEC chairman had in 2018 described the primaries held by parties in 2018 ahead of the 2019 elections as the most acrimonious in the history of the country.
Okoye however said, “The biggest challenge at the moment is that most of the bye-elections that the commission is grappling with arose as a result of the opaque nature of some of the party primaries and the nomination of candidates with qualification baggage.
“Political Parties must be thorough and avoid manipulative tendencies in the screening and choice of their candidates. It is inconceivable that political parties still overlook aspirants with questionable credentials and sponsor them and the commission is forced to go back and conduct elections when the courts declare them as not qualified to contest the election.”
He said an amendment of the law as being proposed would increase substantially the penalty for nominating unqualified candidates and the commission would be in a good stead to prosecute the political parties and the aspirants and candidates involved.
While assuring Nigerians that printing of sensitive electoral materials would be accorded the required tact, he said the commission engaged companies and factories locally and internationally that met the requirements for the production of sensitive electoral materials.
“Our ballot papers are printed to currency standards with complicated security features and the movement of our ballot papers and result sheets enjoy the same security movement like the national currency,” he added. “The commission adopted the restricted and direct procurement methods for the 2019 general elections.
Speaking to concerns over the decline in the use of card readers, Okoye said the Smart Card Reader remained the commission’s flagship in verification and authentication. “However, our new enrolment device will obviate the few challenges experienced in the Smart Card Reader technology,” he added.
On the ongoing revalidation of the voters register and creation of additional polling units, Okoye said the commission was almost concluding the inclusive consultations aimed at creating a broad and nationwide consensus on the conversion of voting points to full-fledged polling units.
He added, “We are gearing up for the implementation of the policy at the local governments and the states. We are already producing maps from our GIS laboratory that will give us factual location of polling units and voting points and the picture of served and unserved areas.
“We will engage the stakeholders at the base level relating to the best places to locate the new polling units that will emerge from voting points. When we begin the continuous voters’ registration, new and some old registrants will have new polling units closer to them.”
He noted that as soon as the commission was done with the expansion, it would begin the continuous voter registration exercise. “The expansion of polling units, the pandemic, procurement of new equipment and new gadgets in a pandemic as well as dwindling government resources will no doubt affect our timing. But we are determined to give the Nigerian people a good electoral roll as soon as we resume.”
E-voting should be a prerequisite for 2023 elections – PDP
In its reaction, the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, said the introduction of e-voting should be a prerequisite for the conduct of 2023 general elections.
It recalled that the National Assembly, under the leadership of the former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had amended the Act, but regretted that it was not signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), before the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the introduction of e-voting would be acceptable to majority of Nigerians.
He said, “Such innovation would have helped in curbing electoral fraud that we witnessed in 2018, but the President and his party rejected it. So, if INEC wants to redeem its image now by sponsoring the bill and insisting on its passage, we shall support it. The amendment should come early enough to allow for sensitisation of voters across the country.”
E-voting, electronic transfer of results the way to go – NCFront
The National Consultative Front has expressed support for moves by INEC to introduce electronic voting, saying it would like to see a process where the issues around it were addressed before the 2023 general elections.
In a telephone interview with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, head of the NCFront Secretariat, Olawale Okunniyi, explained that until Nigeria fully embraced electronic voting and transfer of election results as well as diaspora voting, the journey towards a transparent and all inclusive election would remain a mirage.
He said, “We fully support any genuine effort to make our electoral process transparent and all-inclusive. We believe that until we are able to have electronic voting and electronic transfer of results our electoral process will continue to be fraudulent with the highest bidders and money bags having their way. The world is going digital and we as a nation cannot afford to be left behind.”
Also, a lawyer, Mr Liborous Oshoma, said electronic voting in Nigeria’s elections would not improve the electoral process if the government lacked the will to make process work through transparency and by ensuring that electoral offenders were punished.
He said, “We need to understand the type of electronic voting. As we speak now, the Internet is a big problem for us. Transparency is another problem and we have seen situations where even phones are hacked. INEC said it was going to use a server but after the election INEC said it didn’t have a server.
“Even if you introduce electronic voting and the process is compromised or hacked and people are not punished for it, we will still be back to square one. So, let us first and foremost have the willpower to punish people for electoral offences. Once people know that if they manipulate the process, they will be punished, we would have, at least, earned some form of transparency and then we will now say we have electronic voting.”
The Chairman of the Media Committee of the Coalition of United Political Parties, Chukwudi Ezeobika, said he did not believe that electronic voting could curb electoral fraud in Nigeria at the moment.
Ezeobika, a lawyer, told one of our correspondents that “electronic transmission of results as opposed to electronic voting is ripe for Nigeria.”
According to him, most electoral fraud in Nigeria are perpetrated at the stage of election result transmission.
He said, “By definition, electronic voting is voting that uses electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting votes.
“Depending on the particular implementation, e-voting may use stand alone electronic voting machines or computers connected to the Internet.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that electronic voting is ideal for Nigeria at the moment in terms of curbing electoral fraud.
“The most advanced democracies such as the United States, United Kingdom and the rest of Europe have difficulty in shielding their electoral systems from cyber attacks and Nigeria being substantially deficient in ICT, has no capacity and or capability to manage frauds associated with electronic voting.
“The most transparent and credible electoral system which produced MKO Abiola in June 12 1993 as the President of Nigeria must be adopted as it seems to be generally accepted by all Nigerians.
“Electronic transmission of results as opposed to electronic voting is ripe for Nigeria as most fraud perpetrated during elections occur at the stage or level of election result transmission.”