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Before we embrace e-voting [Sun, The (Nigeria)]
[January 14, 2014]

Before we embrace e-voting [Sun, The (Nigeria)]

(Sun, The (Nigeria) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) With the 2015 general elections just about a year away, fresh calls are again being made for the use of electronic voting (e-voting) to check electoral fraud in Nigeria. The latest group to endorse this election technology is the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE).

At a recent pre-inaugural press briefing addressed by Mr. Ademola Olorunfemi, the new NSE president, the society said that the successful use of e-voting in its last election clearly showed that e-voting can work in Nigeria, and that the country would do well to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt the technology to stave off the irregularities usually associated with the present manual voting system.

The NSE's call is not the first time that electronic voting would be proposed in Nigeria. The idea has been there since the commencement of the present dispensation in 1999. Nigerians in Diaspora have also continued to push to be allowed to vote in local elections, as countries like the United States of America do for their citizens living outside their home countries.

In fact, in the build-up to the 2007 elections, INEC had pushed for an amendment to the electoral laws, to allow for electronic voting. Similarly, there had also been calls for e-voting before the 2010 governorship election in Anambra State.

Almost all elections since 1999 have been preceded by increased calls for e-voting, and on each occasion, the proposal had been shot down on the ground that Nigeria was not ready for it yet. At this time, we reiterate the view that Nigeria is still not ready for e-voting, especially now that the elections are barely eleven months away.

Of course, it is heartwarming to learn that Nigerian engineers (as represented by the NSE), in partnership with the Nigerian Satellite Communication (NigComSat), now have the capacity to conduct electronic voting. But, the questions to ask are: how ready is the larger Nigerian society for this? What is the Internet density in Nigeria? How about the electricity supply that will play a crucial role in this voting system? How many voters out there are as technology-savvy as the engineer-members of the NSE? What is the level of enlightenment in the nation's sub-urban and rural areas, even if we agree that we do not all have to be engineers to be able to vote electronically? However, it will be unprogressive to perennially shoot down e-voting on the ground that we are not ready. It is something Nigeria must adopt, sooner or later. But then, it is the problems which made e-voting unadvisable in 2007 that still made it unusable in 2011.

Those same problems have persisted to this day and are, again, proving to be the clog in the wheel ahead of the 2015 polls. But, we cannot continue like this.  We have to make up our minds to adopt the system ultimately because electronic voting technology is inevitable if Nigeria is to move forward in its quest for credible elections.

E-voting will help to bring about a more transparent process, bring down the cost of elections, stabilise the polity, substantially eliminate the fraud associated with conventional manual voting and puncture the atmosphere of war usually associated with elections and voting in Nigeria. Furthermore, the system will also reduce the current intimidating and excessive use of soldiers, policemen and security agencies at polling booths and other places during elections.

However, before we adopt e-voting in Nigeria, we must ensure that the system is well adapted to specific Nigerian challenges. The technology must be specifically sourced, arranged and carefully test-run to suit Nigeria's peculiar needs.

As things stand today, there are fears among the parties that unscrupulous ones among them may hack into e-voting systems and compromise any information contained therein. There are worries that the system would not be spared by ICT whiz kids who can manipulate the system for the selfish interests of their backers. This reservation has to be taken into account whenever Nigeria decides to adopt e-voting, and INEC goes shopping for the appropriate technology.

Much as it is our conviction that electronic voting is a desirable ideal for Nigeria, we fear that the infrastructure needed for its smooth operation is still not available. The country must, therefore adopt the conventional wisdom of first learning how to walk before attempting to run.

For now, Nigeria should focus on cleaning up the current manual voting system before embracing the sophistication of e-voting and the complications that could come with it. It is still possible to hold credible elections without electronic voting, if we are determined to so do.

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