Monday, March 24, 2014

An optimistic outlook on Nigeria’s e-voting future

Source: Google Images
Following thirty years of being ruled by a military dictatorship, Nigeria is now a country in transition. They are struggling to conduct fair, free and transparent elections in a nation that has been riddled with irregularities and corruption. Although the country and its democracy continue to be in transition, a big part of the push is to help modernize Nigeria and bring it ahead into the 21st century. And electronic voting technologies are expected to play a critical role in achieving the goal of fair and open elections.

Unfortunately, the forward momentum has faced its fair share of speed bumps and road blocks. Indeed, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria has officially ruled out the use of e-voting systems ahead of its general election in 2015. It's not that the INEC doesn't see the value and advantages of using such technology in its upcoming elections, but rather than the commission “currently does not have the capacity to conduct elections using the scheme.”

Indeed, the INEC Act has a provision that effectively prohibits the use of electronic voting and until that restriction is lifted, there is nothing the commission can do. However, there is some optimism on the horizon.

The youth of Nigeria support the use of electronic voting. Several groups in the country have bandied together to campaign for the use of an electronic voting system in the 2015 election, pointing out that such a system would allow and ensure a far higher level of transparency. The groups involved in this campaign include the Leaders of Niger Delta Youth, the Arewa Youth Vanguard, the O'Odua Youth Forum and the Ohanaeze Progress Youth. This support of electronic voting is irrespective of political party affiliation, saying that e-voting will help to “get rid of thugs, loss of lives, election malpractices and all sorts of malpractices during the 2015 general elections.”

In speaking at a press conference, Com. Solomon Adodo asserted that an e-voting system “will also make our elections free, fair and credible.”

And it's not just the young people, the future voters of Nigeria who are backing the use of electronic voting. The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) has also recommended to the INEC to use an e-voting system for the country's elections. More specifically, the society is calling for the adoption of the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigcomSat) e-voting system, saying that it would be willing to provide technical support for its implementation. The platform has already been used successfully to elect executive members for the NSE on two occasions.

The solution is described as “workable,” requiring voters to pre-register with biometric data like photographs and fingerprints. Using this system, NSE saw an increase of over 20% in the number of voters for its own executive elections compared to the previous year.

Electronic voting likely will not be a part of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, but if the Nigerian people continue to support and lobby for its adoption, the outlook is hopeful that such technologies will be adopted at some point in the very near future.