How ICT can transform the future of elections in Nigeria, by Adesola Aderounmu

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Adesola Aderounmu, NCS, Computer, Nigeria, University of Ilorin
Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, NCS President

 

Fellow scholars, it is important to highlight the existence of a genuine need for ICT systems for development in sub-Sahara Africa. In particular, we have to distinguish elections as the best opportunity to encourage political leaders to promote innovation in the polity. So, using ICT to elect credible leaders could motivate successful and satisfied politicians to encourage emerging governments to adapt the innovations to mainstream development and governance.

As the 2019 elections draw closer, there is no doubt that putting in place relevant ICT infrastructure now for the application of adaptable technology in our electoral processes will go a long way to ensure transparency and credibility of the elections. It is a welcome development that the leveraging of technology had started, even if rudimentary, with the last 2015 elections that ushered in the present administration in Nigeria. For instance, the application of technology for biometric registration of voters, the issuance of smart permanent voters card (PVCs) to voters and voter verification and authentication using the smart card reader, has helped the infiltration of ICT into the electoral process. So also was the idea to scan and upload all voting result sheets for all the elections on a database, which was made accessible to all stakeholders for some months after the 2015 elections. All these formative adaptations of technology with the 2015 elections are commendable, but there is still a long way to go with our future elections. Let us now go into specifics on how ICT can transform our future electoral processes and elections.

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ICT Tools and Applications in Electoral Processes, Sensitization, Civic Education and E-Inclusion

When it comes to conducting elections, sensitization and civic education are very key in the electoral process and are necessary for democracy. It is all about voter consciousness and popular participation in elections. The citizens who are voters need to be effectively sensitized or enlightened about their civic duties and rights during elections.

Voter education should come before and during an electoral event, showing how, where, and when to vote. Citizens need to know why they must turn out to vote and how to cast their votes to make them count. Sensitizing and educating voters in Nigeria have always been done via the traditional mass media and direct town-hall community engagements.

Now, with the pervasive influence of technology in society today, educating and cultivating the Nigerian voters can be done better with the leverage of digital media like the mobile phone with bulk SMS, bulk voice call or inbound interactive voice response, and the use of web-portals from pre-election polls. Digital technology now enriches political communications and voter engagement like never before. And with the majority of people having access to computers and mobile technology devices these days, INEC and other concerned agencies can transform the sensitization, civic education and e-inclusion of Nigerian voters with the use of the Internet via popular social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and special mobile applications to channel and disseminate voter education messages.

Really, digital media help information to be disseminated faster, smarter and real-time, reaching far more people and carrying everybody along. As an illustration, the Barack Obama American presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as well as the global Arab Spring in 2011 transformed interest in leveraging networked digital connectivity for political action. During those epochal moments, the use of social medial for citizen engagement spread like wild fire. Today, even experts at the Brookings Institution Center for Technology Innovation in the US affirmatively advocate “using social networking and digital tools to reinvigorate democracy and extend electronic engagement from campaigns and grassroots-activism to governance.” However, it is also possible that not every Nigerian voter will have access to new, cost-effective technological solutions like Internet-enabled smartphones.

For instance, using the Internet for voter engagement is a step forward in accommodating technologically advanced voters of today. But for the voters without access to the Internet, the technological innovations are considered ‘useless’. So, INEC needs to consider these less technologically advanced voters as we adopt ICT in our electoral process. And also, voter education should be a continuous process and not necessarily tied to an election year. That is why some pundits recommend that civic education should be integrated with school curricula to indoctrinate the young ones who will be voters in future elections.   

Constituency Delimitation

Another way to leverage ICT for Nigeria’s electoral process is through constituency delimitation, using digital maps and charts for proper voter registration. Now, according to Professor Umar Pate of the University of Maiduguri in a 2008 paper delivered on Understanding Constituency Delimitation in Nigeria, “constituency delimitation is the equitable and balanced segmentation of communities into units for electoral representation in the body politics.  For instance, for the Local Government Chairman, the specific LGA is his/her constituency; for the Governor, the whole State is the constituency while for the President, the country or Nigeria is the constituency.  For those who are in the Legislature, there are also clearly defined boundaries of communities that are segmented to act as their constituencies. A constituency defines the physical boundaries of the specific area for the purposes of electoral administration and possibly for political administration after the elections.” In a democracy, constituency delimitation is very important and an improper segmentation of constituencies can compromise the electoral process, thereby provoking needless conflicts and insinuations of marginalization among peoples and politicians. In order to address this scenario of controversial constituency delimitation, it is better to apply the use of ICT solutions like digital mapping, digital charts, Global Positioning System (GPS) and GIS Satellite Footprints like our own NIGERSAT-1. GPS uses satellites that orbit Earth to send information to GPS receivers that are on the ground. The information so received helps people determine their location.

On the other hand, GIS stands for Geographical Information System and it is a software program that helps people use the information that is collected from the GPS satellites. In 2005, NigeriaSat-1 was the first satellite to send back pictures of the east coast of the US, following Hurricane Katrina. So, why can’t the same technology be leveraged to facilitate our constituency delimitation in Nigeria so as to guarantee the integrity of our electoral process? 

Voter Registration and Data Capture

Voter Registration and Data Capture constitute a major foundational step in the electoral process. Without a proper voters register, there cannot be proper elections. In the words of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on its website, “Voter Registration is a process through which those qualified to vote are identified and included in a list called the register of voters. They are then issued with voters’ cards, which entitles them to vote during elections.” INEC goes further to state that “A credible voters’ register is a prelude to free and fair elections. Voter registration helps to facilitate the credibility of the electoral process by preventing multiple voting as each person is only allowed to register once. With this, no one is allowed to register at multiple centres.  It helps in preventing cases of underage voting because only adults of voting age (18 years and above) are registered.” In Nigeria, there have always been controversies over voter registration as some complain of ghost names appearing on the voters register, names of foreign nationals appearing and names of under-age voters appearing too on the register. Others complain of missing names on election days after they have registered. All these issues tend to mar the electoral process, but the use of ICT infrastructure can make a positive difference. Thus one would recommend the use of a Centralized Countrywide Database for voter registration, drawing on the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) data inventory. Updates to the centralized database can be done through Web Portal E-mails with smart fields, mobile apps, and automatic fingerprint and photo identification systems. In a way, online voter registration via the Internet is simpler and more secure than paper registration and manual updates. 

Voter Verification and Voting

When Election Day comes, ICT also has a huge role to play in streamlining the electoral process to make the election outcomes fair and valid. In fact, the deployment of technology during elections is most consequential because it helps minimize the rampant incidents of rigging and its resultant crises. Thus Voter Verification and Voting on Election Day can be digitally done through the use of direct electronic recoding machine, optical scanning system, use of smart cards and card readers. It is noted that card reader technology was deployed during the 2015 general elections, but card readers malfunctioned in a lot of voting areas across the country. There were even complaints by some State Governors that the card readers deployed by INEC could not read their fingerprints at the polling booths.  For the coming 2019 elections, we hope INEC would have upgraded the card reader technology to be more effective and error-free. Also, the security of the voting technology is of great concern, and INEC officials must take significant steps to secure the voting equipment from their warehouses to the voting centres. This is where GPS technology also proves useful, as it helps INEC to track its drivers as they deliver equipment and supplies to the polling booths or transport election results from there, to avoid tampering with sensitive vote data. 

Vote Counting and Computation

For so long in Nigeria, we have been using manual systems in vote counting during elections. It is time we transformed the process with digital computation technology that is cheaper, faster and more accurate. Deploying technology in vote counting will also improve the electoral process by making the counting of tedious electoral systems easier to use.

Thus, new ICT innovations can be used to replace traditional paper ballots. As earlier said under Voter Verification and Voting, using direct electronic devices, or using machine-readable ballots, can help remove the need to count ballots manually and greatly speed up the vote counting process, as well as guaranteeing accuracy. So, with vote counting and computation, it is highly recommended that INEC engages the use of Result Management Systems. And why not? Most automated Voting Systems even come with analytics based software to make vote counting and computation easier.

Result Dissemination

After votes have been properly counted and computed, vote results can also be digitally disseminated to the public. Results can be streamed real-time from INEC website, obtained via SMS Query interfacing with INEC website and real-time RSS Feed.

Other ICT Applications

The applications of technology in improving our electoral process and enriching our democracy are quite many. Apart from the ones that I have discussed so far, there are other ICT applications like the Automation of electoral court system; Digitization of ballot papers; Use of financial tracking technologies for campaign funds that require the cooperation of financial institutions; Deployment of Motion detectable security cameras at polling booths (in addition to cameras attached to the Voting System); Use of Robots for detection and diffusing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs); and of course, Use of Body scanners with alarm system at polling booths. 

But if ICT has numerous advantages for our electoral system in Nigeria, why are we not taking advantage of it?  

The reasons are not far-fetched. Truth is, there are enormous challenges against deploying an ICT-driven electoral system in Nigeria. This is not surprising because the penetration of new technological advances in other areas of our national life has always been sluggish, aside e-commerce and social media.

But as far as our electoral system is concerned, political manipulation by political actors is a major challenge against the adoption of ICT in our electoral process. We all know that Nigerian politicians take elections as a do-or-die affair and would kick against, or circumvent, any innovation that would deny them the opportunity to rig elections in their favour. So, the desperation of politicians to win elections by all means can frustrate or slow down the penetration of ICT in our electoral process.

Also, abysmally inadequate infrastructure is a challenge against the leverage of technology in the electoral system. For one, we contend with poor IT and Base infrastructure in this country. Yet, a robust IT and Base infrastructure is highly imperative to facilitate ICT-driven electoral system. Then, there is also the

perennial problem of poor power infrastructure militating the full application of ICT tools in our electoral process. It is a fact that IT needs stable power to function; when that is lacking, as it is the case in Nigeria, adoption of technology in our electoral system can be frustratingly erratic.

Poor education is another challenge stalling the advantage of ICT in our electoral culture. Illiteracy is still rampant among Nigerians, yet ICT deployment needs some measure of literacy to be effective in the electoral process. And due to the same problem of illiteracy, some Nigerian voters also entertain the fear of disenfranchisement as they cannot handle ICT tools that might be deployed before and during elections.

And then, there is also the challenge of financial constraints incapacitating Nigeria’s adoption of ICT solutions in our electoral tradition. Low capital investment in ICT infrastructure by the Government is a lingering cause for concern. It is either INEC is not sufficiently funded, or the funds are not just there to be invested in relevant ICT technologies for elections.

The Solutions

If Nigeria would catch up with the rest of the world’s advanced democracies with adoption of ICT tools in securing electoral process integrity and deepening a truly democratic culture, the government must demonstrate enough POLITICAL WILL.

This implies that there must be implementation of bold policy moves on the part of the stakeholders involved to commit to actualizing an ICT-driven electoral system for the nation. It is not enough to make promises; there must be affirmative action.

Also, INVESTING IN CAPITAL & IT INFRASTRUCTURE for an ICT-enabled electoral process is very important. Sufficient investment (capital wise) and infrastructure will set the country on the right course. If a chunk of the trillions of Naira loot being recovered by the government is invested in IT infrastructure for our elections, it will go a long way to help. Robust ICT systems for a national electoral system do not come cheap, but they will pay dividends for our democracy in the long term.

And lastly, we can also solve the challenge of poor ICT application in our electoral process by investing in the USE OF INTUITIVE and EASY TO USE MACHINES. The government, especially INEC, must invest in intuitive and easy to use database and software technologies that are as simple as using mobile phones. This will remove the factor of complexity in the deployment of ICT tools in our electoral system. 

Final Thoughts

Ladies and Gentlemen, as my final thoughts on this discussion today, I want to emphasize the fact that in spite of the many challenges of deploying technology in our electoral processes and elections in Nigeria, its benefits remain enormous. We must catch up with the rest of the world in adopting ICT tools to streamline our electoral process, advance our democracy and institutionalize an enabling e-governance culture. No doubt, the incorporation of ICT in our electoral system will greatly help improve election management in the country. We must go further to deepen the ICT usage by upgrading, especially, our applications of Electronic Voters Register, Automatic Fingerprints Identification System and Smart Card Reader in 2019 General Elections in order to minimize the unwholesome practices of multiple registration and multiple voting. This is how we can guarantee electoral integrity and strengthen our democracy.

My recommendations are as follows:

  1. The Federal Government should urgently push for broadband access all over the country through PPP models
  2. The Government must develop a robust sustainability model
  3. Must roll out and implement effective local content policy
  4. Must invest in high quality IT Manpower development
  5. Must see to the Establishment of IT parks and Digital Centres in all the 774 LGAs through PPP models
  6. And lastly, the Government should embrace a unified database for Nigeria

Indeed, the future of elections in Nigeria will be bright if we allow ICT to have its way.

Thank you.

This is a Keynote Lecture delivered by Professor Adesola Aderounmu, President, Nigeria Computer Society and Co-Centre Leader, World Bank-Designated Centre of Excellence in Software Engineering, at the 5th Covenant University Conference on e-Governance in Nigeria, on Thursday 7th June, 2018

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