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Will Edo governorship election be another ‘normal day’ in Nigeria’s democracy?

Days before the people of Edo go to the polls to elect their governor the Economic and Financial Crimes commission has warned local banks to be on the lookout for “illicit transactions” before or after the vote.

When banks believe bribes, backhanders and kickbacks are an inevitable part of the political process, you know your democracy is in trouble – and this is undoubtedly why only 54% of those surveyed in one Edo opinion poll reported feeling optimistic that the result of the election will be credible.

To put it another way, almost half of voters have no faith in democracy.

And sadly Nigeria’s democratic deficit doesn’t end there.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International this week called on the authorities to “promote, protect, respect, and fulfil human rights amidst disturbing signs of violence ahead of the Edo State gubernatorial election”.

Amnesty’s Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho even warned of “imminent violence” ahead of the vote and called on the government to “take active steps to prevent a bloody poll”.

It is exactly these threats which led half of survey respondents in Edo to express “major concerns” about violence taking place during the election.

The figures – from the Watching the Vote campaign – even saw one-in-ten respondents report having already experienced violence and intimidation related to poll.

The statistics get worse the more you read.

Forty-six per cent of Edo residents “lack confidence” in the ability of the electoral commission, INEC, to deliver credible elections, 50% doubt INEC’s independence, while 44% doubt its preparedness.

The only thing Nigerians have less confidence in than elections is the watchdog overseeing elections!
Another normal day in Nigerian democracy.

Friends, this is not normal. Other countries do not have international observers warning that voters will need protection from physical danger when they try to vote. Other countries do not have financial institutions on the lookout for suspicious financial activity every time there is an election.

No wonder Nigerian voters have so little faith in democracy.

As a digital democracy campaigner, I welcome the digitisation of the financial services sector which makes robust financial oversight much easier to perform and makes it much more likely that attempts at buying elections will be exposed and punished.

I only wish our democratic processes had kept pace enough to allow people to safely and securely vote electronically from home – not least in the age of Covid-19 – allowing better assurance that every vote is counted for the candidate it was cast for and that every voted is counted at all.

But digital democracy alone cannot solve Nigeria’s democratic deficit. Addressing problems of this magnitude require exceptional, ethical and public-spirited politicians voters know they can trust. And faced with problems like these, how are voters supposed to trust any politicians?

At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we’re trying to shine a light on Nigeria’s most trustworthy local leaders.
We’ve created a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader, which puts electors and elected in direct person-to-person contact.

Rate Your Leader doesn’t just give elected officials vital insight into the things that matter most to the people who elect them. The app also allows voters to put questions directly to decision makers – and rate the quality of answers they receive.

In the digital era, user reviews are everything to consumers. People visit restaurants because customers have rated them highly on TripAdvisor. People buy online because consumers have rated products highly on Amazon. And we believe that people will vote for politicians that have proven that they are credible, trustworthy and responsive – and have the independent ratings to prove it.

A functioning democracy depends upon a well-informed electorate, and at a time when a tsunami of fake news can flood the internet in seconds, the Rate Your Leader app also provides a reliable source of credible political information – and a platform for the rapid rebuttal of potentially damaging online propaganda.

Rate Your Leader’s technology also prevents abusive messages being sent. So we’re doing our bit to increase courtesy and improve civility in Nigerian politics too.

If you type “Edo election corruption” into Google, you get no less than 88,000 results. This is a national embarrassment, and an issue which politicians of all sides must unite to tackle by tackling the technology that already exists to make this enormous national task a little more manageable.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and the creator of the Rate Your Leader app. You can reach Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola

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