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How Nigeria can deploy technology efficiently for electioneering processes

Staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) start confirming over again 7,000 portable permanent voter card (PVC) readers ahead of the presidential and general election at the River State INEC office in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, on February 18, 2019. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Elections technology no longer refers to just the equipment on which votes are cast and tabulated; it now means every piece of hardware and software used by local election officials throughout the process of administering elections, from registering voters to conducting post-election audits.

The connection between that technology and the humans that use it- voters and election officials- is key.

But going by the last general elections, which were fraught with irregularities, resulting in some states been declared inconclusive, it is clear that technology deployment for elections is yet to be appreciated in the country.

Except for card readers, which also disappointed so many people, even top aspirants at the polls, citing this gap, experts have called for a holistic application of technologies to future elections. To stop cancellations, technology must be deployed in a manner that changes the nature of the voting, counting and collation processes.

Chairman, Conferences Committee of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Jide Awe, said in today’s world, the country needed to use technology in an informed and strategic manner in critical areas to achieve goals in smart and effective ways, stressing that the electoral process is no exception.

Awe said technology, through e-voting, fit for purpose in view of the country’s electoral challenges, can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the process, saying election management doesn’t have to be hampered by logistic challenges and poor state of roads and other infrastructure, as tech enabled e-voting processes can reduce risks and challenges associated with violence, disruptions and physical deployment/distribution of election materials, including ballot boxes, voting cubicles, voter registers and smart card readers.

He stressed that eliminating the impunity of some electoral officers and members of security agencies, enhancing voter privacy, improving identification processes, speeding up voting and other aspects of election management enhances the quality of elections.

“Note, however, that technology on its own guarantees nothing; there must be solid awareness of technology failure, security breaches and cyber security, limitations and vulnerabilities of technology.

“In addition, other non-tech processes are critical. Project management, election preparations and public confidence in the process cannot be ignored,” he stated.

The NCS chief called for an e-voting and e-elections implementation road map in Nigeria that covers the use of appropriate technology and indigenous capacity, digital inclusion, voter education and engagement, legal backing and availability of broadband infrastructure, saying if technology must play active roll in future elections, the political will must be guaranteed.

Awe said decision makers need to appreciate and embrace e-voting if the country is to move forward, adding: “In an increasingly digital world, it is critical that top government officials keep the main goal in mind, which is achieving free and fair elections.

“We must use systems that best address our present reality and the future. Best practices for elections today should include electronic voting. Technology is only a tool and enabler if we want to get it right. If we don’t use the best systems available, it raises questions about the desire to hold elections that are truly free, fair and credible. Their focus should be on safeguarding the country’s democracy and not on interests that may be uninformed or narrow.

“It is imperative to implement e-voting as part of measures to improve the electoral framework and conduct of elections. Political will is needed to ensure e-voting is supported and implemented in a meaningful way.”

President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, Internet of Things (IoT), broadband and AI would render elections process challenges not to occur.

Teniola said it is not by any coincidence that computer technology has created the possibility of accurately calculating solutions to problems that humans struggle with, noting that education and technology advancement would remove situations that render outcomes inconclusive, which is the nature of human development and advancement.

“INEC has to go through digital transformation for this to happen,” stating that like the advent of digital mobile technology and the rise of the Internet, Nigeria’ progress is hinged on the adoption of technology and improvements it brings to the peoples’ daily lives.

Director General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHuB), Chris Uwaje, a staunch advocate of e-voting system in Nigeria, noted that if local content solutions has demonstrated maturity in Fintech and Treasury Single Account (TSA) deliverables, clustering, empowering IT professionals and digital solutions providers, the same success story can be achieved in digital election processes, e-government, e-education, e-health, digital security and in the oil and gas sectors, where they are currently absent.

Uwaje, a former president of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), harped on the need to retool the national workforce at all levels, highlighting critical areas government must quickly take care of for e-voting to succeed in the country, which he listed to include broadband infrastructure, uninterrupted power supply, certified IT professional and software majors and network security experts.

He stated: “The e-voting system is similar to the e-payment scheme and should follow similar pattern of implementation,” adding that to get full benefits, only tier 3 data centres should be accredited and used while implementing e-voting.

He stressed the need for a pilot run in selected states, just like was done in the e-payment scheme, saying ethical hackers must be involved in cybersecurity defence and open source e-government application should be deployed.

President of NCS, Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, also stressed the need for ICT to be deployed to electioneering in the country, saying elections should be seen 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. There is no doubt that putting in place relevant ICT infrastructure for the application of adaptable technology in our electoral processes will go a long way to ensure transparency and credibility of elections,” he stated.

Aderounmu said when it comes to conducting elections, sensitisation and civic education are key in the process and necessary for democracy, noting that voter education should come before and during an electoral event, showing how, where and when to vote.

“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 sensitisation, civic education and e-inclusion with the use of the Internet via popular social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Whatsapp and special mobile apps to channel and disseminate voter education messages,” he said.

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