Technology almost derailed the completion of the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria. The Independent National Electoral Commission has not been able to fulfill its promise to transmit the election results from the polling units to its results viewing portal (IReV). This led to calls from some political parties for an annulment and new elections. The Conversation Africa asked political scientist Abiodun Fatai how Nigeria can improve the digitization of its elections.
Nigeria has been digitizing the voting process for 12 years. How did this work?
Nigeria started using digital technology in the electoral process in 2011 when the Independent National Electoral Commission introduced the automated fingerprint recognition system to stop voters registering more than once.
The permanent voter card and smart card reader were introduced in the 2015 general election. At the polling station, a voter’s identity is verified by matching his or her biometrics with the voter’s card. The voter is then allowed to vote and the votes are counted manually.
In 2022, it introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, which is an electronic device designed to read permanent voter cards and verify the identity of voters—using voters’ fingerprints—to prove they are eligible to vote in a particular electoral unit. This was used in the June 2022 and July 2022 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states. The technology worked as designed in both states and formed the basis for an electoral tribunal that dismissed the Osun State winner on January 2023.
The commission also introduced the result display portal, IReV, to guarantee transparent accreditation and uploading of poll unit results. He said this will allow citizens to see the results in real time on election day. But the results could not be uploaded to the portal due to technical issues. This caused some operatives of the party to walk away from the confrontation center in Abuja.
Have digital technologies helped reduce fraud and promote the credibility of elections?
It largely did. It’s been a long journey since 2011 and we’re making improvements. Biometric technology really worked. Eliminate multiple voter registrations. If your biometrics are not recorded, you can no longer vote. These are improvements. Look at the data from the states—we didn’t see the huge voter turnout that was disproportionate to the number of registered voters that happened in previous elections. The 2007 presidential election was so bad that even the winner, Umaru Musa Yar’Ádua, recognized it and created an electoral reform commission. But the commission’s report, chaired by former judge Mohamed Wais, was not made public after Yar’Adua’s death.
Logistics could still be improved, but some of the glitches we saw in the 2023 election cannot be attributed to technology. They were operational issues. Some of the biometric machines malfunctioned or election officials did not know how to use them.
Most importantly, the goal of the technology was to improve the quality and integrity of elections and reduce electoral fraud. This was achieved.
What are the limitations of digitization?
Technology is run by humans so anything put into place can always be defeated by unscrupulous humans. Technology does not operate in a vacuum. It is obvious that Nigeria does not have enough capacity to fully develop the technology.
Nigeria has weak broadband and connectivity is patchy. Some areas of Nigeria are still operating on 3G networks when some countries are already on 5G. Some parts of Nigeria are not even connected to the internet.
Thus, conducting elections in Nigeria with the development of technology is a complex exercise. This was the reason why the committee was not able to transmit the results in real time.
Digital elections are not cheap either as the technological infrastructure costs a lot. Then there was the issue of inadequate preparation, evident in the late arrival of materials at some polling stations and inadequate training of specialist staff in the operation of biometric machines. All this should have a limiting effect on the elections.
What should Nigeria do to improve the digitization of its elections?
The electoral commission must strictly follow the electoral law, especially with regard to the transmission of results in real time. This will strengthen the credibility of our elections. The results must also be machine-readable, with a clear image, and must be produced by the voting units.
The staff of the commission must be well trained in the operation of the machinery for the election. Some of them lack the ability and skills required to operate in a digital environment. This has to change.
Nigeria also needs to upgrade its broadband networks to improve connectivity. Without these two, the country cannot enjoy the benefits of digital elections. There must be forensic vetting of personnel recruited for election duties so that they are not easily compromised. Their integrity and character must be ascertained.
The country also needs more technical experts to work with the electoral commission than has been the case so far. It is evident that the commission does not have enough skilled hands to deal with the emerging technical issues during the elections.
Finally, Nigerian politicians must allow elections to be fully digitized. They must embrace it and support it.
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Reference: Nigeria’s election almost derailed by technology, but biometric devices weren’t the problem, says researcher (2023, March 3) Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-03 -nigeria-election-derailed -technology-biometric.html
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