Nigeria’s Electoral Reform: Can electronic voting work? By ‘Tunji Ariyomo

The myriads of problems facing Nigeria make it so easy for a typical writer to
secure ingredients for a weekly column. It must however be quickly added that
this is also a potential drawback as the turn-over of ‘writable topics’ is so high
that a writer may also become lost in the maze of such ever-changing issues of
the moment. As I was getting set to ‘throw my hat’ into the electronic voting
debate ring, I received calls from my associates at home that they witnessed a
strange occurrence in many parts of Nigeria – that electricity supply appeared to
be getting stable. Just as I was thinking that I might have to adjust my original
piece to accommodate this new information and perhaps asked that readers
report the situation at their end, Sanusi Lamido declared his intention to correct
the tiny little problem with the cashless economy – how to ensure looters can
escape cashless policy without going about with bulky cash. I was still digesting
the implication of this when Dr. Reuben Abati woke up and without any
provocation, took to pages of newspapers to demonstrate that there is an attack
sabre-toothed tiger that can match claw for claw every single ferocious claim of
Dr. Doyin Okupe’s lion.
Promptly, I came to the conclusion that my dilemma must be the typical
problem that could momentarily paralyse the average columnists – sticking to a
topic and avoiding getting lost in the maze of Nigeria’s ever changing ‘issues of
the moment’. So I decided that I would stick to offering my professional opinion
on Prof. Attahiru Jega’s kite that the Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) was considering the introduction of electronic voting (Punch August 4,
INEC is a Nigerian government institution. For that simple reason, we must
consider its actions and inactions as well as the projected consequences of both
within the context of the Nigerian factor. Theoretically, electronic voting without
any iota of doubt is a vital key to solving a reasonable portion of the problems
associated with our elections. From issue of transparency to election induced
violence orchestrated by thugs and highly prejudiced electoral umpires,
electronic voting can help force these typical maladies into the dustbin of
history. However, to make these objectives a reality, that is, to take attaining
the goals of the introduction of electronic voting beyond mere theory and make
them practical reality of the Nigeria electoral space requires that certain basic
conditions must be met. Essentially, the only way the new system of electronic
voting can achieve its intendment is if it is imbued with protective guidance and
self-governing transparency regime that cannot be breached. How can this be
achieved? What are the steps that must be put in place?
First I must dispel a popular myth against electronic voting, the assertion that
Nigeria is not ready or ripe for electronic voting. This is a myth without ‘street
credence’ or empirical evidence. There are two categories of proponents of this
myth. The first category is made up of those who genuinely think Nigerians are
so backward as to comprehend the use of what they consider super
sophisticated technology. Those who belong to this group are sincere. The do
not know. All they need is adequate education to make them understand what
electronic voting is and how the absence of or lack of citizen sophistication is no
barrier to its use. Once you let them realise that electronic voting is not as
sophisticated as the ubiquitous Sharp calculator or the popular Nokia handsets
and that we have successfully conducted online registration for WAEC
examinations for over a decade as well as the reality that the staff that would
attend to each electronic station would do the ‘difficult computing job’ (there is
none) rather than abandoning each old person or unsophisticated voter to his or
her fate on election day, you can get this category to ‘cooperate’.
To secure the support of the second category of people is however not that
simple. This category is against electronic voting solely because it would
undermine and impede its traditional capability and monopoly over the
electoral processes – its ability to manipulate each step and outcomes. Of
course nobody would admit that the reason for his protestation against
electronic voting is because of a hidden agenda to preserve the status-quo.
Something must be projected as an excuse and the easiest excuse is that
‘Nigerians are not ripe for electronic voting’. There is nothing that can be done
to get this second category to support electronic voting. The reform must be
driven against its adherents point blank!
That said, I must now go back to the earlier questions bordering on how we can
ensure that we attain the gains of electronic voting rather than introducing
same only for it to become a weapon in the hands of would be electoral
manipulators. Yes, electronic voting can be manipulated! The very first step
INEC must take is to develop a policy document and a legal framework for the
protection and preservation of electronic voting system. This framework will
enumerate the dos and don’ts of the entire process, protect the identity-related
or primary data of individuals that would be in the custody of the agency,
itemize the procedures for data validation in instances of dispute by providing
scientific and fool-proof guidelines and procedures to be followed in courts or
tribunals during adjudication as well as embed an unmatched regime of
transparency that would confer credibility upon the electoral processes and the
resultant dispute resolution phase. Imagine the impact this could have on
election litigation by reducing period of judicial review from several months
(some took years) to a few hours or days and the realisation by both petitioners
and respondents that the processes involved in the adjudication of their
electoral dispute are of unquestionable integrity. Such is the potential when the
power of technology is properly harnessed (read more by me at http://
The aforementioned are minimum critical requirements. Their absence was
responsible for the directionless nature of INEC’s 2010/2011 electronic
registration exercise such that INEC’s earlier promise of technology use as a
major enhancer of free and fair election only ultimately played marginal role in
the success of the elections whereas the public and the National Assembly’s
tacit support for INEC’s N89billion budget was built around a technology
enhanced fool-proof electronic register as the transformational elixir required to
get identity verification right for the voting age and permanently ensure only
real living people can vote and that only one legitimate vote can come from one
genuine person for one particular candidate seeking one specific post.
INEC would however do a better job by developing this overall policy instrument
and legal framework in conjunction with stakeholders, sister organizations like
the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the
Nigerian Identity Management Agency, the Ministry of Justice and related
professional institutions like the Nigerian Computer Society as well as the
relevant division of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Because of my peculiar
experience as one of the pioneers (I use that word with all sense of modesty) in
the application of electronic technology in managing enterprise and large public
record using fingerprint identification system in Nigeria and who understands
the distinctive ‘Nigerian factor’, I strongly advocate that for the policy document
to accomplish its intended objective, it must expressly support an independent
cross agency check and balance routine. It must also support independent
people-driven regime of transparency, transparency affirmation and monitoring.
In essence the system must not only grant absolute confidence to all
stakeholders (citizens, political parties, law enforcement agencies, election
monitors etc) that it is absolutely reliable, effective and beyond manipulation, it
must been seen – and verifiably so – that it is doing just that. In theory and in
practice, this is doable.
There is no doubt that electronic voting would bring a major change to the
existing electoral system. Any such change must be matched by changes in the
system as well as the processes involved, hence the reason for the policy
stipulates and legal framework advocated above. Also, in order to eliminate the
challenges occasioned by inadequate power supply and logistics, the new legal
framework would benefit immensely if the voting period is altered from the
current single day to a period of about 30 days to allow for early voting. You
think this would encourage electoral malpractices? No, not if the systemic
checks advanced above are in place and definitely not when people’s votes are
truly being matched to their fingerprint minutiae! This will also have the
multiple benefits of reducing the need for too many voting stations, introducing
permanent voting stations in secure locations and enabling INEC to drive
political parties to utilize such voting stations for the conduct of their primaries.
A leadership that does not want to profit from or implicitly or tacitly promote
election manipulations would embrace this.
Tunji is a chattered engineer and the pioneer Coordinator of the Ondo
State Information Technology Development Centre (SITDEC). He is
currently a Policy Chair of the National Development Initiative NDi (an
independent think-tank with focus on Nigeria). NDi Project can be
accessed at
To respond to this column and ask question from Tunji or make contribution,
send email to
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