The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has ruled out the adoption of electronic voting method in the country in the nearest future.
An INEC National Commissioner, Professor Okey Ibeanu argued the country was not ripe for electronic voting because of the absence of “robust technical and physical infrastructure.”
Prof Ibeanu noted that t there were key factors to be taken into consideration before e-voting could be adopted in the country, which he said, include stable power supply and the ability of electorate to conquer their “fundamental trust issues in the system”, by believing in the capability of the electoral body to function independently without external manipulations.
“Each time we are demanding more ‘complexification’ of our election, we should remember that our infrastructure may not be adequate to take care of the process.”
He spoke in Abuja on Monday at the “Stakeholders’ forum on future of elections in Nigeria, put together by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR), with the support of the British Department for International Development (DFID).
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, said the commission has embarked on a comprehensive review of processes and procedures it adopted for the 2019 general elections.
Yakubu, who was represented by another National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, assured that INEC would, at the end of the review exercise, work with the National Assembly to propose an alteration of the constitution and legal framework on critical issues that posed challenges to the 2019 general elections.
“The commission will also follow closely the pronouncement and judgments of the various courts and tribunals on novel constitutional and electoral issues, and incorporate them into its proposals for constitutional reforms.
“The commission will propose far-reaching changes in the following areas: (a) The review of the opaque nature of the conduct of party primaries and making proposals towards reforms as the crisis and challenges arising from the conduct of party primaries remains a sore point in the electoral process.
“(b) The timeline for the disposal of pre-election matters. The present timeline proposed for the disposal of pre-election matters has not solved the problem of certainty in the electoral process. The 180 days given to the courts of the first instance to dispose of pre-election suits and the 60 days earmarked for appeals dovetails into the conduct of elections and keeps the commission on edge till the Election Day. It makes it difficult for the commission to procure sensitive materials ahead of time. The commission will prefer a time-frame and a timeline that allows for the disposal of all pre-election matters before elections. This sill entails further alteration to section 285 of the Constitution.
“(c) The commission will also propose a review of the conditions for the registration of political parties to determine whether it is adequate to guarantee the registration of political parties that can in truth and in fact, bid for political power. It is also important to decide whether it is important to define a thresh hold which political parties can get on the ballot. More fundamentally, the constitution and legal conditions for the registration of political parties appear confusing and inadequate to weed out parties that enjoy only legal and not factual existence.
“The commission will also propose an amendment to section 35 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, relating to the withdrawal of nominated candidates and their replacement not later than 45 days to the day of the election. The time-frame is inadequate and does not give the commission enough time to procure sensitive materials required for the conduct of elections. A time-frame of at least 60 days before the conduct of the election will be adequate for preparations and for withdrawals”.
INEC said it would harp on high-level of professionalism for security agencies that would be deployed for future elections, stressing that issues relating to neutrality and conduct of security personnel deployed for election duties would be reviewed with a view to improving their ethical conduct.
Responding to Prof Ibeanu’s submission, representatives of the Nigerian Army (NA) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) argued the introduction of electronic voting system/e-collation was the only way to stop electoral violence and rigging of elections.
Brigadier General Felix Omoigui, who represented the Army was of the view that electronic voting was the only way forward for subsequent elections.
He said: “Situations where thugs abduct INEC officials at collation centers or en-route collation centres will be largely nipped in the bud. Furthermore, efforts should be made to ensure that all Wards, where elections will be held subsequently are provided with effective communication facilities to mitigate issues of the poor network that could mar the electronic voting.
“We know that we have issues with this, but if we are able to work at it, it will go a long way to solving the problem. The other recommendation is the strengthening of the capacity of the Nigerian Police. We need to fully equip, arm and train the Nigerian Police to effectively provide the needed security at the polling units and collation centers.
“This will not only dissuade the perpetrators of electoral violence but will also reposition the police to effectively combat other criminal acts. During the conduct of the last election, there was a particular polling booth where thugs were snatching boxes and there was only one policeman and he was not armed. He was just running all over the place, it was so disheartening”.
Omoigui, who sought stiffer punishment for electoral offenders, noted that thuggery and violence during the last elections were promoted by “greedy and unscrupulous politicians who deploy all forms of tactics to win elections at all cost”
“Strengthening the electoral laws and tribunals to prosecute and punish electoral thugs and their sponsors with a jail term of not less than four years until the next general elections, will deter the would-be perpetrators of violence”, he added.
The Commandant General of the NSCDC, Abdullahi Gana was also of the view that electronic voting “will clearly put an end to the orgies of killings associated with thuggery before, during and after elections in Nigeria, as well as minimize the incidence of the rigging of elections in Nigeria.”