The Senate recently began a fresh electoral reform which seeks to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] to adopt electronic voting in the country’s future general elections. The bill seeks amendment of section 52(2) of the 2010 Electoral Act with the introduction of a new provision that states “the commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.” Under current law, electronic voting is prohibited.
The bill, sponsored by Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege and Senator Abubakar Kyari, also seeks amendment of section 65 of the Electoral Act 2010 by introducing a “National Electronic Register of Election Results.” The Electronic Register shall, according to the bill, be kept by INEC at its national headquarters and any person or political party may obtain from the commission, on payment of reasonable fees as may be determined it, a certified true copy of any election result kept in the National Electronic Register of Election Results for the federation, a state, local government, area council, ward or polling unit, as the case may be. The certified true copy may be in printed or electronic format. The Electoral Reform Bill also prevents INEC from shutting down the central data base until all petitions arising from elections are determined by a tribunal or court.
The bill proposes the slashing of nomination fees charged by political parties. It states, “For the purpose of nomination of candidates for election, the total fees, charges, dues and any payment howsoever named imposed by a political party on an aspirant shall not exceed: N150,000 for a ward councillorship aspirant in the FCT; N250,000 for an area council chairmanship aspirant in the FCT; N500,000 for a house of assembly aspirant; N1,000,000 for a House of Representatives aspirant; N2,000,000 for a senatorial aspirant; N5,000,000 for a Governorship aspirant; and N10,000,000 for a presidential aspirant.”
It would be recalled that the 8th National Assembly under Senator Bukola Saraki’s attempt to amend the Electoral Act 2010 failed. President Muhammadu Buhari said he withheld assent to that bill because “Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”
These electoral reform measures have been long awaited due to the irregularities that have, for many years, characterized general elections in Nigeria. A downward review of nomination fees will widen political participation. For many years, the structure of the manual voting system remained a convenient platform for orchestrating electoral fraud. In the same way that the use of card reader machines in the 2015 general elections succeeded in curbing electoral malpractices, e-voting equally has the potential to deter electoral offenders from perpetrating infractions.
E-voting should not only reduce the cost of elections but could effectively forestall electoral rigging usually carried out through over-voting, ballot box stuffing or snatching and other electoral offences associated with manual voting. Besides requiring fewer security personnel and party agents at polling units, the use of e-voting technology could equally reduce the time spent by eligible voters at the polls.
Much as e-voting is desirable, we should first consolidate the gains of the card reader, which usage so far has not been provided for in the Electoral Act. Once politicians realised that card reader is not backed by law, Nigeria’s 2019 general elections fell short of the credibility that defined the 2015 general elections. We should proceed to e-voting only after the use of card reader under an amended Electoral Act has been tested in two or three general elections.
Even then, the big question remains whether e-voting would stop the deep-rooted manipulation of electoral process in Nigeria, a misconduct that is entirely attitudinal. As the country perfects the use of the card reader with appropriate legal instruments, we urge the National Orientation Agency [NOA] to use the period for consolidating on its gains to reform the character of Nigerians who will operate the e-voting device.