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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Discourse 260 Inec, Parties and E-voting

Discourse 260
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

INEC, Parties and E-voting

A month ago, Iwu, the Chairman of “Independent” National Electoral Commission (INEC) paid a visit to Governor Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State before whom he heralded the news that his commission will adopt e-voting in 2011 elections. Result of 2011 general elections, said Iwu according to the Vanguard, would be released without delay, as Nigerians will know the result electronically as it is released, due to the newly introduced electronic voting system.
I am a strong proponent of technology as a friend that will solve many of our problems. I have written a series on that in Leadership before. I therefore received the news of e-voting very warmly, trusting that, finally, we will be done with vote rigging. But the happiness was short-lived. When some good news of a distant event reaches you, there is always the need, after the initial jubilation, to ask questions that will ascertain its validity. At least conduct two tests on the news: one, the veracity of the career; two, the possibility of the event.
Unfortunately, the career of the news has a very low rating among Nigerians. He once raised our hopes about e-voting in 2006, only to go ahead in 2007 and conduct the most disastrous elections in our history. To sum it up, “Iwu is the greatest liar in this world,” observed former Vice-President and Presidential candidate of Action Congress, Abubakar Atiku, in a BBC program in 2007. Gosh! First test: Iwu has scored zero.
On the possibility of employing electronic voting machines nationwide in the e-voting I was quick to convince myself that it is impossible. When has INEC built its capacity from the chairman down to polling agents? I even visited INEC website to judge their IT competence. In mutum ya ce zai ba ka riga dubi ta wuyarsa. I found that the site was last updated three weeks ago when its Acting Director, Public Affairs, Emmanuel I. Umenger refuted a story carried by Tribune. (The story was that Iwu told a gathering in Enugu how he heroically saved the life of the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan! Atiku will not be surprised, neither was I) In fact, to get the latest about INEC I had to visit sites of Nigerian newspapers, including the news on e-voting which was never carried on the INEC website. How could such IT-incompetent body expect us to believe that it has the capacity to employ such a sophisticated IT based system come 2011?
My search into the capacity of INEC led me to the communiqué of a retreat held by INEC in partnership with the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), reported online by Vanguard on 8 April 2009. The communiqué gave a very long list of problems that would challenge the employment of e-voting, particularly in 2011. Please visit Vanguard website and read through the catalogue of problems. They are too many to list here, nineteen fa. Somewhere in the report, the INEC ICT ICT Director, Engr. Emmanuel Akem confessed that “If the law is amended on time to allow for the use of e-voting machine for the 2011 elections, INEC will come out with best machine in the world otherwise it will be of no use if the we are not given mandate on time. If the law is amended two years before the elections, it will be implemented. But it is amended before six months before the elections, then is of no use.” Without even this basic condition, Iwu is speaking as if the permission has been granted – “Nigerians will know the results electronically as it is released, due to the newly introduced electronic voting system.” Who do we believe: INEC ICT Director or Iwu, “the hero”? So second test: Iwu, zero.
The cynic in me immediately spoke: Is Iwu up to something sinister? In makaho ya ce mu yi wasan jifa, ya taka dutse ne. This led me to give value to the insult that Iwu inflicted on the opposition when he declared before the Governor, saying, "but let me quickly admit that computer would not provide any solution to such things, as when people have disease of the mind, when people refuse to accept defeat even when they lose elections.” This statement, to me, reveals the sinister intention of Iwu. Otherwise, if his e-voting would be so transparent, why would he work on the presumption that the opposition will reject the outcome? Are the two Supreme Court judges that described Iwu’s 2007 presidential election also suffering from a disease, in addition to millions of other Nigerians, not least the President who was so contemptuous of the process that he instituted a committee to completely overhaul the process? Are local and international monitors also suffering from a disease? The opposition must be careful with Iwu’s e-voting. Yaro, in ba rami, me ya kawo maganar rami – in ji makaho?
E-voting alone, Iwu must know, cannot make election transparent. Elections in Nigeria are much more than just voting. The best e-voting can do is to, as the NCS said, prevent six things: mass thumb printing of ballot papers, ballot stuffing, snatching of ballot boxes, impersonation of voters, errors due to manual collation of results, and multiple registration. Admittedly, these are big problems, but what do we do with, for example, INEC announcing results even before collation, or when it cooks multiple return sheets, or when it refuses to show such sheets even when demanded by court? How do we believe that INEC this time will not ignore the computer and announce a winner before compilation, pushing the opposition to court where they are not likely to find justice?
Besides, corrupt politicians – and they are the overwhelming majority – are daily inventing new methods of rigging. We had a case recently in Bauchi State where a-kasa-a-tsare is entrenched. Realizing this, the ANPP government of Isa Yuguda tried and succeeded in a special form of rigging: two days before the elections, on Thursday, it disqualified any formidable opposition candidate for the local government chairmanship elections, then declared the following day, Friday, a public holiday such that such candidates cannot seek redress in courts, then the elections were held on Saturday, and behold, all the twenty seats were “won” by the ruling party, ANPP. Two serving commissioners in the cabinet who advised against this “PDP” conduct were sacked for daring to oppose the almighty ANPP, upon the insistence of the party chairman. There is no end it seems to ways of rigging elections in this country by the various parties.
And this brings us to the greatest impediment against e-voting: commitment of the political class. Do we think that the Presidency and the National Assembly will allow the adoption of e-voting knowing fully well that their seats are products of rigging? Not even the opposition parties would. Majority of them will prefer the manual counting process because it leaves the window of opportunity to rig open. My experience with Nigerian elite is that very few of us are honest; the majority of us sincerely feel that corruption should thrive just perchance, one day, we will also have the opportunity to benefit from the dishonesty or we feel so much insecure in a corrupt free environment. The conduct of the opposition ANPP in every state where they won and conducted elections for local governments clearly illustrates the point that they still suffer from the hangover of being the “PDP” of the Abacha era. Even under the leadership of the seemingly holiest of the ANPP governors, Shekarau of Kano, ANPP won all local government chairmanship seats.
My cynicism of INEC and of the majority of our politicians not withstanding, I believe our salvation lies first in technology, then in courts: E-voting is inevitable to free and fair elections in Nigeria. I agree with NCS Chairman, Professor Uwadia, that "we do not have choice other than e-voting system for a transparent process in the 21st century knowledge economy.” We only need to prepare for it. Unfortunately, neither INEC nor the parties are ready for that. None of the parties want to introduce serious research and development department into its structure. They cannot think beyond the old ways, perhaps because their leaders are too old to learn new methods. They are contemptuous of knowledge, afraid of technology. But this is the century of knowledge, not ignorance. I wish by now they have known everything about e-voting, with IT staff or consultants keeping them up to date about such developments. I wish they can spare a minute to see how modern communication equipments – the handsets, emails, etc – can be used to mobilize people and funds for election victory. I wish they were as smart as the Democratic Party in the last American presidential elections. I wish…I wish… But they are running against time.
INEC, minus Iwu, NCS and other similar bodies should continue to lay the foundation that will meet all the necessary requirements for employing e-voting in 2015. We must now press the National Assembly to legislate for the employment of e-voting as soon as possible, especially in the new electoral reform bill. We can start using it in post 2011 bye-elections such that we master the system and overcome its hurdles, such that the confidence of cynics like me is won, before finally adopting it in 2015 national elections.
On their part, political parties must overcome the fear of transparency and begin to severe their romance with rigging. They must start upgrading their human software such that they can adopt new methods with ease. To do so, they unavoidably need a heavy injection of new blood – not new breed – because teaching an old dog a new trick is always difficult. More importantly, they must not trust their future in rigging, for its days are numbered.

31 July 2009

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