Column Opinion

Electronic Voting Machine: The El-Rufai Example And The Joke On The Senate

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The Kaduna State Government conducted their local government elections last weekend using the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). The election was fraught with many infractions not because of the deployment of modern technology, but despite it.

Even the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which cried foul over the conduct of the election still has kind words for Governor Nasir El-Rufai. The party chairman, Mr Felix Hassan Hyat, in a statement said, “the party (PDP) notes that Nasir El-Rufai has consistently promised the people of Kaduna State free and fair local government election through a modernised system of voting, hence his heavy investment in the EVM.

“On this we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the governor. However, our reports from all over the state show that his aides changed the names of polling unit officers that were trained with untrained cronies. This led to the non-functioning of the EVM in many polling units across the state”. The PDP noted that the manipulation of the machines by the governor’s aides has “made nonsense of the governor’s effort and brought his promise to public ridicule”.

The import of the EVM example is multi-faceted. First, note that local government elections have always been prone to manipulation and rigging by state governments and governors in collusion with pliant and biased security agencies, vulnerable voting populace and desperate politicians. Over time state electoral commissions often skew election results to favour the party in power. That of Kaduna State was not different. Any party in power at the state—whether APC or PDP would always win all elections conducted by the so called SIECs. Indeed, the governors are the worst culprits in our unsavoury democratic journey.

The Kaduna State government’s use of EVM is proof that electronic voting is doable, but that the process was aided and scuttled by politicians is also evidence that Nigerians are not ready for a free and fair election. Any electronic gadgets can be a force for good or evil as its usage in Kaduna state LG election showed. Let it be clear from the start therefore that the antidote to election rigging lies with attitudinal change than machines. However, this does not validate the National Assembly’s rejection of the deployment of technology for the conduct of elections, because to a large extent, national elections conducted by INEC are far more rig-proof than local government elections conducted by states Independent Electoral Commission.

El-Rufai also said the electronic voting machine made it impossible for voters to indulge in multiple voting but equally admitted the low-turnout of voters. “You activate the voting machine with your voter’s card once you have been accredited… the whole process takes less than 15 seconds; it’s very quick and efficient and you see your ballot paper being printed”, it is capable of transmitting results to a server, so it is difficult to alter”. Apart from curbing multiple voting, the fact that the results were later manipulated, and the machine’s integrity compromised should not detract from their efficiency and desirability by millions of Nigerians.

You cannot help but commend El-Rufai’s efforts. Despite being notorious for demolition in the name of an endless urban renewal projects, you cannot discountenance El-Rufai’s courage to take bold steps in providing solutions to pestering problems. With the EVM used for LG election in Kaduna, El-Rufai has shown leadership. A leader does not have to be a populist; he is that person who shows the way, take decisive action, make mistakes, learn from it and make it better next time.

I’m not a fan of El-Rufai, but I won’t also shy away from aligning my views with his or his action if the need arises. According to Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. With this El-Rufai will leave a trail through the path he has created.

John Maxwell said “the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails”. El-Rufai’s vision to leave a legacy made him adjust the sails and dare the consequences, despite being a key member of the ruling APC whose lawmakers at the National Assembly rejected electronic voting. Leadership is not inaction; it is about taking decisions and responsibility.

The National Assembly ignored these leadership lessons, abdicated their responsibility and took the electorate for granted when in July, passed the electoral act amendment bill into law and jettisoned the electronic transmission of election result as proposed by INEC, justified same using NCC as alibi, despite the advocacy and lobbying that preceded it, thereby taking us back to the dark days of open ballot snatching and manipulation of figures pre-2015 election.

The lawmakers claimed they relied on the National Communication Commission (NCC) survey which indicated that less than half of the polling units (50.3 % of the 109,000 out of 119,000 polling units ) have 3G network to transmit election results. Quoting AIT in an interview with INEC’s Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Nick Dazang, in an article published by Premium Times, Dazang said: “In January 2018, INEC approached NCC that it wants a technological-driven commission and both have been working closely to deliver free, fair and credible elections in the country for the benefit of our citizens. They are also aware that two network providers—MTN and Airtel have assisted JAMB conduct their examinations across Nigeria. So, INEC is still wondering why NCC has suddenly made a U-turn that there is not enough network coverage in every part of Nigeria.

“I am convinced that if INEC was given the chance to appear before the National Assembly alongside NCC, the commission would have told the distinguished senators and honourable members that all the network providers have assured INEC that network coverage is 100% across the country,” Dazang added.

Well, that opportunity never came, and the powers that be that have held Nigeria down for years have remained adamant. They profit from Nigeria’s mess and are not visionary, so they cannot be bothered about the coming generations.

Recall that the INEC bill was passed by the eight Senate led by Bukola Saraki three times and was rejected three times by President Buhari. One of the reasons cited by President Buhari then was that the bill would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide election matters including the deployment of technology as deemed fit.

The Ahmed Lawan-led ninth Senate which passed the latest bill (without electronic transmission) into law stripped INEC of the power to do anything concerning transmission of election results without recourse to the National Assembly and NCC. In a nutshell, INEC has lost its autonomy, which amounts to giving with the right hand and taking back with the left hand. The contentious section states that “the commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable”.

The historic election that brought APC to power was made possible partly due to the deployment of technology. The card reader is an electronic devise and assisted with the transparency of the election of 2015, but APC now wants to take us to the dark ages of manual transmission where figures will be padded and 10 can become 100 overnight. El-Rufai has now proved the point that a credible poll is not rocket science if all parties involved are prepared to bring integrity to bear on the process.

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