Monday, August 31, 2015

The move toward Nigerian e-voting in 2019

There is a rising movement to modernize and improve Nigeria, working to overcome its history of societal and governmental challenges. A challenge for the nation in transition is to open up the democracy to its citizens with a safe, secure and reliable electoral system.

The road has been long, hard and arduous as Nigeria tries to establish a robust electronic voting infrastructure for its elections. This dates back to at least 1999 when the nation ended a 30-year dictatorial regime and replaced it with what it hoped to be a functional democracy. The nation has struggled to offer fair, free and transparent elections since 2012 and the move to electronic voting could help to achieve this mission.

National elections involve a lot of planning and they can exert widespread impact both in Nigeria itself and abroad. Interestingly enough, some schools in Nigeria may present a viable example for the country at large to follow. The Adeyemi University of Education recently held elections to choose its student government. The process was deemed a success and it is now being seen as “a template for students' elections across the country and even a model for national elections in the country.”

Particular attention is being paid to how Adeyemi implemented and ran its student election using electronic voting technology. Students could vote just about anywhere using the Internet, using their mobile phones. For students without Internet access, four ICT centres and polling units were provided, including Uninterrupted Power Supply units for better and more reliable performance. In a country where access to electricity and Internet may be difficult, these are a must.

Student body governments and elections cannot be immediately equated to the processes and procedures of a full and functional government, but they can serve as an example of what is possible and within reach today. As Nigeria moves forward toward using e-voting on a national scale, including its experimentation with biometric authentication of voter identities, support is growing for the adoption of this technology.

Indeed, both the National Association of Peaceful Elections in Nigeria (NAPEN) and the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) are strongly encouraging the introduction of early voting and full electronic voting in time for the 2019 general elections. They are looking at the introduction of the card readers as a first-step toward e-voting, for instance, as well as improving peace education to limit the violence observed in past Nigerian elections.

By the time of the 2019 general elections, Nigeria would have already had 20 uninterrupted years of democratic rule. To this end, it has been argued that now is the time “to consolidate on the baby steps taken over the last 5 elections.” Many logistical issues plagued the 2015 elections, including the millions of disenfranchised Nigerians who could not vote or chose not to vote for fear of violence.

Electoral reform is clearly needed and it should not be left to the last minute. The time to prepare for the 2019 e-voting future of Nigeria starts now.