The center stage has been set for Nigeria’s 2023 general elections as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) led by Mahmood Yakubu announced new dates after President Muhammadu Buhari signed amendments to the Electoral Bill.
The new dates indicate that the Presidential and National Assembly elections have been put up for February 25, 2023, while the Governorship and State Assembly elections have been slated for March 11, 2023.
With all geared towards the coming elections, we are witnessing massive queues at Permanent Voters Card (PVC) registration points across the country, and this may be owing to inadequate capturing points.
This overwhelming situation may put many eligible voters at risk of disenfranchisement. INEC had set May 30th and June 30th as the deadlines for the online and physical PVC registration exercise, respectively.
Owing to this, Charles Emembolu, CEO at Crestage Limited, has called for the need to extend the PVC registration exercise by at least 90 days for the upcoming elections.
He emphasized that INEC provides more mass registration centres in public places including worship places, markets and key areas of congregation.
In a chat with Charles, we explored the possibilities of technology in improving elections in Nigeria and Africa.
Do you think that online elections can work in Africa?
I believe that technology needs to play a bigger role in Africa, however, But I think that it’s not yet the right time because there has to be a national orientation for the basic people, even in the villages and more remote areas, to understand the electoral process and how to participate in it.
I think that at the level where it’s been done with the new electoral position is very sufficient, so long as there is the sincerity of purpose on INEC’s part, and the rest of the authorities, to support that process.
That we can go online and make certain changes to our electoral profile or details, like changing our polling station, even checking to validate our registration and all the way even initiating new registration that closed sometime last month.
Al these are adequate, but what appears to be inadequate is the physical side of the process, where we seem to lack preparedness on the part of the authorities.
Notably, registration centres are few and far from the people, a lack of staff motivation or putting the wrong staff at these centres, for instance in my communities, there have been multiple reports of INEC officials requesting money before they could register voters, and this is supposed to be their basic civic responsibility.
INEC has struggled with some of these challenges, even on national television some weeks ago, the INEC Chairman mentioned the arrest of two officials in Anambra to be precise, adding that the body is monitoring the process closely.
I think the technology is adequate, but where the technology meets the public is where there are inadequacies.
Also talking from the aspect of internet penetration, people need to be able to verify information as a lot of this circulated news is unverifiable.
There was a recent one that insinuated that voters’ cards expire, and the unfortunate was that even the learned people fell for this trap easily.
Rather than digesting this kind of news, INEC has a portal to verify whatever news related to Nigeria’s election and it process, however, the body itself hasn’t done enough to pass the information digitally in the right way.
How do you think blockchain can shape elections in Africa?
I think the major impact will be in the area of voter recording and transmission. In the last election, I remember the horrible instance where we had people traveling by road, I mean, state electoral officers having to travel by road to the collision center in Abuja, besides the risk of bodily harm or accidents, there’s also the issue of time-wasting and the risk of manipulating or falsifying the data,
We all know what blockchain can do in terms of tokenizing information, and making sure that it is encrypted and secure. And those are only transferable and readable by the system at the other end. Blockchain will be able to solve these problems.
Sometime in 2017. Somaliland, the south part of Somalia, used iris recognition technology for its presidential election. Can Nigeria trust the government not to manipulate technology?
Of course, anything can be manipulated, we must adopt technology, and find ways to mitigate risks. I’m sure there was most likely time and if you wanted to count a group of people, they had to raise their hands.
Yes, we progressed and now we have cards, from debit cards to voters’ cards to driver’s licenses and the likes, thus I think it’s a gradual process.
I think we should have piloted with the off-cycle state’s elections, like the Ekiti one, where we could have tested some of these, with specific polling centers, maybe in the more urban areas.
This will enable the authorities to gather the data that they require, just like we see a lot in football or sports in general, where if you wanted to test the video recording and replay, you use a tournament that is not as big as the World Cup first.
That’s what I think should have started the technology introduction, but I do not think it is right for us to take a top technology as recent as blockchain and make it fully national.
For a country that is struggling with illiteracy and not enough internet penetration and lack of digital literacy as well as even online safety, we need to test to be sure and I think INEC is making progress in those areas, particularly because like I said, we are doing online registration, and I know groups and individuals are setting up centers to provide digital literacy to enable more people get registered, however, more needs to be done.
Will there ever be a time in the future when Nigeria/Africa would be ready for a technology-controlled election?
Nigeria is ripe for it, however, we lack the right leaders, a committed leadership is all that it takes because the technology is available.
For instance, I think that with technology, we can stop a one-day election and have a period where people working can vote (like an election week), the way it’s done in some European countries. People should be able to work into any of the centers around, put their thumbprint, get validated and vote.
Then there’s also the issue of the Diaspora Nigerians, in 2021, the contribution from the diaspora Nigerians who are largely digitally literate was more than what we made from the sales of crude oil, yet this category of people are totally disenfranchised.
I dare say that if they had to pay to vote, they probably will vote if they had to pay to enable the technology that will enable them to vote.
At this point, there’s an intersection between technology, the electoral process, and the populace of Nigeria. Thus, Nigeria is ready technologically, however, the right leadership to make it happen doesn’t exist yet.
Featured Image: Charles Emembolu, CEO, Crestage Limited
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