2023 Elections: INEC, Army, NSCDC clash over proposal for electronic voting
ABUJA- There was a sharp disagreement between the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and key security agencies on Monday over the readiness or otherwise of Nigeria to adopt electronic voting system in the 2023 elections.
While the electoral commission, through its National Commissioner, Prof. Okey Ibeanu, maintained that the country was not ripe for the process, citing what it termed as absence of “robust technical and physical infrastructure”, both the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, disagreed with the commission, insisting that the introduction of electronic voting system/e-collation was the only way to stop electoral violence and rigging of elections.
The exchanges occurred at Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room Stakeholders Forum on Future of Elections in Nigeria which was organised in Abuja with support of the British Department for International Development, DFID.
In his remarks, the INEC Commissioner, Prof. Ibeanu, noted that election in Nigeria is increasingly becoming more complex despite the minimal utilization of technologies in the electoral processes.
He argued that there are key factors that must be considered before e-voting could effectively take-off in Nigeria, among which included power supply and the ability of electorates to conquer their “fundamental trust issues in the system”, by believing in the capability of the electoral body to function independently without external manipulations.
“Each time we are demanding more ‘complexification’ of our election, we should remember that our infrastructure may not be adequate to take care of the process”, he contended.
However, in his presentation, the representative of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Felix Omoigui, argued that electronic voting was the only way forward for subsequent elections.
According to him, “Situations where thugs abduct INEC officials at collation centres or en-route to collation centres will be largely nipped in the bud” if the system is adopted.
Advancing further recommendations on how the electoral process could be improved, the Army representative said: “Furthermore, efforts should be made to ensure that all Wards where elections will be held subsequently are provided with effective communication facilities to mitigate issues of poor network that could mar the electronic voting. We know that we have issues with this, but if we are able to work at it, it will go a long way to solving the problem.
“The other recommendation is the strengthening of the capacity of the Nigerian Police. We need to fully equip, arm and train the Nigerian Police to effectively provide the needed security at the polling units and collation centres. This will not only dissuade the perpetrators of electoral violence, but will also reposition the police to effectively combat other criminal acts. During the conduct of the last election, there was a particular polling booth where thugs were snatching boxes and there was only one policeman and he was not armed. He was just running all over the place, it was so disheartening”.
Brigadier Omoigui equally called for the enactment of stiffer punishment for electoral offenders, stressing that thuggery and violence during the just concluded elections were promoted by “greedy and unscrupulous politicians who deploy all forms of tactics to win elections at all cost”
“ Strengthening the electoral laws and tribunals to prosecute and punish electoral thugs and their sponsors with jail term of not less than four years until the next general elections, will deter the would be perpetrators of violence”, he added.
On its part, the NSCDC, in a speech by its Commandant General, Abdullahi Gana, argued that electronic voting “will clearly put an end to the orgies of killings associated with thuggery before, during and after elections in Nigeria, as well as minimize incidence of rigging of elections in Nigeria”.
Earlier in his presentation, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, who was represented by a National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the commission has embarked on a comprehensive review of processes and procedures it adopted for the 2019 general elections.
INEC said it would at the end of the comprehensive review of the elections, work with the National Assembly to propose an alteration of the constitution and legal framework on critical issues that posed challenges to the 2019 general elections.
“The commission will also follow closely the pronouncement and judgments of the various courts and tribunals on novel constitutional and electoral issues, and incorporate them into its proposals for constitutional reforms.
“The commission will propose far-reaching changes in the following areas: (a) The review of the opaque nature of the conduct of party primaries and making proposals towards reforms as the crisis and challenges arising from the conduct of party primaries remains a sore point in the electoral process.
“(b) The timeline for the disposal of pre-election matters. The present timeline proposed for the disposal of pre-election matters has not solved the problem of certainty in the electoral process. The 180 days given to the courts of first instance to dispose pre-election suits and the 60 days earmarked for appeals dovetails into the conduct of elections and keeps the commission on edge till the Election Day. It makes it difficult for the commission to procure sensitive materials ahead of time. The commission will prefer a time-frame and a timeline that allows for the disposal of all pre-election matters before elections. This sill entails further alteration to section 285 of the Constitution.
“(c) The commission will also propose a review of the conditions for the registration of political parties to determine whether it is adequate to guarantee the registration of political parties that can in truth and in fact, bid for political power. It is also important to decide whether it is important to define a thresh hold which political parties can get on the ballot. More fundamentally, the constitution and legal conditions for the registration of political parties appears confusing and inadequate to weed out parties that enjoy only legal and not factual existence.
“The commission will also propose amendment to section 35 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, relating to the withdrawal of nominated candidates and their replacement not later than 45 days to the day of the election. The time-frame is inadequate and does not give the commission enough time to procure sensitive materials required for the conduct of elections. A time-frame of at least 60 days before the conduct of the election will be adequate for preparations and for withdrawals”.
INEC said it would harp on high-level of professionalism for security agencies that would be deployed for future elections, stressing that issues relating to neutrality and conduct of security personnel deployed for election duties would be reviewed with a view to improving their ethical conduct.