Creating a sustainable and accountable democratic system in Nigeria – Part 5
Finally, we must do something about the methods that we use to vote. There is no reason on God’s earth why you cannot have all the elections in one day and produce results within hours. Having an extended period of elections and then re-runs simply extenuates the process and maximises the potential for violence. Indonesia and India have just finished their elections. In Indonesia, they have over 193 million voters. In India; the system is more prolonged but it is efficient and reasonably more costly and penetrative – reaching all eligible voters in the remotest villages.
In both countries the voting system and ability pose logistic nightmares that are relatively minor in Nigeria – but they solve them.
India has 1.4 billion people: 900 million voters, its election cost $14 billion in 2014; its census $493 million. Indonesia population is 270 million, 190 million registered voters, and election cost $735 million, 200, 000 contestants for 20,000 seats. Indonesia has 17, 000 Islands. Nigeria has 180 million people out of which 90 million are registered voters: election would cost over US $530 million; census budget is US $760 million. Both figures are guaranteed to change rapidly upwards when details are finally released.
Part of the problem in Nigeria links back to the number of political parties. How many agent signatures are there on our results sheets? If there are 71 + parties, should there not be 71+ signatures on every result sheet? The approval of agents is traded as a commodity, rather than being a mechanism for accountability. That basic challenge with the system creates yet another flaw in our process. As a point of basic principle, if even one agent is not able to sign, or unwilling to, then the results cannot be accepted. It begs belief that because it is easy to register a party, this would make it easy to block an election.
We are in danger of regarding the courts as part of the electoral process. This is unfortunate to both the electoral process and the courts if both systems, electoral and judicial systems, lose the confidence of the people that would be tragic: A biased and untrust worthy legal system is the death of democracy.
We must take serious action to de-emphasise the role of the military and the security services during the election. Whether they are the instigators of violence or used as the mechanism to prevent it in areas where it benefits one side or the other, they are an anomaly in the process and their role has to be curtailed and managed. Voting is a civil activity, not a police or military one. It must never become an activity that is influenced or threatened by security forces that must remain independent.
I believe that we need an expert committee to look at the failings in the election, and make some recommendations about how to improve things. We should seek support to implement the findings from our international partners. We must make the next election better.
Finally, we must leverage the role of technology more effectively. So far, the use and type of technology has been introduced on the basis of narrow political and private or commercial interests, with the level of support for the technology fluctuating according to who it might benefit. We need to take this out of the hands of the politicians. It comes back to knowing our population intimately. If we do, if we can identify them, then we should be in a position to quickly remove the ‘middle’ infrastructure of card readers, and the cards themselves, to move directly to a system that recognises you, takes your vote and transmits it, all independently, without the need for human collation. If my phone can recognise my face, or my fingerprint 9 times out of 10 then it can be used for voting. We must take action to improve the integrity of this system, to build voters faith in it and to show that participation can mean change.
I want to encourage the global technology companies to see Nigeria as a place with huge potential for investments. They need to help us gather and structure our data in a way that adds value, and that I am sure, ultimately, they could make money from, while obviously respecting the confidentiality and privacy that must be sacrosanct. For this to happen, the government needs to show a deep understanding of the incentives, regulatory systems and opportunities that it represents.
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