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Smart card reader can deepen democracy 

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It is as though a kite was being flown when the other day the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) observed that the smart card reader, the main electronic component of electoral administration in Nigeria so far, has outlived its usefulness. 

The observation was made by INEC National Commissioners Festus Okoye and Mohammed Haruna at the Nigeria Civil Societies Situation Room (NCSSR)’s review of the Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections, which was held in Abuja. The reasons adduced for this are two-fold. One, the judiciary in its review process does not rely on the smart card reader to prove that elections were rigged but voter register and INEC forms. Two, corruptible politicians have found a way of circumventing the use of card readers. In the words of the officials, “We must also find solution to the issue of smart card reader. The smart card reader has lost its efficacy. The smart card reader has lost its vibrancy in relation to the electoral process, because the political elite have found a way around it.” 

On a note of surrender, the INEC officials wrapped Nigeria’s electoral heist on attitude in a dialectical inversion of idealism for reality, which in social engineering, is tempered by laws and other forms of socialisation. As Okoye put it, “My understanding of electoral reform is that electoral design alone cannot solve our electoral challenges unless we have a concomitant underpinning of the democratic spirit…Unless the political elite in this country believes in democracy and democratic processes, even if you amend our laws 20 times, it will not solve the problem.”

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While these observations were being reflected upon, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu represented by the same Okoye, threw in a deflector that threatened the point at issue. He said, Electronic Voting System (EVS) could only be introduced into the country’s electoral process when the nation was sure of the appropriate technologies and their corresponding protection infrastructure, especially cyber security. But he expressed the confidence that INEC could achieve electronic collation of results and transmission of results in the next election cycle in 2023. In the same vein, the same smart card reader considered as useless by the same officials speaking perhaps in their curious personal capacity, was reiterated by the INEC chairman as an electoral legacy that must be nurtured and improved upon. 

The reasons adduced are as intriguing as the fate of the electoral process in Nigeria. They only amount to double talk in ways that underline the electoral management body as being part of the problem of the electoral malfeasance. Whatever is the thinking in the INEC circle of officials, the point must be made that Nigeria cannot go back on smart card reader. It is the greatest gain that the country has made in the management of election and that has provided much of the legitimacy that brought the incumbent administration to power in 2015. Indeed, the rationale for its introduction was to increase the integrity of the electoral process. We think that the men and women in the INEC cannot afford to make themselves look awkward.  It is simply foolhardy to consider jettisoning it after the huge financial outlay on the mechanism.  We cannot go back to Option A4.  The Nigerian lawmakers were at least forthcoming when they amended the Electoral Act to place it on electronic pedestal. However, the incumbent administration killed the bill by denying assent. So, there is a technical solution. INEC vaunted the idea and its readiness to do electronic transmission and became involved in official refutation of its earlier position in a mesh of electoral controversies.

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We state with all the emphasis that Nigeria cannot afford to regress into analogue mode. No example of reversion existing elsewhere should compel us, not even the double-speak of international observers who sometimes are out to push their national interest to the detriment of the host countries.  We note that the political process is the apex of socialisation and must be impacted by the digital trend. There is already enough digitisation in the country to lend credence to the full use of electronic voting mechanism in the country.  The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), West Africa Examination Council (WAEC), telecommunications operators, satellite television operators and airlines, among others, are operating electronically.

Opposition can only exist in the scheme of those who have rigged the population of this country for political and sectional interest that would be adverse to the near-precision that goes with digitisation. For example, India, one of the most populous countries in the world, (with more than one billion people) has stuck to and improved its electronic voting mechanism over the last three decades. It has employed it in its general and legislative elections and numerous by-elections with little controversy. A parliamentary technical expert committee has affirmed its tamper-proof technological soundness. We can borrow a leaf from India. 

We believe that the current INEC leadership has displaced gross carelessness  by demonising and discrediting the smart card reader, in this connection. This is unfortunate because the arguments are not only hollow but they are not backed by evidence. The abnormalities that prevailed in Osun, Ekiti, Bayelsa and Kogi were contrived and INEC has the capacity to deal with them but for curious negligence and so that cannot serve as basis for the kite being flown.  There is nothing happening today that the Uwais Panel did not deliberate on and provide for in its recommendations. We believe and restate here that whatever the shortcomings in the electoral process, the way forward is to improve on it and not a forlorn regression into the contradictory dynamics of manual and analogue processes. This is 21st century that smart and innovative technologies drive. So, INEC cannot hold Nigeria down to anachronism that it said had long been discarded.

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