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The UK is plotting voter suppression, Nigeria must not copy them

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A voter drops ballot papers into a ballot box during an election in Nigeria.

This week, an unelected head of state – sitting on a throne – announced plans to make it harder for their subjects to vote.

In the Queen’s Speech – in which the British government outlines legislative plans for the coming year – her majesty Queen Elizabeth announced plans requiring voters to bring formal photographic identification, such as a passport or driving license, to vote in elections – even though many of the poorest Britons have no such identification.

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The British government insisted the move is necessary for “increasing transparency, fairness and accountability” – the very values the digital democracy campaign I lead is dedicated to advancing in Nigeria’s political system.

But these plans will do nothing of the kind – the United Kingdom seems determined to commit a naked act of voter suppression potentially as shady as anything witnessed in any of Nigeria’s more corrupt states.

Our political process has much to learn from our former colonisers in terms of modernity and transparency. But we mustn’t copy these proposals.

As of May 2020, 41million Nigerians were registered in our national ID programme – meaning something like 160million were not. These voters are likely to be amongst our poorest and most excluded citizens. We must not exclude them further by making formal photographic ID a voting requirement.

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Current estimates suggest only 38% of Nigerians have any sort of identification. Although free voter cards are issued at election times, far too many Nigerians are unable to access them as it is.

We all know how difficult it can be to get any accepted means of identification in Nigeria. A driver’s licence costs up to 10,450 Naira. A passport can cost as much as N70,000.

Even when this is affordable – which to many Nigerians it is not – it is not unknown for the process of obtaining these items to take up to four years.

As a result, it is not unusual for bribes to be necessary to accelerate the process.

We cannot allow bribery to become necessary as part of plans to reduce fraud!

As Director-General of the NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, has said: “Over 100 million Nigerians have no identity (ID). These include the poorest and the most vulnerable groups, such as the marginalised – women and girls, the less-educated people, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities and people living in rural and remote areas.”

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Our democracy cannot be accessible only to the urban and the affluent.

If turnout falls any further in Nigerian elections, the very legitimacy of our democracy will be called into question. Turnout in our last presidential election was 34.8% – not only half of that in Ghana’s last presidential election but the worst in West Africa.

What is to be done? The answer could be at our fingertips.

As I’m never tired of telling people, more Nigerians own a smartphone than a voter’s card.

My Digital Democracy Project is designed to reconnect electors and the elected using technology.

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Our free Rate Your Leader mobile is designed to help politicians engage directly with people who elected them, by putting them in direct person-to-person contact with verified voters.

Rate Your Leader helps voters bring important issues to the attention of local leaders, and lets communities and their elected representatives collaborate to make local areas better.

The Rate Your Leader app also helps politicians understand what matters most to the people who elect them and build relationships of trust with the electorate. The app allows voters to rate their leaders on accessibility and accountability, highlighting their value and values to their neighbours, family, friends and peers.

By facilitating relationships of trust between electors and elected, we aim to inspire trust in the political system as a whole, encouraging people to vote by proving to them that democratic politics can deliver positive change and is worth engaging with.

Even the British government itself admits that this proposal is a solution in search of a problem, publicly stating in March that “the United Kingdom is world-renowned for running elections of the highest standards in which voters can have full confidence.” Estimates suggest that Electoral Fraud is suspected in just 0.000057% of votes.

It is no wonder that so many people are so concerned about plans that may shut many legitimate voters out of the democratic process.

In Nigeria, enough people already do this to themselves, voluntarily. We need to get more people to vote. Not less!

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is the creator of the Rate Your Leader mobile app. He can be reached on Twitter @JOPopoola


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