‘Electronic voting will solve Nigeria’s electoral, leadership problems’
While Nigerians await the senate to speed up the legislative process on electronic voting so President Muhammadu Buhari could sign it into law, digital entrepreneur, Mr. Emmanuel Abah, has already set the envisaged stage for the process with his Digital Voting System (DVS). He, like many, is seeking to change the old order with regard to the way Nigerian leaders emerge by not only advocating for electronic voting but also providing a template for a fraud-free process. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU (Head, Politics), he enumerates the many problems bedevilling Nigeria as a result of poor leadership selection and suggests how digital and data mining technology could change the narrative of under-development. Excerpts:
Elections have been trailed with widespread complaints amid obvious malpractices. How did Nigeria get here?
MANY Nigerians choose to complain in the face of the many challenges facing our dear country. I wish to say that complaining can only lead to depression and hatred for people in elective public offices. Interestingly, those who are in governance in the form of leadership know what should be done. Nigerians are angry because the people who are opportune to have been handed the position to affect the much-needed change are not doing anything about it. Unfortunately, these people would build high walls around their homes soon after they are voted thereby preventing you from confronting them to discharge their constitutional duties. So you resolve to complain which leads to hatred for them and probably for our beloved country. I am sure a few others choose not to complain anymore.
Frankly, I used to be in the category of those complaining. But I later found a glimmer of hope in the dark cloud of our challenges as a people. In this case, how we pick our leaders through elections? I started by going back to how incompetent persons assume elective positions or get appointed into public offices. I discovered that the same people who complain of bad leadership are the same people who in different ways paved the way for these incompetent and corrupt individuals into the public offices. They often say that they are left with no choices during elections. The reason is simple; so many people are afraid of intimidation, others would rather sell their votes, while many would rather stay on the offence. It is by this reasoning that I and a group of experts in information technology decided to design a platform that would give Nigerians and Africans the opportunity to vote securely and rightly using a full-proof digital data management platform. This technology would put the power of credible voting process in the hands of a majority of Nigerians and Africans at large.
What difference could this make, seeing that it could still be subject to human manipulations?
If approved this technology will give people the latitude to vote comfortably from anywhere in the world during elections and to also watch their votes realtime. With this people can now vote without fear or favour. Even if a politician bribes you to vote for him or her you can now vote against such person without him/her watching. It is the need to create a better way to cast our votes that led to the creation of Digital Voting System (DVS).
Specifically, what problem does the technology solve?
The problems have been clearly outlined in my answers to the previous question but for emphasis, the current mode of voting is porous thereby giving room for irregularities like vote-buying, rigging, electoral violence and other vices and this is proven by the many court cases after every election in each election year. If Nigeria and the leadership of Nigeria sincerely mean to fight corruption as they claim then Digital Voting System must be adopted into the voting process to aid the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conduct a free, fair and credible election. Ola Rotimi in his play, The Gods Are Not to Blame, stated that when trees fall on trees, first the topmost must be removed. If we seek to cure our nation of her many illnesses then we must accept the fact that we are in a jet age now; the analogue way of doing things must be changed, for change is the only constant thing in life.
How does DVS work?
If you have a bank account and you have a Bank Verification Number (BVN) then you are qualified to vote, whether you are in Nigeria or in the diaspora. This would also encourage more Nigerians to open bank accounts with authentic details and would help our nation greatly, because before now it was difficult to ascertain most people’s identity, especially age, as many give false age declarations for the sake of a job or other relevant reasons.
Now how it works. Let’s take, for instance, a party’s presidential candidate. With Digital Voting System, a candidate’s particulars like name, picture, party name and logo are in a data system. So, if anyone is willing to follow the vote cast realtime they could identify who and what party the candidate belongs to when they log in. For the voters, depending on your network service provider, we would provide codes for the respective telecommunications service provider. For, say an MTN user, who wants to vote for say, Labour Party, you just text a particular code to a short code. The system resets automatically after three (3) hours to give room to another set of votes cast for the same day. Everyone could follow the votes cast realtime from anywhere in the world. It’s that simple and transparent. Mind you, only the phone number associated with your BVN is valid for the vote cast. Twelve months before the election in each election year there would be continues voter’s sensitisation and education so that people don’t make mistakes.
Do you think Nigeria is ready for this transition?
Nigeria is absolutely ready for a transition from analogue to the technology-based electoral process. If you agree with me, the country has already gone techy. How do I mean? Over 60 per cent of the entire country’s population is youth, and the majority of them are moving with technology trends driven by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This is already entrenched in Nigeria. We have the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and many agencies that have laid a perfect template for taking off. INEC would just be grateful and Nigerians would be happier should this be berthed before the next major elections.
Beyond electoral anomalies, what do you think is the reason for bad leadership in Nigeria?
Greed! Greed and the quest for power have eaten so much into the crop of leadership we have at the moment. Leadership is supposed to be in the hands of people who are willing to serve the people’s interest. Leadership isn’t arrogant; leadership isn’t pompous; leadership is about selflessness. It is about the people. The likes of Thomas Sankara and Nelson Mandela should be our reference points in Africa. Ghana just launched her own homemade plane. Rwanda as a country started again in 1994 after the genocide. Despite the pain and loses, Rwanda is one of the best countries in the world today. Greed and self-interest are the major factors here, and until we as a people produce leaders without religious, ethnic and tribal sentiments until we elect leaders based on merit we will continue to suffer all these pains.
Could that be the reason many Nigerians are leaving the country in droves?
I personally have been travelling abroad, but I always return home. Why? Because there is no place like home. If we all run away who will fix our decaying country for us? All hands must be on deck in the struggle to regain the lost glory days of Nigeria. They go out and start insulting Nigeria on the pages of social media. That is very wrong because they are complicating the matter by driving investors away from here. I have seen PhD holders driving taxis in London and America. Now, don’t tell me it’s because you want a greener pasture! You are not just patriotic. If Mandela and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and the rest of black liberators travelled out of their home countries in the name of looking for greener lands, would we be reading about their heroic acts today? The answer is no. The greed and self-interest we talked about earlier and condemned are the same sins they are guilty of. They are just greedy and selfish.
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