To curb all electoral malfeasance, electronic voting is the answer, says Awodiya
Daniel Awodiya, Ph.D. (Professor at the Department of Mass Communication, Delaware State University, USA; author of several communication textbooks (latest work to be published in May, 2019 is titled: This is Persuasion: The Art and Science of Mind Management); president and CEO of Springboard Communications and publisher of Varsity Times magazine) reviews processes and challenges that characterized 2019 general elections and declares, ‘to curb all electoral malfeasance, electronic voting is the future.’
What is your take on (the process of) the last elections?
The process I thought was in response to the situation prevailing in the country, taking into consideration the culture, politics, and nature of the people. I believe that there are enough intelligent people at the helms who understood the system and designed a peculiar election process for the country. But looking from outside, one would wonder why certain processes were not perfected before Election Day, given the ample time INEC had to prepare for the election. Let’s start with the PVCs. This has to be a form of national identity card by default. While so many were captured, quite a number did not collect theirs. An incentive should have been put in place to attract those who already registered to come forward to collect them. Make them available at the post office, banks, schools, churches, mosques, etc. After all, the computer server used has back-up data of all who registered in each polling area and these are also available to the political parties. The process of capturing voters through PVC registration should continue in anticipation of the next election cycle. Card readers are put in place to further authenticate the voters, but this could have been done prior to the election times. When I go to vote in my polling area here in Delaware, the process is swift because the process of authentication had been done prior to the voting day. A list of all the voters, their names and addresses is already in place. I present my valid driver’s license, which contains my name, my social security number (Everyone has a social security number), and my address. Then my name is cleared to vote. Before entering the secret enclosure to vote, an official says loudly (for audio recording) that “Daniel Awodiya is now voting.”
All the names of the contestants and their party affiliations are listed on a board for the voter to press his or her choices and at the end of all the choices, I pull the level for the computer to record all of my choices and to clear the board for the next voter. The records are simultaneously recorded at many different computer locations, thereby limiting and or eliminating fraud. Postponement of the elections was a terrible occurrence and more absurd was the reasons given for shifting the dates. INEC cited weather and logistic problems in addition to power and telephony network problems? With proper preparation and adequate preventive measures to eliminate tampering, all the materials needed for election should be available at the local levels. Again, invalidating so many votes is a concern as it may indicate nefarious intent and delegitimize the election process and lead to voter apathy. All things considered, the election process receives a grade of C+ for process, and a B+ for preventing violence. The overall grade is a B.
What do you make of the seeming militarization of the process in some volatile states, especially in the South-South?
Normally, it is the job of the military to defend and preserve the territorial sovereignty of a country by fighting wars and defending national borders against any invading army. However, often they are called upon to help maintain law and order in cases of emergencies such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flood, devastating blizzards, and other natural disasters. This is because the local police authorities may not have the personnel, firepower, and other logistics to maintain peace. In this clime, when there is apparent need for such military intervention, state governors may call the military reserves (personnel) to action and, in the case of national emergencies, the president exercises the power to call the military to action. These are the only cases when the military/reserves get involved in domestic affairs.
But elections in Nigeria historically had been a national security issue – consequently a national emergency. As such, this had necessitated the drafting of the military (because of perceived non-partisanship, integrity, and wholesome power) to maintain law and order and to ensure the peaceful exercise of suffrage, which may otherwise degenerate into anarchy.
The current militarization of the election processes in Nigeria, especially in so-called volatile states, is a serious indictment of the police in the country. If the police were equipped to do their job without fear or favour, then there would be no need to invite the military. But the police in its present state cannot be trusted to maintain law and order, cannot be adjudged to be non-partisan, and cannot be expected at this most sensitive time to depart from what we have collectively known to be their modus operandi—extract bribe from the innocent and demand payout from unscrupulous politicians in exchange for “looking the other way.”
Sorry, the police in Nigeria lack the integrity and credibility to conduct a free and fair election.
Essentially because we know the type of police we have, we cannot leave them to their own devices! This in a way is a serious indictment of the nation as a whole. All said, the use of the military can be intimidating and nonetheless interpreted as an attempt to muscle the opponents, especially that the army takes instructions from the President, who is the commander-In-Chief. And who is to say that the army brass would not support the party of their overall boss. But with the integrity of President Buhari, the assumption of orchestrated collusion is doubtful.
Do you think the security situation in those areas would have degenerated without the military presence (involvement)?
Absolutely. Without the Military taking control of the situation, things would have gotten out of hand, especially with the reality that there is a deluge of arms and ammunition in the hands of civilians, who are not constrained to use them to intimidate and inflict terror on others. Lessons of the past elections should not be lost on any of us watching the situation.
In the US, how involved is the military in the process of elections?
As indicated earlier, the Military is not involved at all in the US elections. At polling booths you usually have election officials representing both sides, and one police squad car with an officer present to keep the peace. Remember that it is a serious offence to tamper with the election process, including causing disruption of any kind in and around the polling area, just as in any part of the city, town, village or area. It is a more serious offence to disturb the police from doing their job and more so when patrolling the polling area.
More egregious is the act of battery against anyone and the police, especially during an election. The charges would include: assault, disturbing the peace, attempt to subvert democratic election, aggravated assault against an officer of the law and the State, and willful disregard for the welfare of others. All of these have mandatory sentencing time in jail. Cumulatively, an offender may be looking at 20 years or more in prison. Plus, there is no party leader, who would ever want to associate with such an offender, let alone stand surety to bail the offender out of jail before trial. In essence, this is a country of laws and efficient policing. The battle to win an election is a public battle of persuasion and propaganda and not of using force of any kind to harass or assault anyone in the exercise of his or her right to choose a leader. The law is clear on that and the system is efficient as much as it is humanly possible.
Do you think voter apathy was due to voter intimidation and fear of insecurity?
Naturally, the first order is self-preservation. So, if the process is fraught with hooliganism and nefarious activities by thugs and political hirelings who are not sanctioned by the police, what would one do? It is either you have a nation of laws where those who offend are dealt with judiciously, or you have a state of anomie where the unscrupulous reign supreme through intimidation and violence. The decent majority will shun such a situation that would bring them harm and for which there would no sanction against the perpetrators. The state of the economy, unfathomable corruption of the ruling elite, especially the incorrigibility of law makers who gulp a sizable percent of the nation’s expenditure, and the hopelessness of the young, all contribute to voter apathy in the country. What we need is political conscientization, not only of the general population of their political rights and duty, but especially of the elite of their duty to their nation and the need to bequeath a legacy of national pride of political, economic and cultural emancipation to the citizenry.
The political elite in Nigeria who is charged with building strong institutions and creating sustainable development in the nation is busy pillaging the resources of the country to the utter detriment of their own people, their family, their children, and the future of their black race. Never has the world witnessed such a depravity.
While other races are busy building a promise, a future for their own, the Nigerian ruling class in his reprobation is busy tearing his house apart and ensuring the enslavement of its children. Why? Ignorance and philosophical bereftness of the essence of life has led the elite to amass gluttonous amount of wealth that has only exposed his lack of wisdom.
How can political inducement, electoral violence and vote-buying be curbed?
As we advance in our nascent republic, any infraction of the law should be deterred by severe punishment. Mandate these infractions as severe crimes and punish offenders accordingly.
For instance, if anyone were to be proven to have committed any of the offences mentioned, not only should he or she be put away, the politicians on whose behest the crime was committed should be banned from ever contesting an election at any level in the country. This should be a one strike and you are out situation. The future of our democracy and, indeed, our country’s future depend on this.
Understanding the Nigerian context informs that we should have a tribunal for electoral offences, fraud against the Federal, State, and Local governments, and kidnapping.
From your observations, have Nigerians, more so, INEC, learned anything from the 2015 elections?
There were lessons learned, but no instructions to the effect. The politicians have been more brazen in using thugs and miscreants to intimidate voters and cause mayhem in order to disrupt elections. A significant number of the electorate has not been captured for PVC issuance and the collection of same has not been better served by experience. An instruction from lessons learned was the use of the military because in Nigeria, elections are a national emergency!
What is your take on electronic voting and the wastage in Nigerian elections – printing of ballot and other sensitive materials, cost of logistics and personnel, etc?
Electronic voting is the future and INEC should get on the bandwagon and learn the system and perfect it for subsequent elections. Come to think of it, Nigeria is on a fast track at electronic banking and internet access and should extend such to elections. In most cases, the systems are built as plug and play and should not be challenging to the least educated and exposed of the electorate. The money saved from not using paper, transporting materials and unnecessary personnel should be shifted to IT systems and experts. Challenges of hacking and other cheating algorithms can be avoided with adequate training and purchase of necessary software.
Can’t the elections be held in one day?
Yes, all the elections can be held in one day, but with the current system, that would mean longer lines and longer time for the electorate to cast their ballots. If the process is so involved and time consuming and probably so overwhelming, the electorate will stay off. Again, scattered elections have its advantages such as providing a check on the executive branch of government in mid-term elections. If elections to the House of Representatives are scheduled two years after that of the Presidential, the electorate is giving an opportunity to evaluate the performance of the party in power and reflect on their choices for the House election. Same goes for Governorship and State Assembly elections.
Proliferation of political parties in the country, over 70 participated in the last elections, couldn’t that have undermined the process?
There is much argument against having multiplicity of political parties in a country of 170Million people. On one hand, it is a good development that many feel enfranchised and emboldened by our democratic body politic that they chose to float their political parties. It seemed that every ideology, no matter how flimsy, deserves a following, and that every ethnic folk hero is under the illusion of a national following. The process of pruning will follow whereby not too dissimilar political ideologies would merge and consolidate across the nation.
INEC should set a standard for the political parties to follow which should include the showings in the just concluded election. For example if a political party did not poll a certain percentage of the electorate, with a particular percentage spread across the nation should be deregistered. This would force the mushroom political parties to seek allegiances and mergers to consolidate their viability. There is a danger in the over fragmentation of philosophies and ideologies and of the masses across these fault lines that may become unnecessary battle lines. We should learn to work together, build alliances across tribal and ideological lines to forge a common future of national identity. INEC should organize seminars and workshops directed at political leaders in political organizing, bridge building, and ideological realignment. I offer my expertise in this regard.
Nigeria Diaspora support for Buhari (NDB), what is your next line of action?
NDB has morphed into a good governance pressure group to support the Buhari Administration’s agenda of fighting the malignant tumor of corruption in Nigeria. The next level agenda of advancing prosperity, maintaining security and stability, is a focal point and the lenses through which we see and measure the performance of subsequent administrations in Nigeria. We cannot and should not go back to the deplorable situation of the past when wanton gluttony prevailed and selfish, blind, and reprobate ambition of a few had denied our younger generations of a decent country where there should have been abundant job opportunities, enviable infrastructure, strong and enduring institutions, breakthroughs in science and technology, elevation of the rule of law over and above megalomania.
NDB is committed to ensuring the development of Nigeria – an ideal and practice to which we agree the Buhari Administration is equally committed. We aim to engage all Nigerians in developing political consciousness and participation necessary to ensuring enduring development. Alliances are being forged with international organizations and institutions, all associations of Nigerians abroad, and with progressive organizations in Nigeria. This is a selfless, but nationalistic endeavour designed to guaranteeing a great future for the Nigerian people and to place the most populous African nation on the pedestal of good governance, as a beacon of hope for all other African nations and to gain the respect of all other nations.
What is your take on the agitation for restructuring?
I reason that the structure of Nigeria needs tweaking. The design left by the British suited the colonial masters, but with introspection, we should realize that we must make Nigeria work for us and not continue to maintain a patchwork of British hegemony.
The current structure of an ultra powerful Federal Government is a tool for anchoring down individual, state and regional development. The end result is the anchoring down of a nation whose people are individually and collectively far more advanced in their consciousness than their government and physical environment, but who cannot proffer and embark on radical solutions to their problems. Many Federal officials hide under the illusion of anonymity to perpetrate heinous crimes of corruption against a faceless Federal Government because they are far removed from the people they should represent. Often their actions and inactions are instructed by their religious affiliation, tribalism, and pure incompetence.
Permanent Secretaries have jurisdiction over stupendous revenue and expenditure and control national assets that are far better handled at the state level. Let’s have Federal departments and a handful officers for each of the ministries represented in the states to executive and monitor Federal programmes. These people would be closer to the people in their locals and can be pressured for good governance.
The expense of maintaining a bloated House of Assembly and Senate eventually will drown the Nigerian economy. As reported, the legislature in Nigeria gulps a sizable chunk of the country’s recurrent expenditure, thus making it the highest paid in the world! This is not only ludicrous, but also criminal. The answer is part time Federal legislators who would be fused with the State legislators and attend periodic meetings at the center. I will soon publish a treatise on this issue.
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