Ready since yesterday!

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music- Anonymous

My lords, save for the fact that our religious leaders would be terrified at me for advancing a course that would keep the Sheep away from the worship centers, I would have prayed the coronavirus disease still stayed around a little while, so we can have torrents of straight-forward thinking we need as a country. Quite frankly, one of the things this pandemic has changed in Nigeria is the way (right or wrong) our political leaders and their appointees have begun to think. I mean, who would have expected that the government of Kogi state could invent a mobile application for the detection and prevention of coronavirus infection? Oh, I heard Kogi now has two active cases. Well, life happened, mobile application is not that reliable, and as I will later seriously prove today – no use of technology anywhere in the world has proven to be infallible.

Recently, INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made it known that E-voting would be gradually deployed for the 2021 election due to some current health and legal issues. While these may have been the primary reasons, there are however more than a thousand and one reasons to show that prevailing circumstances don’t just make it necessary to deploy e-voting, but that Nigeria is equally ready to blend with the changes.

My lords, regardless of any situation, elections are necessary in a democratic society in order to give legitimacy to the government. What may change, if there is a prevailing circumstance that makes following the norm risky, is the process by which the election is conducted. Now, considering the increasing rate of the pandemic in Nigeria, a case is made for a risky conduct of the paper-ballot elections by 2021. What we are then left with is to mitigate the health risks, flip the switch and turn to e-voting. True, a lot of technicalities are involved in e-voting, but the very first step has to be taken if we must move forward as a country.

With the technicalities of E-voting, I am not oblivious of the surprise and difficulty that may spring up at anytime. Quite alright, successful use of technology for election is not like learning the multiplication table; it would prove more complex. However, I am not the type who would back down from adopting a thing because of its probability of proving difficult along the line. Now that we understand this, instead of abandoning e-voting, we can make enough room for tackling its excesses. Notably, we can adopt robust IT policies and programs, prevent the processes from vulnerabilities by using a software architecture system, with several layers of encryption that are difficult to break in by hackers. Yes, all these are not that simple, but at the same time, they are not rocket science. With the right attention, we can fit all square pegs in their appropriate holes.

My lords, by now, except we are part of the problem, we should have grown tired of the massacre of countrymen that followed past elections. It was reported that more than a thousand lives, including those of youth corp members, were lost to the 2011 general election. The grievous threat to lives and properties that follow paper-ballot elections is very alarming. Besides, these elections are usually marred with fraud, delay in announcement of results championed by avoidable human errors, snatching of ballot boxes and many more unprintable acts. With people casting their votes from the convenience of their bedroom, all these would fizzle out in no time.

Permit me to call to the stand Liam Mizhain-Gobin and his colleagues to enlighten this court on the outcome of their research on e-voting in Canada. They cited online voting as a policy change that brought together youth and elders in meaningful dialogue thereby advancing citizens’ engagement and inculcating civic duties. Also, with e-voting, Nigeria can involve her citizens in the diaspora to have a say in the election. Doing all these would mean taking a giant stride towards restoring public trust in the election process, and what better way to begin building a country than purifying the electoral process?

Finally, it was the great people of China that first penned down the popular saying the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Unknown to many, Nigeria has successfully taken the first few steps when the introduction of card readers and electronic accreditation was done into the electoral system. Commendably, the National Assembly is taking another step to accommodate e-voting in our electoral laws. Why then should anyone kick against E-voting by 2021? No reason, my lords! Except, of course, they are the mere dissenting voices to the truth we all speak!

Absolutely not!

The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work extremely well – Jeff Ribman.

My lords, as a well-meaning Nigerian, my only constant prayer for this country has been that we waken from the fantasy that has become part of our daily lives before the rest of the world leave us behind. But with the recent news of INEC’s plan to adopt e-voting in 2021, I am afraid even God will be too amused with a country replete with humours to grant my heartfelt prayers. As if it were a de facto ring with the powers of say-all and do-all, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared that starting 2021, the Commission will adopt electronic voting system for the country, experimenting first with the Edo and Osun gubernatorial elections.

However, the sad reality is that the Nigeria of today, which does not seem capable of change in the next few years, is not ready for this bump in its electoral system.
My lords, before the opponent sweet-talk you into believing that the country is ready for the adoption of electronic voting because it turned out just fine when Kaduna tested it out with their local government elections, it is important to set the records straight. Adopting an electronic voting system at the state or federal level requires some formalities that are unnecessary at the local government level. A bill has to be enacted to amend the operational Electoral Act; and from records about how our parliament works, it may take a year or even more to pass a Bill to its final reading. Even if the National Assembly gives this amendment bill the unusual honour of accelerated reading, it may still be frustrated by the decline of presidential assent; and that would not be a new thing under the Buhari administration where four previous Electoral Amendment Bills have been vetoed.

In all sincerity, my lords, I wish this was no longer true about this country but the true image of Nigeria in the community of nations is that of a “fantastically corrupt country”. Despite Sai Baba’s vehement sermonizing and calculated prosecutions under his administration, corruption and related offences remain the order of the day. Since you cannot work at a kennel without having to deal with dog poop, over the years, INEC has had to deal with the recurrence of electoral malpractices. With the adoption of e-voting in 2021, it only means that electoral malpractices in Nigeria will become tech-enhanced. The thousands of hackers looming the country secretly will then find a better job than infiltrating social media accounts, become ready tools in the hands of corrupt political aspirants and maybe, for the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria, one Presidential candidate will amass 100% of vote cast.

My lords, the tale of the electoral process in Nigeria has been that of an unavoidable evil that citizens dread but cannot avoid. At every general election, the electorates look up only to the opportunity to vote out incumbent oppressive governments but somehow they have been made to believe that their votes do not count; and the result of this is that mistrust continues to pile up in the hearts of the masses towards the Electoral Commission. In fact, the history of elections in the Fourth Republic has been marked by decreasing rate of electorate participation: in the 1999 elections, voter turnout was 52%, in 2003, it rose to 69% but fell back to 57% in 2007, 54 in 2011, 44% in 2015 and 35% in 2019. To introduce a not-so-confident voting system out of the blue just few months to elections is highly suspicious and will only spike up the mistrust of the populace towards INEC.

Also, the adoption of e-voting in 2021 implies that the level of computer literacy within the country has improved significantly, particularly among the electorates. However, the reality of things in Nigeria proves otherwise. According to a report by Stears Business, only a third of the Nigerian total population is computer literate. If the high level of computer literacy among under-aged teenagers is considered, my lords will find that the level of computer literacy among the voters INEC wants to push electronic voting to is even disappointingly lower. Of course, my opponent will act INEC’ spokesperson and argue that INEC could embark on sensitization of voters on how to vote electronically. However, my one-million naira question is, how could INEC acquire technical gadgets, recruit technical personnel and train them, find enough time to go about the normally tedious electronic process and still train over a hundred million people on how to use a computer, all within a year? Beats me!

To cap it all, my lords, it is a die-hard fact that nations must progress technologically to catch up with present realities of their times. However, it is sheer foolishness to put the cart before the horse. In the case of the adoption of electronic voting in Nigeria, the country needs to put certain conditions in place first – provide the requisite legislative authorization, improve cyber-security, boost citizen’s confidence in the electorate process and improve computer literacy significantly. Until all these are done, my lords, I fear that Nigeria might never be ready for electronic voting in the nearest future.