As Nigeria approaches another general election on the 25th of February 2023, it is important to say that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have come a long way in the actualisation of the electronic mode of voting in Nigeria. Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and a few other African nations have adopted electronic voting systems in one form or the other. The bone of contention in Nigeria has always been whether to transmit election results electronically such that as voting is concluded in a polling unit, the results are collated and transmitted to electronically to the central database. This is to avoid manipulation of results that has plagued Nigeria for years. These manipulations lead to violence by aggrieved parties and in many cases endless court battles.
Nigeria’s 4G penetration now stands at 77 percent according to Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo with major efforts ongoing on the 5G side and with a teledensity of about 100 percent, Nigeria could be a great testing ground for a complete digital voting, the kind the continent has not seen before.
This kind of voting system would allow people vote using their internet connectivity securely from any location having been authenticated using your national identity and other useful biodata. This would allow Nigerians in diaspora send in their votes and contribute to nation building. As it stands today, many Nigerians living overseas cannot vote even as they wish to.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2022 remittance data according to the World Bank and as seen in Nairametrics,
According to the World Bank, the increase in remittance inflow into Sub-Saharan Africa is due in large part to a resumption of stronger flows to Nigeria, reaching $19.5 billion on the growth of 13.2 per cent.
- According to the World Bank, high-frequency remittance data for 2022 for Kenya and Nigeria reveal remittances were expected to fall in 2022.
- Nigeria however, witnessed a sharp recovery in flows during 2021 (13.2 per cent), maintaining the improved momentum of 2021 into the first quarter of 2022.
- However, growth fell in Q2 data to 0.5% vis-à-vis the same period of 2021
- Nigeria’s remittance inflows have averaged $21 billion since 2014 with $24.3 billion and $17.2 billion is the highest and lowest recorded in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
What the numbers tell us is that Nigeria has a sizeable and robust diaspora community and with $20b being sent home annually, it’s fair that this group of Nigerians be given a voice in the electoral process. It’s a tough road to take but it will be worth it eventually. That way, we will know that no Nigerian is left out of the process and after all countries like Kenya, Angola, South Africa, Ghana, and Mozambique have already put systems in place for their citizens living abroad to vote and have a voice in elections at home. This is one the biggest problems digital voting can solve and Nigeria with the largest diaspora community should not be left out of this move. That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing this as we will see below.
Potentials of a wide-scale Digital Voting in Africa
Digital voting in Africa has the potential to save African democracy by addressing some of the challenges that have traditionally hindered democratic processes. Here are a few reasons why:
- Increased accessibility – Digital voting systems can make it easier for individuals to participate, especially those with disabilities or who live in remote areas, thereby increasing representation and inclusiveness in the democratic process. The number of smartphone users in Nigeria is set to reach 140 million by 2025 at a time the population is projected to hit 230 million. As more and more people have access to these phones, it increases the accessibility of Nigerian who can vote digitally. Many countries including Brazil, India and the Philippines already have some form of digtial voting in place whether it be machines at polling units or via the internet.
- Improved efficiency – Digital systems can reduce the time and resources needed for counting and reporting results, allowing for quicker and more accurate election outcomes.
- Enhanced transparency – Digital systems can improve transparency by reducing the potential for human error and increasing the ability to track and monitor the voting process.
- Increased voter participation – Digital systems may increase voter turnout by making it more convenient for citizens to cast a vote, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of election outcomes.
- Enhanced accuracy – digital systems can reduce the potential for human error in the voting process.
Arguments against Digital Voting in Africa
There are several reasons why digital voting is not yet ready for widespread adoption in Africa:
- Lack of infrastructure: In many African countries, there is limited access to reliable internet and technology, making it difficult to implement and administer a secure digital voting system. But Nigeria has made giant strides in infrastructure development in the last eight years with the building of several Tier 3 data centres across the country. More needs to be done and can be absolutely achieved.
- Cybersecurity concerns: Digital voting systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks, which can compromise the integrity of the election results. Many African countries lack the capacity and resources to adequately protect against these threats.
- Technical know-how: Implementing a secure and reliable digital voting system requires a high level of technical expertise, which is often lacking in African countries.
- Lack of trust: There is a lack of public trust in the technology, which can lead to low voter turnout and reduced legitimacy of the election results.
- Cost: Digital voting systems can be expensive to implement and maintain, which is a challenge in many African countries with limited budgets.
Realistic Risks of Digital Voting
- Security concerns – the threat of hacking and tampering with the results, leading to incorrect outcomes.
- Technical issues – hardware and software malfunctions leading to errors, inability to cast votes, or system crashes.
- Privacy concerns – personal data and voting information could be vulnerable to theft and abuse.
- Lack of transparency – digital voting systems may not allow for audits or recounts, making it difficult to verify results. As with any technology, the admin (INEC) can decide to make public what it deems fit and this could affect even court processes. If you recall what happened in the 2019 elections where the candidate of the PDP Alhaji Atiku Abubakar went to court to demand the release of a server, INEC repeatedly denied that such a server exists, and the rest is history even when there was evidence to the contrary.
It’s important to balance the risks and rewards when considering the adoption of digital voting systems, and to ensure that robust security measures are in place to protect the integrity of the vote. Nigeria has a large tech community at home and abroad and this should be explored to come up with ways to implement a fair digital voting system that would allow for transparency and little to no election rigging. Maybe the composition of INEC has to change as well to allow for more digitally inclined leaders on the Commission’s board.
Digital voting is inevitable as technology continues to evolve and as Nigeria had led the way in digital currency and a local payment card, the country can begin to look into this and take the lead eventually just byt eh sheer size of the population and quality human capital.