Buoyed by the results he said was transmitted to a server, Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the 2019 general election, had approached the courts to declare him the winner.
The results Mr Abubakar brought before the tribunal which relied on “www.factsdontlieng.com” claimed he won the election by over one million votes.
However, the inability of his counsel to either establish the owners of the website (which is currently down) or that INEC, Nigeria’s electoral commission, had a server laid his claim to rest and affirmed the victory of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari.
“I agree entirely with the court below that the appellants failed to prove that INEC has the server from which they got their figures,” the Supreme Court lead justice on the case, Inyang Okoro, said.
“As a result, all the results, calculations and analysis based on the results claimed, are of no moment,” he added.
INEC would even describe the claim it had a server as “the greatest lie of the century.”
The server imbroglio remains one of the most controversial memories from that election. And as the country eyes 2023 elections, the question around the live transmission of results may poke its head again.
So, server or not, embracing the use of technology to ensure transparency and credibility in the coming election will be key.
Already the voting system in Nigeria has evolved, credit in large part to late President Umaru Yar’Adua who admitted, in 2007, that the election that brought him into office was “less than perfect” and election observers described it as “a charade.”
Nigeria’s elections have graduated to the use of permanent voter cards (PVC) which is verified by electronic card readers to identify and accredit voters.
Evolution of voting technology
From the days of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and now the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria has explored different voting technology peculiar to both the open (or queuing) and secret ballot systems.
The open ballot system used after Ibrahim Babangida’s transition was seen as making voters susceptible to the prying eyes of politicians who can easily deduce electorates’ choice of candidates by the queue they join during an election exercise. Hence, the secret ballot.
Regardless, the evolution of voting technology has enhanced the country’s democratic process against electoral malpractices by contributing to the upgrade from Nigeria’s outdated legacy voting system largely dependent on inaccurate paper records to Electronic Voting System (EVS) and Electronic Voters Register (EVR) which has minimised inconsistencies in the electoral process.
In the quest to minimize election fraud and rigging, in 2015, INEC introduced smart card readers for the verification of voters and voting cards. This technological progression, to an extent, gave credence to the credibility of the 2015 election as many judged it as the freest and fairest election the commission has conducted since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.
By that, Nigeria joined no fewer than 25 African countries like Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Mali, Togo, and Ghana that have already held elections employing technology-compliant techniques like biometric voter registers.
While electoral processes have by no means become fully electronic yet, a study has revealed that the introduction of smart card technology has helped in reducing the spate of electoral irregularities.
While the study found that several challenges like low battery life, poorly trained INEC ad-hoc staff as well malfunctioning of the cards have affected the smart card readers, it said the employment of further ICT devices in election management systems will help in curbing some elections malpractices.
The director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the introduction of card readers “revolutionised the election process” and made it difficult for politicians to alter the will of the people.
“It is important to point out that card readers have helped in reducing electoral fraud.
“It was when Nigeria started using the card reader that the turnout and the number of votes cast reduced,” she said.
She added that the smart card reader unruffled politicians so much that it caused electoral violence to increase. Vote-buying also became rampant electoral sabotage used to cheat during elections. This explains why more Nigerians have continued to call for the introduction of better technology to enhance transparent voting and transmission of results.
A challenge we need to use technology to solve is the simplification of result collation by improved infrastructure like power and road, Ms Hassan noted. This, she said, would reduce financial and human costs and risks during elections.
By that, “electronic transmission of results would be that in a twinkle of an eye. There would be no need to say that it will take me two days, it comes faster. All the waiting won’t be there as they will get the results automatically.”
“I think this is doable since INEC has also achieved some important milestones. If you look at the two off-cycle elections in Edo and Ondo, you will find that when they brought the result of the Edo election viewing platforms, it took some time before they could upload it.
“But by the time they introduced it in Ondo, in a twinkle of an eye they were able to deal with it, in less than 24 hours all the results were online. Interference was very minimal. All these we are talking about is the baby step, think of when we fully go digital, how easy everything would be,” the CDD boss told PREMIUM TIMES.
On his part, a programme officer at CDD, Austin Aigbe, said printing currency-sized ballots would save human and accidental costs running into billions of naira as well as address vote-buying and other electoral frauds.
Across the border
Ghana’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which was used in the 2011 general elections in the West African country as a digital register to eliminate double voting, helped the country to curb electoral malpractices.
Jaè Yalley, a Nigerian-Ghanaian who was an election official during Ghana’s presidential election last year, said the deployment of technology during the election is “pretty impressive compared with what we have in Nigeria. It’s easier, to an extent.”
“As an electorate in Ghana, you have a unique number with which you can vote even without your card,” she said; adding that the unique number also helps the government to deduct tax from private individual revenue sources.
The United States has also adopted the use of touch screens for voters to mark choices, scanners to read paper ballots, scanners to verify signatures on envelopes of absentee ballots, and web servers to display tallies to the public. Aside from voting, there are also computer systems to maintain voter registrations and display these electoral rolls to polling place staff. Rather than hand-counting, machine-counting is used to ease the tasks of election offices which may have to handle thousands of ballots, with an average of 17 candidates per ballot.
While INEC’s introduction of biometric voters’ cards commonly known as the PVC and the SCR revolutionised the accreditation of voters during elections, Africa’s largest democracy still needs to take a step further in full automation of the electoral process.
In its catalogue of recent significant innovations in the electoral process, the commission boasts of biometric technology for the registration of new voters as well as the accreditation of registered voters using the SCR while it has not fully digitalised the transmission of results in real-time.
The Mahmood Yakubu-led commission, for the first since the dawn of independence, uploads polling unit level results in real-time on election day to a portal for public view. A feat Ghana and few Africa countries are already used to was first used during the September 2020 Governorship Election in Edo State.
“Most significantly, the commission now uploads polling unit level results in real-time on Election Day to a portal for public view. These are significant innovations that have deepened the transparency and credibility of elections and the electoral process in Nigeria,” INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood, said.
Nevertheless, the commission is yet to oversee an election using electronic voting machines (EVMs). Yet, Mr Mahmood is optimistic as he said the commission will test-run the technology during the upcoming November 6 governorship election in Anambra State.
“Let me reassure Nigerians that the commission is committed to expediting the process leading to the deployment of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections in earnest,” the INEC boss assured, as Nigerians also await the Senate’s passage of the amendments to the electoral law to give the move its due legal backing.
Technology with principle
Ms Hassan said while technology is key, the security of the technology is just as important.
“How do we secure technology? That is what the country should be emphasising. We should not focus on using technology, but also how cyber secure we are as a country.
“Our major focus should be having guarding principles for the technology we want to use, not just having technology for technology’s sake. What will be the impact of the technology? How transparent and ethical would that technology be? In particular, the security of the technology. How secure is it? What are the security issues around this new technology we aspire for? Then when we have results on our platform we have to test the accuracy.
A report published by CDD after last year’s Ondo gubernatorial election showed that 79 per cent of the state’s polling units uploaded the completed Form EC 8A on the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) platform within five hours after voting ended. This increased to 93 per cent after seven hours, with all forms uploaded within 24 hours.
“Something we have not done in this country is privacy. We do technology and we say we put everything online for instance. Let’s say voters register, for instance, What are the ethics? What are the privacy rules that actually guide this? We need to have privacy rule and security as part of election technology guiding principles.”
She added that while the controversies around the electoral server linger – even though we have a result viewing platform – “the concern is how do we take it to the next step? The thing is, how are we preparing to go beyond seeing just the result to the actual tallies.”
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of reports to improve Nigeria’s electoral system. The report is a partnership between Premium Times and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).