Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Nigerian Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age

Written By

Daniel Taye Medoye and Mustafa Adedeji Tukur

Submitted: 13 April 2022 Reviewed: 14 April 2022 Published: 08 July 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.105073

Advances in Digital Transformation IntechOpen
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Abstract

The study acknowledged that the adoption of digitised technologies as tools for enhancing reliability in the conduct of elections is becoming more widely embraced globally and, therefore, sought to examine Nigeria’s experience in that context. The study noted that with the conduct of elections in the current age becoming sophisticated, as a result of the dynamics of technological advancements, the use of manual arrangements of elections is being reduced to the barest minimum. Consequently, this study sought to pay attention to the current status, challenges and evolving trends, and associated issues of election management, and the role of the government in Nigeria, through its designated institution, with a view to making projections for future considerations in election conduct and management. The study adopted a literature-based approach to underpin the context and consequently provided analytical reviews of some notable and actual occurrences that characterised the actual conduct of elections in recent past in the country. The study noted the significance of an enabling legislation, as enacted by the government, to govern election management in the country and concluded by suggesting measures considered relevant to maintain and support a digitised electoral process in Nigeria, including ensuring relatively reliable and stable power supply and the acquisition and effective deployment of relevant ICT-enabled electoral devices, among other resources.

Keywords

  • elections
  • democracy
  • electoral system
  • electoral law
  • digitization

1. Introduction

The adoption of digitised technologies as tools for enhancing reliability in the conduct of elections is becoming more widely embraced globally, as countries across the world are opening up to the electoral digitalisation processes in enriching their democratic profiles, and adding some positive values to the changing civic space. The digital revolution has not also left the African countries behind, as most elections recently conducted in some countries on the continent have taken the path of digital technologies with the adoption of such innovative measures as biometric voter registration, smart card readers, optimal mark recognition, direct electronic recording, and electronic result transmission. The rationale behind the technological revolution in the conduct of elections could be premised on the need to mitigate electoral malpractices and promote the desired credibility in the electoral management as a whole.

This study sought to examine election and democracy in a digital age, with the view to highlighting the status, challenges and trends in the context of the Nigeria’s experience. This study is predicated on the pervasive desire of the majority of the Nigerian population to move away from the years of do or die, thuggery-laden election experience, a result of selfish interest as against a patriotic interest, to a robust, acceptable and scientific way of managing the process. It is a statement of fact that electioneering processes in Nigeria, as in other countries in Africa, had been marred with needless orgy of violence and destructions, just for the purposes of acquiring political power, and its associated benefit of economic power. As a measure of safeguard, and to tinker with the existing process, the legal framework to actualise the aspirations for a digitisation electoral process began in 2010, when the lawmakers engaged in the process of amending the hitherto electoral law, thus culminating into the new electoral law that has come to be. By an enabling constitutional provision therefore, Nigeria’s electoral system can unreservedly be argued to have assumed a digitised status, with the signing of the electoral bill into law (called Electoral Law 2022) by the President, Muhammadu Buhari. Expectedly, this development was greeted with palpable euphoria by a majority of Nigerians, and particularly the elite. The reasons for this pervasive and seeming of expression of acceptance can be understood in the context of the yearnings for a credible and transparent electoral process, much of which this study sought to highlight.

Undoubtedly, agitations and rumblings for an electoral law for the purposes of conducting, managing and regulating elections in the country had been in the wheels for over a decade. According to [1] Charles, Chris, and Udefuna, quoting Nwogu, the challenges associated with manual voting systems in Nigeria had led to the search for a better, efficient, reliable and effective voting system that will reduce electoral malpractices. Unfortunately, the efforts to synchronise a widely accepted body of legal provisions in that regard had consistently suffered one hiccup or another, as a result of divergent perspectives among the lawmakers, and which supposedly had to do with insinuations of their selfish interests and other non-altruistic agenda of the politicians who aligned with the move. Insinuations and commentaries point to the argument that the veiled intentions of suspect politicians, who will do anything to ensure that the status-quo remained. The ultimate motive is for the manipulation of the electoral process, seize power and ensure their continued perpetuation in office. Buoyed by the interest to contribute insights into the emerging discourses and commentaries on how to create and manage an acceptable electoral system, which will address the concerns of manipulated elections and the attendant consequences, this study became worthwhile and inevitable.

1.1 Study research questions

Against the authors’ concerns and interest as expressed in the introductory section above, this study sought to provide objective, but somewhat provocative responses to the following questions which include:

  • What are the challenges of the conduct of election in Nigeria prior to the new Electoral Law?

  • What does a digitised electoral system entail, in terms of components?

  • How much of impact will a digitised electoral system have on the practice of democracy in plural society like Nigeria?

  • What challenges could impede the smooth operation of a digitised electoral system, and how can these be minimised?

It must be noted that these questions are delimited to the Nigeria’s environment, and does not extend the scope of this study beyond the context.

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2. Methodology

The study is literature based, and this involves engaging relevant sources from which to draw a basis and strength for its eventual outcomes, particularly from previous related publications and write-ups. This is inevitable since the information to be deployed is essentially from secondary sources, but will be critically examined. In doing this, the author will consider a literature survey method to establish the relevant issues at stake in the context of this paper, and will accordingly do so in the course of the write-up. Furthermore, identified themes and findings there from will be critically examined with a view to arriving at fresh perspectives on how the Nigeria’s electoral system, in relation to the digital conduct of election and management can be maintained and sustained. This paper considered the identification of a relevant theoretical framework for the study, and follows with a rehash, albeit briefly, of the nature and manner of election in Nigeria from independence till the contemporary times of electoral system digitisation. The paper set to provide insights into the character of a typical Nigerian politician, whose pursuit of political power is imbued with desperation and selfish interest, regardless of the resulting consequences.

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3. Theoretical framework

Whilst there exist a considerable number of studies on the theories of elections, the authors of this project seek to apply the Behavioural Theory of Elections as the theoretical framework, among the other relevant theories such as the Voting theory; Altruism theory; Duverger’s theory, etc., to underpin the study. The theory focuses on highlighting the intricate and inseparable nexus between elections and democracy. According to [2] Bendor, Siegel, and Ting, “Behavioural Theory of elections is based on the notion that all actors - politicians as well as voters - are only boundedly rational”. The theory posits learning via trial and error: actions that surpass an actor’s aspiration level are more likely to be used in the future, while those that fall short are less likely to be tried later. This theory could be attributed to the rise of behavioural economics, which has tended to pose new challenges to the premise of rationality. Premised on the idea of adaptation, the authors construct formal models of party competition, turnout, and voters’ choices of candidates. These models predict substantial turnout levels, voters sorting into parties, and winning parties adopting centrist platforms. By this, the authors believed that in multiparty elections, voters are able to coordinate vote choices on majority-preferred candidates, while all candidates garner significant vote shares. Overall, the behavioural theory and its models produce macro-implications consistent with the data on elections, and they use plausible micro-assumptions about the cognitive capacities of politicians and voters. A computational model accompanies the book and can be used as a tool for further research. In a simple sense, this theory suggests that voters are guided by rationality. This implies that the tendency to cast a vote for a preferred candidate in an election by a voter is based on the candidate’s rational decision to do so, and not by any form of compulsive instinct. However, this study is genuinely aware of the shenanigans that often play out in the conduct of elections in the Nigeria’s environment, which tended to exhibit unethical manipulations, usually through bribery, cajoling, intimidations, etc. However, the relevance of this theory derives from the role of theoretical construction in research which, in the view of [3] Badejo, serves to observe, understand, explain, predict and control events or phenomena. For [4] Fajana, theory “helps in our understanding of events and problems in the practical world”. Therefore, the behavioural theory would be most appropriate to underpin this study. However, it needs be underscored that this study is not oblivious of the weakness associated with this theory, in terms of the claim of near-absolute rationality of the voter in how choices are made. The study admits that, the phenomenon of rationality may be subjective after all, as the decision to vote in any election is discretionary.

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4. Overview of Nigeria’s electoral system: literature survey

As indicated in the background/introduction section of this study, scholars including [1] Charles; Chris; and Udefuna, have succinctly alluded to the characteristics of elections in Nigeria as involving electoral brigandage, thuggery, violence and warfare. In corroborating this view, [5] Iyayi opines that elections in Nigeria being hitherto manually inclined, had been laden with massive frauds, the intimidation of political opponents, the brazen, subversion of the ‘sovereignty of the vote’ and needless but violent controversies. This presupposes that the history of election in Nigeria is replete with manipulations of varying proportions, characterised by fraud, bribery, massive rigging by violence and thuggery, which in most cases had resulted in chaos, destruction and killings by opposing contestants and opponents. In some cases, the involvement of security personnel has been occasioned, especially when incumbent public officials are bent on winning their elections, regardless of how they are perceived or adjudged by the electorate. In a historical context, the country called Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914 under the administration of Sir Frederick Lugard. According to [6] Akerele, the first election took place in 1922 under Sir Hugh Clifford, though of a restricted nature, as it was only to occupy certain legislative seats in both Lagos and Calabar, where legislative seats had been created after some level of agitations by a few elites, who had resisted the unelected nature of members of councils earlier. Between 1922 and 1959, there were series of elections, conducted not by Nigerians themselves but by the colonial authorities. By 1964, a year after acquiring a Republican Status in 1963, Nigerians conducted elections which were entire regionally based, and expectedly, were fraught with one form of violence or the other, as opponents engaged in what could be described as a do-or-die affair. In Western region based party called the Action Group (AG) for instance, bitter divisions arose among the gladiators of the party, most probably out of supremacy squabbles and related issues, and all these subsequently led to splinter groups that eventually led to the politics of bitterness that subsisted till 1965, when another round of elections was carried out. Unfortunately, the “carry-overs” of the unresolved political differences resulted into intrusion of the military in Nigeria’s political space. The coup and counter coup in 1966 ignited the civil war that lasted about three years in the country, and thus paved way for further military stranglehold of the leadership of the country, until 1979 when there was a return to civil rule. The 1983 general elections which has the trappings of ethno-religious sentiments led to another military coup and leadership until 1999, when the Fourth Republic was birthed. It must be stated that all the while, the manner of elections had always been manually conducted, and characterised unavoidably with all manners of malpractices, including thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, falsification of results, destruction of voting material, and in most cases, violence resulting in killings [5] Iyayi argues that every government in power has always had their own designs, and in order to protect their interest, had often used the instruments of the state in penetrating electoral malpractices. According to him, while there has been continuity in violence and warfare, there has been lack of continuity in the political organisations, through which both violence and warfare have been conducted. The implications being that “each period has thus produced new political formations reflecting not only the penchant for lack of principle and shifting allegiance among members of the political class but also the total de-ideologisation of the issues on which members of the class were divided ‘into antagonistic camps”.

By hindsight, the authors can recall with nostalgia, the general elections of 1983; 2007; and 2015, which were characterised with condemnable magnitude of brigandage which led to the destruction of election materials and loss of lives. The election of 1983 was a “landmark” in the sense that, the aftermath confusion and the general sense of insecurity all over the country, coupled with the culture of corruption alleged of the government in power, resulted into the military coup that happened on 30 December 1983, and the emerging government headed by Major General Muhammadu Buhari. A notable feature of all these elections was that they were manually conducted, and therefore susceptible to fraud and manipulations of unimaginable proportions. This has persisted until hitherto, when the move to transit into a digitised process began way of calls, debates and eventual parliamentary consideration towards giving a legal backing to the innovation. A momentous stage was reached when the Electoral Amendment Bill was amended in 2010, and it made provision for the use and deployment of the Card Reader, and it meant that for the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history, electronic voter authentication system, with the aid of smart card readers, is being deployed for the 2015 general elections. As clarified by [7] Jega, the Card Reader is not a voting machine and is not used for voting, but it is used only for accreditation of voters, and only accreditation (and not voting) data is transmitted by it. This could be said to be the first bold move towards the digitisation of the Nigeria’s electoral system. As a result, the tendency to commit fraud at the point of casting votes became impossible, as accreditation could be authenticated by the machine, contrary to the old method of checking through manually written and printed lists, which were vulnerable to manipulations.

While this study is not concerned about the effect of the military in Nigeria’s politics and government, it is a common narrative that such incursions had, in one way or the other impacted how the country is structured, in addition to the militarisation of the process, such that the use of force in the way government operates and functions is the order of the day. Another feature of the Nigeria’s democratic system is that, several former military officers have now and continued to be active participants in the struggle for public offices. As a result, they have tended to always get their way through, having amassed stupendous wealth that can be deployed to wrest political power at all cost. Since the beginning of the 4th Republic in 1999, two former Heads of States have become civilian Presidents, and their administrations have not failed to reflect the orientation of the use of force associated with the military, in terms of the running of government, of which the electoral system is a part.

It is in this context that the agitations and moves towards digitising the electoral process began, and have gained momentum. But this ultimately would require an enabling legal framework which can only be actualised by the legislature as the appropriate arm of government for such responsibility. No doubt, the newly signed Electoral Law 2022 is a culmination of these aspirations, with the expectations that the implementation will be pursued with the requisite level of commitment and urgency, and in the most transparent manner. However, the authors are not inclined to suggest with finality, that the digitisation of an electoral system represents a perfect panacea to the challenges. It is important to underscore the fact there exists a need to integrate some level of manual operational procedure, most probably to serve as a double check mechanism. This position aligns with the spirit of a conference report by the European Centre for Electoral Support [8] ECES, on the need for the deployment of technological devices, such as the Electric Voting Machines (EVMs) that will include a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT. The Report, which was the outcome of a Conference organised in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (a Nigeria’s Electoral Body), suggests that such innovation is a further step in promoting electoral integrity and transparency of the process, consistent with similar trends in countries reviewed. A part of the Report recommended that “technological driven electoral systems must be able to manage and create the necessary synergy between the People, Process and Technology (PPT)”.

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5. Why credible electoral system?

Though, the digitisation of the electoral system has continued to attract more concerns and attentions in Nigeria. The growing advocacy for its adoption has not been restricted to the determined efforts of the nation’s electoral management body of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Nigeria’s civil society community has also not relented in its persistent advocacy for the positive overhaul of the nation’s civic space. The civic society organisations have been in the forefront of promoting the ideals of transparent electoral system and enlightened mass mobilisation of the Nigerian citizenry. The calls for digitisation of the Nigerian electoral system with the support of the civil society for electronic voting, and electronic transmission of election results represent a part of the measures towards mitigating the operational flaws associated with the conduct of elections, and the path to credible electoral system in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s foray into the digital electoral system began in 2011 general elections, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced the automated fingerprint identification mechanism as a preventive measure against multiple registrations which were more prevalent in the conducts of previous elections in Nigeria. The Nigeria’s electoral commission (INEC), further to that, deployed the use of permanent voter’s card and smart card readers during the 2015 general elections, as part of the revolutionary measures towards ridding the electoral management environment, off the usual malpractices which have marred all the successive elections in Nigeria. The permanent voter’s card enables the biometric identification of eligible voter at the polling station, through the smart card reader devices before casting of voting, while votes are subsequently counted manually at the ends of the voting exercises. The INEC had however, articulated the rationale behind the proposed adoption of the electronic transmission of election results on the principles of trust, efficiency and safety [9] INEC. As a response to the vulnerabilities of the manual method of conducting elections in the country, and its attendants negative consequences and abuse, the calls for a credible process, where votes will count, paved way for the introduction of electronic method, otherwise described as digitisation process. Proponents of this digitised process are of the view that such will bring about some sanity in the process of conducting elections, thereby either reducing or obviating the concerns of rigging and other forms of manipulations [10] Iwuoha describes the process as the applications of Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-driven innovations, to strengthen the quality of the electoral process [10] Iwuoha quoting Golden; Kramon and Ofosu (2014), supports the view that these technological solutions, such as “the electronic voting machines, polling station webcams, and biometric identification equipment offer the promise of rapid, accurate, and ostensibly tamper-proof innovations that are expected to reduce fraud in the processes of registration, voting, or vote count aggregation”.

Corroborating this standpoint, Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), unto whom the introduction of biometric accreditation technology of the Card Reader machine in Nigeria is attributed, asserts that by these innovations, rigging has been made impossible for electoral fraudsters, because, there is no way the total number of votes cast at the polling unit could exceed the number of accredited persons. According to him, issues of discrepancy in figures will be immediately spotted and remedial action taken. This technology made it impossible for any corrupt electoral officer to connive with any politician to pad-up results. The card reader machines will help us to address all those irregularities, starting from the stage of accreditation of voters at all the polling units [7] Jega argues that the information stored in both the card readers and the result sheets taken to the ward levels would be retrieved once there is evidence of manipulation. We believe that this is an added value to our process; it is something that we have not been able to do in the past, when elections were strictly conducted manually.

It is interesting to note that, included in the recently signed Electoral Law in Nigeria, is one of the basic components of a digitised electoral process, called the Card Reader device, the introduction of which is considered to have the potential to considerably improve the transparency and accountability of the process. The deployment of the device for the purpose of voter identification helps to obviate the fraud associated with the voters’ register, whereby vote-counts are usually greater than actual registered voters. Unfortunately, this had been the trend until now that the process is to be ICT-enabled. Given the unquantifiable benefits arising from the attempts to digitise the Nigerian electoral process, scholars such as [11] Omezue-Nnali (2020) have recommended that “a practical implementation of the usage of Card Reader machine and even the E-Voting machine and then immediate uploading of each polling unit result to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Database”.

In their view, this process would facilitate and further aid the transparency of INEC, and ease the stress of paper collation of results at their headquarters office. According to [11] Omezue-Nnali, there should be a “Central WhatsApp Platform (also ICT-enabled) where each polling unit should upload their results to immediately after announcing it at the Polling Unit. Subsequently, the hard copy of the election result would be brought to the collation centres as may have been designed, and this would be cross checked with the soft copy already uploaded”. It is believed that this process, among other things, would minimise the threats on the lives of Electoral Body’s State Resident officers by desperate politicians who have the tendency to manipulate election results, and would do any harm against resistance to such motives and intentions.

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6. Defining digitised electoral system and its accompaniments

As indicated earlier above, a digitised electoral system is simply a process of conducting and managing election, beginning from registration (re-registration) of voters; voting procedure; collation/sorting; transmission of results to the declaration of same. To achieve this, the following essentials are required to be in place:

  • A relatively stable electricity supply;

  • A country-wide internet coverage service;

  • Biometric machines/Card Reader for voter identification/accreditation;

  • An enabling legislation, such as the Electoral Law in Nigeria.

However, it must be stated that while all these accompaniments are essential and required, the character of the personnel of the agency of government in charge of the process is of importance. The issue of fidelity and integrity to ensure a guaranteed electoral system cannot be over-emphasised. On the other hand, the political actors seeking elective offices must be people of unquestionable character, and should be individuals with the highest sense of responsibility, who will provide responsive representation for the service of the people. Unfortunately, in Nigeria as in other third world countries, particularly in Africa, the values of good conduct and the character of discipline require substantial improvement to ensure a sound electoral system and responsible governance.

6.1 Challenges of digitised electoral system

It is an incontrovertible fact that the Nigeria’s civic space has witnessed some controversies which trailed the deployment of digital technologies in the conduct of elections in the country. The adoption of digital technologies during the 2015 and 2019 General Elections has however, placed some legitimacies on the Nigeria’s electoral process. Based on some of the concerns generated around the adoption of digital technology in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, the Nigerian Senate had, in July, 2021, initially opposed the provision for the adoption of electronic voting system and the transmission of results in the Electoral Act. However, the parliament’s position was reversed, following widespread agitations and protests, and these irretrievably led to the adoption of the electronic voting and the electronic transmission of results provisions, and therefore proposed as a part of the measures towards minimising electoral malpractices, which normally arose from manipulations and other negative vices peculiar to the electoral management of the past.

The Nigeria’s Senate had equally predicated its rejection of the proposed electronic and the electronic transmission of results on some flaws and technical hitches observed during 2015 and 2019 general elections with the widespread reported cases of malfunctioning card reader machine devices in some polling stations across Nigeria. The rejection had also been corroborated by the National Communication Commission’s report on the possible low coverage network area for the electronic transmission of election results in country. Invariably, the contention of the Nigeria’s Senate as regard the rejection of the electronic voting system and the electronic transmission of results, as partly enunciated above, could be better explained by the low internet access in Nigeria based on the available data indicating that only 473 out of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria have access to the internet coverage network [11] Fatai. This is as more revealing too, as evidential with the nature of the epileptic supply of the electricity power situation in Nigeria.

While the benefits that are associated with a technologically-powered electoral system are many and considerable, there are also remote and substantial challenges that exist, regardless of the circumstances, and those that are human-induced. In the efforts to identify the hindrances to achieving a workable electoral system that will help advance democratic practices or how government is organised, it is relevant to mention that, every society has its peculiarities in term of how political power is sought and appropriated.

In the context of Nigeria for instance, as an emerging democratic society, the substantial challenges militating against the adoption and implementation of a digitised electoral process include among other things:

  • Infrastructural deficit—This relates to power supply, which is clearly insufficient and inadequate; poor road network, which makes movement from one location to another very difficult.

  • Poor technological base—This is a common feature of the developing economies, of which Nigeria is a part. The reason for this is not far-fetched given the un-organised nature, and the absence of strategic planning of the society. Interestingly, the twenty-first century is driven by high-tech, necessary for industrial growth. A measure of a country’s strength is a function of its level of advancement in technology, coupled with innovations and inventions. No doubt, this situation can be attributed to the absence of effective leadership, with the requisite vision for growth and development.

  • Closely related to this, is the weak educational orientation and the lack of appropriate curricula required for transformation of the society, as well as, low public awareness on the part of the electoral commission and other relevant agencies saddled with the responsibilities of voter education. However, no country can afford to be in isolation while the wave of technological breakthroughs is blowing across the world.

However, efforts at the digitization of the Nigerian electoral system, as earlier reiterated, have not also endured without some of the perceived ecological challenges much prevalent within the developing democratic milieu as highlighted above. The challenge of the systemic operational and financial limitations could be further added, most especially, as part of the burdens faced by the electoral management in Nigeria. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not been adequately empowered with the necessary wherewithal and the required independence to midwife effective electoral system. Inadequate funding and other operational limitations have become recurring bottlenecks to the actualization of the digitalisation efforts of INEC [11] Fatai affirms that, all of these identified operational limitations have cast doubts on the integrity of elections and raised other concerns about the reliability of digitalisation of electoral process within the Nigerian electoral system.

Besides the foregoing factors, a major challenge of a digitised electoral system in Nigeria, as in several other countries in Africa, is behavioural and the attitude of resistance to change. Experience has shown that, a vast majority of the people, particularly those in the country-side, have the tendency to resist transitions from a deep-seated way of life to a new pattern of doing things, regardless of ease, and would require a great deal of time for re-orientation and acclimatisation. Added to the above, the operational limitations faced by the Nigerian government agencies like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in carrying out effective value-reorientation and mass mobilisation of Nigerian society, especially at the grassroots level have equally raised some concerns around the resistance to positive behavioural and attitudinal change. In the opinion of [12] Obinne Obiefuna-Oguejiofor, in order to address the technological concerns in Electronic Voting (E-Voting), the integrity of the applicable machine for the process is essential for public acceptance. According to him, given Nigerian citizens’ cyber habits, which border on fear and suspicions, the integrity of electoral data may be at risk [12] Obinne therefore suggests that concerns around technology-inclined process should be given priority, in order to protect the integrity of data and the veracity of same. This implies that every stakeholder involved in the operation and management of a process, and particularly which has to be tech-enabled, is expected to be efficient, diligent and committed. It must be understood that the phenomenon of election is about the people and how they are governed. It revolves around values of trust, transparency and selflessness. Unfortunately, all these are clearly absent in the era when elections were manually conducted and managed, thereby creating avenues for manipulations, which are usually executed in crude manners resulting unavoidably in chaos, destructions and fatalities.

As part of the identified operational challenges with the digitalisation of the electoral process in Nigeria, much were particularly also noted as during the 2019 general elections, with several reported cases of malfunctioning smart card readers in some polling stations nationwide, which interfered and caused hitches in the accreditation of voters. Though, the ad-hoc measures such as resort to manual voting and filling of incident forms on behalf of eligible voters by INEC officials were permitted, in the event of the inability of the smart card readers to authenticate voter’s card for accreditation. These ad-hoc measures were however, without their implications, as they cause some delays, thus leading to the extension of accreditation and voting periods in many polling stations across Nigeria, as several of such cases were recorded during the March, 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections as noted and reported by [12] Fatai.

It is noteworthy to remark that, despite the plethora of challenges associated with the application of digital technology in Nigeria’s electoral system, there has been some significant, though, modest improvement since 2015, in the integrity of the entire electoral management system. Incidences of multiple registrations, as mostly occasioned through the complicity of the electoral officials, pre and post elections’ manipulations among other fraudulent tendencies have largely reduced, thereby restoring the integrity of the country’s electoral system.

6.2 Emerging themes from survey of literature on concerns around digitised electoral system

The authors note that, following a critical review of the literature accessed and experience from hindsight in relation to the Nigeria’s electoral process till date, the following themes can be identified and posited:

  • That post-independence electoral system had been manual, hence vulnerable to manipulations by the emergent politicians;

  • That there exists a need to improve the country’s electoral system in line with evolving realties of technological advancements;

  • That the adoption of an ICT-enabled electoral system requires considerable infrastructural facilities for sustenance; and finally,

  • That the human-dimension, in terms of willingness to change; exhibition of sound moral values of transparency, accountability, selflessness, to ensure effective operation and implementation of a robust electoral system, be seen as a sine qua non.

This study is inclined to observe and admit that elections, as the dominant element in the practice of democracy, are of utmost importance, and require careful and strategic planning for its conduct and management. It is interesting to note that an improved electoral system, which is based on technology, tends to stimulate citizens’ participation, whereby the wishes of the people can be expressed to determine how their representatives are elected. Fundamentally, the citizens’ participation in the electoral system is of utmost importance, and this should be achieved through effective orientation and mobilisation, using appropriate communication channels.

6.3 Matching of themes to research questions (discussion of findings)

In this section, the authors proceed to relate the identified themes which emerged in the course of literature survey on what the status and challenges of electoral system are in a digitised era, and what speculations are possible in the foreseeable future.

In response to research question a, which borders on the challenges of the conduct of election in Nigeria prior to the new Electoral Law, it is the view of the authors that, all that is required to mitigate against the challenges identified in the context of Nigeria’s electoral experience, is the commitment to do right. This implies that, once a system has been acceptably put in place, every attempt to subvert its full implementation should be resisted, and violators of the principles governing the process should be made to face the full wrath of the law. The culture of impunity, nepotism, favouritism and related misdemeanours should not only be frowned at, but attract strict punitive measures. Every member of the public is expected to be a part owner of the Nigerian enterprise, and all the country aspires to do and achieve for the benefit of all.

Regarding research question b, on what does a digitised electoral system entail, in terms of components? While the authors acknowledge the challenge of infrastructural facilities, and particularly the absence of stable power supply, they are of the view that concerted efforts be made to address this concern, not necessarily for the purpose of elections, but for the smooth functioning of society, as in other developed societies. Besides, technological facilities such as the internet and its enabling devices should be of priority concern for the government, such that its agencies responsible for Science and Technology should be up and doing, to formulate the requisite policy framework and the enabling environment to ensure both local innovations and external support in this regard.

In response to research c, which relates to how much of impact will a digitised electoral system have on the practice of democracy in plural society like Nigeria, the authors align with the view that, except otherwise proved, a digitised electoral system, particularly for the Third World countries, of which Nigeria is one, and under consideration, is inevitable. If only to mitigate the issues of brigandage, thuggery, ballot box snatching and other forms of violent practices associated with elections. In a more fundamental sense, a digitised electoral system will not only make voting easy and less cumbersome, it will enable storage of all electoral data, facilitate processing of data into information, and ensure speedy transmission of results. In the Nigeria’s case, there had always been issues around transmission of results, as desperate politicians had always targeted that stage to execute their nefarious intentions of manipulations. However, this does not rule out the possibility of a concomitant use of the manual procedure for some electoral activities, perhaps for the purpose of comparisons, double-check and audit.

Regarding research question d, which has to do with what challenges could impede the smooth operation of a digitised electoral system, and how can these be minimised? The authors strongly believe that, the existence of an enabling law for the conduct and management of electoral system in Nigeria is sine qua non, the absence of which only implies a return to the operation of the manual method of the past and its attendant consequences. In addition, the authors refuse to be content that the mere acquisition and deployment of technological devices for the conduct of elections is enough. As a matter of fact, the more important consideration has to do with the values of integrity and character of the personnel to operate and manage the devices for the purpose of realising the objectives for which they are meant. In other word, government agency saddled with the responsibility of managing the electoral process should ensure that its entire personnel exhibit the highest level of trustworthiness and willingness to do the right thing all the time. Closely related to this view, is the need for enthusiastic expression of patriotism by the population, and particularly the voting public to be willing to show commitment in upholding and preserving the integrity of the electoral process.

6.4 Trends and the future of digitisation of electoral system

Worldwide, and particularly in the societies committed to democratic practices, technology-enabled electoral system is now the vogue. Whether in the developed or developing world, the resort to e-electoral system is gaining momentum, and efforts are being made to come to terms with the phenomenon. This much has been amplified by discourses at conference and studies reports bordering on the nexus between election management and technology. However, the level of a country’s technological development determines, among other factors, the process by which its government is run or operated. In the context of electoral system, given the growth of advancement in technology, and the deployment of internet-based facility, it can safely be speculated that elections and its associated processes, could be over 80% electronically executed in the foreseeable future. Perhaps, a reference to how speedily but without any inkling, the world reacted to the challenges of the outbreak of Covid-19, which resulted into limited interactions among the people, could be worthwhile. The ability to conduct activities and transactions between and among people far apart was no doubt, facilitated by innovative deployment of technology. Meetings can now be held online, just as information can be transmitted electronically, and with the fastest speed. The Zoom application and related devices in this regard, have suddenly become fashionable, for conducting online meetings and conferences with as much ease as possible. It can also be speculated that the role of technology in all facets of life, including but not limited to the conduct and management of electoral process, has come to stay, and will continue to be so, and with greater sophistication in deployment.

However, the role of hackers and people with nefarious intentions, aiming to break into the data storage facilities of individuals, organisations and even government, has become a source of concern, and thus poses a serious security threat to victims. In the opinion of [13] Obinne, “hackers will always attempt to hijack electoral results to favour a candidate, either for financial gain or for fun. According to him, given Nigeria’s reputation with cybercrime, its peculiar problem with idle youth, it is predictable that when Nigeria transits to e-voting, unscrupulous people will still attempt to hijack the process”. The authors of this study find this situation very disturbing and distressing, and therefore call for urgent and calculated approach by concerned stakeholders to mitigate against this scourge, by engaging in proactive measures as may be deemed appropriate.

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7. Conclusion/recommendations

So far, attempts have been made in this study to reflect on the status, challenges and trends of electoral system in a digitised era in Nigeria. The study sought to X-ray how the electoral law recently signed by the President Muhammadu Buhari, serves to enable and or facilitate the digitisation of the electoral system in the country. The study suggested the applicable theoretical framework deployed to underpin the research, and carried out considerable survey of relevant literature from which information needed to contextualise the focus as envisaged.

From the foregoing information and analysis of same, the authors align with the reality of ICT-enabled electoral system in Nigeria, and find the enactment of an enabling law for the regulation of the country’s electoral system very salutary, expected, laudable and encouraging. It is relevant that the euphoria that greeted the enactment of the law across the country suggests a widespread acceptance of same. In recalling the Behavioural Theory of elections as enunciated earlier in the study, which posits the rationality of the voter at any election even though it is a discretionary act, the study is of the view that an appropriate legal framework, such as the Nigeria’s Electoral Law, 2022, is a welcome development, for the smooth conduct and management of the Electoral System in the country. As noted by [13] Obinne Obiefuna-Oguejiofor, democracy relies on voters having well-founded trust in the processes used to collect and count their votes. Obinne agrees that while no system is perfect, some are clearly more vulnerable than others. E-voting is Nigeria best chance of securing a credible, fraud-free election system for Africa’s largest democracy. In line with the position of [14] Boix, it is recommendable that all the institutions or bodies involved in the Electoral process (such as the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Political parties, the Judiciary and the Executives) should ensure that the votes of the people count. This no doubt, will guarantee and sustain the deployment and implementation of a digitised electoral system, with implications for orderly transition in government.

For the purposes of emphasis, the authors will restate that, while an enabling law to legitimise the technological configuration of the Nigeria’s electoral system, in addition to other requisite considerations is laudable and welcome, it does not guarantee a perfect system. This much has been pinpointed as a part of the recommendations of the [7] ECES earlier mentioned. According to the report “it is important to bear in mind that technology even at its best, does not provide a full proof end-to-end solution to electoral challenges, as there are other aspects including the human interface with technology that needs to be carefully handled. Technological driven electoral systems must be able to manage and create the necessary synergy between the People, Process and Technology (PPT)”.

Conclusively, this study recommends the following:

  • While the adoption of a digitised electoral process is suitable in Nigeria, and in line with the dynamics of the times, its application should pay attention to the level of infrastructural development of the country, in terms of power supply and availability, and the need to ensure nationwide internet connectivity to drive the process.

  • The government agency saddled with the responsibility for the conduct and management of elections should appreciate the need to engage in extensive voter education, as majority of the voters reside in the countryside, where the level of literacy is considerably low, to achieve effective participation of qualified electorate.

  • The level of patriotism of both public officers at all levels and the citizens in general must be seen to reflect the abiding commitment to a credible, transparent, equitable and reliable electoral system, to justify the use and deployment of technology and its associated cost implications.

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Written By

Daniel Taye Medoye and Mustafa Adedeji Tukur

Submitted: 13 April 2022 Reviewed: 14 April 2022 Published: 08 July 2022