Technology and Election in Nigeria

With technology seemingly evolving at the speed of light, the dependence on technology for our everyday life is also increasing every day. People use technology for a wide array of everyday functions, yet the process of casting a ballot in election stands in stark contrast. The process of election typically involves marking a paper ballot with a pen or pencil and counting those paper ballots. This manual process is still practiced in many of the most developed, long-standing democracies. Approximately one-third of democratic countries are incorporating available technology into some piece of the voting process but others are shying away from doing so. Nigeria, on the other hand, has in the last election done a remarkable job according to global standards by successfully conducting an election using applied technology.

Elections and political campaigns in Nigeria is one area technology has made the most significant impact in recent times. As demographic shifts occur and new generations come of age, technology has significantly influenced the future Nigerian election outcomes. Even as Nigeria seeks to increase participation, credibility, transparency, and access for all voters, the government of the day has gone a step ahead to introduce technology into the democratic process. Voter identification by electronic means is given priority in Nigeria and with an increasingly tech-savvy electorate, the government is keeping up with the pace by determining the electorate’s expectations about incorporating new technology into ballot casting and counting. This is because electronic voting gives voters a convenient way to cast their vote and also increases voter’s participation in the electoral process.

Technology in Election Process

The election process in Nigeria did not escape the impact of global technological revolution. Certain areas, such as voter registration, voter verification, voter register etc have benefitted from a greater willingness to use new technologies than others, such as ballot casting and counting. Verification of electorates at polling units is beginning to move away from printing and assembling hundreds of pages of voter’s lists to presenting poll books on tablets or other electronic devices, this has, in turn, reduced the long queue you find at pooling units in the past. The process of electronically transmitting election results from polling units to the central election headquarters to get a quick, unofficial count on the election night is rapidly becoming popular here in Nigeria.

Social Impact

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have transformed the way candidates interact with their constituencies. These social media platforms bring the politician closer to the electorates. It offers an opportunity for real-time interaction with the electorates to determine their views and expectations from the politicians. There is also the fear of going viral, this has put politicians in check of their actions as they can go viral for the wrong reason, thereby jeopardizing their chances at the poll. Technology itself brings new issues to the debate floor that candidates must know about, speak about and take a position on. In addition, candidates need to keep up to date with technology otherwise they will be viewed as outdated and irrelevant. Candidates who do not use Instagram, Facebook or Twitter may not be taken seriously.

Ownership

technology has also helped candidates in their fundraising process by involving the electorate in the fundraising process. During the 2015 elections, President Buhari’s campaign organization decided to raise money for his campaign by issuing scratch-cards for purchase by the electorate. These scratch-cards sold out very quickly in some states and gave the electorate more ownership in the process. The cards also doubled as a useful voter reminder and communication mechanism because once the voters loaded the scratch cards, the campaign team had access to their mobile phone numbers and could communicate directly with them. This innovation had never been done previously in any Nigerian election. It was very effective and also made coordination and ground game easier.

A lot more has been achieved with the current advancements in Nigerian digital systems. Politicians can now campaign for desired positions by sending bulk emails and SMS to the electorates, calling the electorates and playing a recorded message when the persons pick up the call and even sending flash messages to the masses. These are some of the methods used to sell electronic products. Politicians now borrow these methods from electronic commerce and tech product growth hacking to use in election campaigns. This direct communication with the electorates gives them a sense of ownership of the process.

The versatility of smartphones and applications like WhatsApp has helped politicians create not only an unparalleled war chest but changed the conversation with “Extreme Ownership” by the electorate. Digital advertisements and gathering data on the actual voters and their preferences through mobile channels to have a productive ground game has also been enhanced by technology.

Transparency

Previous electoral process in Nigeria has always been smeared with lack of transparency but the use technology has changed that narrative. The last Nigerian election was very different from previous ones because of the level of engagement by the electorate online and via mobile channels. The future trends of our electoral process are more in favour of “ownership” created through technology than from bribery with “stomach infrastructure”.

Technology has made candidates to be fully transparent with all the money collected and also remains accountable even after successful elections. It was the promise of honesty and transparency that got the current Nigerian President elected and technology has made it possible for the governed to be much more involved in the process of governance than ever before. Budget.ng is already evidence of that.

Conclusion

I believe technology has greatly changed the face of our electoral process – creating effective websites, enhancing digital campaigns, ability to reach target audience, speed, and accuracy in voters’ verification, database of voters’ information etc. We can say the applied technology in our electoral process has come to stay, however, there is still a lot more to do to make it perfect. With a lack of universally accepted standards for electronic voting, there is ample room for questionable practices and concerns about fraud and ballot manipulation. Despite the success of the last elections in Nigeria, there is a consensus that our voting systems must be reliable, accurate, secure, and meet established performance standards. Accuracy and speed can also be improved by using vote casting and counting technology, but the implementation of this still remains elusive. Our Government should look into ways of improvement, IT specialist should be consulted to give a blueprint of what can be done to improve our electronic voting system. We should improve to the point where paper ballot voting is totally eliminated and replaced with electronic voting preferably from the comfort of our homes. This will enhance the accuracy of the vote count, the speed of ballot tabulation, auditability, transparency, ballot security (including susceptibility to ballot box snatching, fraud or manipulation), voter convenience, equipment costs and accessibility for all voters, including those away from the region and those with disabilities.

Though the government of Nigeria did not encounter trust issues from the electorates in the last elections, introducing electronic voting incrementally via pilot projects will help build more trust and familiarity and equally enhance the opportunity for success and acceptance of the whole process. This can be achieved by including political parties, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations in the decision-making process to build a wide base of support, knowledge, and familiarity for these electoral process changes. Launching a robust public education and awareness campaign is another essential component to educating voters on the use of the system, communicating the goals and objectives for implementation, and providing public feedback mechanisms.

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