Adopting electronic voting for 2023 election inevitable ― INEC

Says lapses in electoral laws responsible for increasing political parties

Nigeria is expected to adopt electronic voting for the 2023 election, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Tuesday, noted that the several logistics challenges associated with the adoption of the paper-based voting system in the 2019 general election may become overwhelming for the commission by the next general election.

INEC National Commissioner, Mr Adedeji Soyebi, who identified this imperative during a 2019 post-election review workshop, held at INEC office, Ibadan, said the commission will, by 2023, have to print about three million tonnes of papers and deal with an estimated 100 million voters spread across the length and breadth of the country.

Noting that the commission had to deal with several logistics issues in the conduct of the 2019 election, such as overestimation of its capacity and that of other stakeholders meant to convey electoral materials, Soyebi held that electronic-based voting was the practical solution to addressing the logistics and ecological implications of conducting the 2023 election using paper.

He bemoaned that the logistics nightmare faced by the commission in the 2019 election, that necessitated the first postponement of the election, including the lack of capacity of airports to lift cargoes that contained huge volumes of ballot papers, result sheets such that they had to circulate materials by road.

Soyebi, however, stated that nation had begun the journey to electronic voting with the commission computing fully electronic voters register and ensuring that accreditation and verification are done through smart card readers.

“Logistics nearly marred the conduct of the 2019 election. This is the first time we dealt with a huge volume of materials: 84 million voters, increase in size of every paper we used like ballot paper, result sheet which resulted in an increase in weight.

“We overestimated our capacity and overestimated those that we had to rely upon. As I am talking to you, we have a lot of airports in Nigeria, but only three of them can handle materials, that is, cargo.

“Akure airport could not handle materials. Materials for this South Western part of the country had to come by road even Abuja airport, that is supposed to be an international airport, did not have more than one forklift. The number of papers for the 2019 election was in excess of 1,800,000 tonnes.

“Transforming from paper to electronic-based voting system is inevitable. Whether we like it or not, it will meet with us.

“We had 70 million registered voters in the 2015 election and by 2019 election, we had 84 million registered voters, that was an increment of about 14 per cent.

“If you look at that index, by 2023, we should have about a hundred million voters. You can imagine the amount of paper that we will need to be coupled with the whole ecological problems that are associated with it.

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“To print this huge number, we will be talking about two to three million tonnes of paper. You can imagine the number of trees that will be cut down all over the world.

“No single country has produced these papers, they source for them from different countries. Every four years, we cannot be cutting down trees to make ballot papers, so we will be faced with a whole lot of ecological challenges if something drastic is not done.

“So, the country must find a way to get out of this paper-based ballot system. We are gradually going electronic. The voters’ register is fully electronic, the accreditation and verification are electronic using the Smart card readers. For this kind of problem, honestly, technology is the answer.

“Electronic voting is the way to go. Whether we like it or not, it will meet us there, stare us in the face and overwhelm us such that we have no other choice than to go this way,” Soyebi said.

On INEC being poised to register more political parties, Soyebi said the commission was not to blame but electoral laws which made it easy for associations to transform into political parties.

“INEC does not register political parties, the law does. We have laws that govern the registration of political parties and it has lapses such that it is easy for associations to transform into political parties.

“We still have some applications that we have not treated very correctly. It is not the commission that the registers for registration sake, it is the provision of the law that some associations transform into political parties.

“Having 91 political parties is not horrendous but it is the management and operations that are causing the trouble. We have countries that have more than 2,000 political parties,” Soyebi said.

Speaking further, he said the date for the first election in 2023 currently was fixed for February 11.

Present at the event were Oyo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Mutiu Agboke; facilitators, collation officers, presiding officers among other electoral officers.