“The solution lies in voter education. It lies in the formulation of government policies aimed at the eradication of illiteracy and poverty. A solution must be found to voter apathy which has characterised most elections since the incursion of the military into politics.”
Two weeks ago, I began an examination of the long standing debate about the propriety of the introduction of e-voting. I have already traced the history of e-voting and detailed the experiences of some other countries. In conclusion, I intend to address whether the introduction of e-voting can serve as a solution of our electoral problems.
E-voting cannot address our electoral and political problems
The first consideration that readily comes to mind is whether we are adequately equipped for the operation of the electronic voting. As stated last week, jurisdictions which have operated this system for decades still grapple with it despite the advanced state of their technological development. Our major concern with our present system of voting is the propensity of our politicians to explore it through rigging to their own unfair and illegal advantage. Yet, even with this system, we are still able to detect, through adequate checks, instances of electoral fraud. This much is indicated by some successful election Petitions in which the victory of the elected candidates were upturned by the Tribunals.
Furthermore, the print and electronic media are daily awash with the complaints of bank customers whose deposits have been siphoned by some unscrupulous elements who were able to infiltrate the security system of some banks who have embraced the electronic system of banking. This is despite the assurances that these systems are fool-proof much like the same electronic machines employed world over for electronic voting. Are we therefore ready for a situation in which the outcome of major elections, including governorship and presidential elections, are determined not by the electorate who cast their votes at the polling station but by some computer savvy individual who in the comfort of his bedroom hacks into the system and in the process determines the faith of an entire nation?
Need for change in attitude
In this regard, it must be appreciated that the problems bedevilling elections in Nigeria do not entirely relate to the accuracy of the process of voting and collation of votes. It is more of an attitudinal problem on the part of the electorate and the politicians who will stop at nothing to attain political power. It also has to do with our constitutional make up which has not only made elective office too attractive but has also concentrated power at the centre to the detriment of the states which make up the federation of Nigeria. The average Nigerian politician, in his quest to attain political power, does not believe in the articulation and propagation of his programmes or manifesto to the populace prior to election. He is only interested in securing votes by any means necessary. To this end, he would earmark millions of naira to buy votes on the day of election. Where this fails, he would resort to his army of thugs who will without a thought to the consequences of their action unleash violence through acts of brigandage including snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes.
The average voter, on the other hand, has over time come to believe that his vote does not really matter in the eventual scheme of events. It is his conviction that no matter how the votes, the candidate who is prepared to spend the greatest amount of money and unleash the most violence will eventually be declared the winner of the election. So, rather than vote according to the dictates of his conscience for a candidate who might after all end up losing the election, he would rather sell that vote to the candidate who is willing to pay the most for it. The resultant effect is that the politician who is eventually elected into public office in such circumstances will not harbour any feeling of duty or responsibility to the electorate. On the contrary, he will only set about recouping his investment with accrued interest. In the final analysis, he will see pubic office as an avenue for accumulation of wealth rather than service to the public.
The solution lies in voter education. It lies in the formulation of government policies aimed at the eradication of illiteracy and poverty. A solution must be found to voter apathy which has characterised most elections since the incursion of the military into politics.
Nigerians must realise the importance of turning out on the day of election. Rather than stay at home or sending their servants out to vote in their stead, in the false belief that their votes would not matter, Nigerians must turn out in their millions to vote on Election Day. The reason for this is simple. Those who are interested only in rigging elections usually have a field day when the turnout of voters is low. If only a hundred voters or less turn out to vote in a polling unit with five hundred registered voters, the election rigger will have at the very minimum four hundred ballot papers to “play” with. If only those four hundred voters whose ballots were turned into a veritable tool for election rigging had turned up to vote, the chances of rigging would have been greatly reduced or even eradicated. This perhaps may explain why in some jurisdictions the electoral law makes it mandatory that voters must turn up to vote.
Government on its part must, as a matter of necessity, demonstrate that this is a country in which Nigerians can and should place their faith. Nigerians must be made to feel proud to be Nigerians. J.F Kennedy was correct when he stated that “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” However, that statement was made in the context of a democracy and in the light of a government that had in the course of over two centuries made the interest of its citizenry the paramount consideration in the formulation and execution of any governmental policy or project. Perhaps we will also get there. But I feel Nigerians should first be made to feel that they are a part of something that recognises and protects their interests.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D