By Clara Obi
It’s all hands on deck in Nigeria with her 2019 elections just around the corner. With the highly anticipated election season almost here, the Senior Team Manager, Africa Programme, Open Society Justice Initiative, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, has come forth with a motion, pushing for the digital collation and transmission of election results.
At a conference held in Abuja on Thursday last week, and so themed; Government, New Media and Civic Spaces, Prof. Odinkalu explained that digitally collating, transmitting and essentially compiling all data in respect of the elections, would solve major road blocks. He also tried to highlight some of the challenges faced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), attempting to spell out, that going digital is a viable option that should be considered.
As further explained by Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, a former chairman of the Governing Board of National Human Rights Commission, one of the biggest pitfalls of Nigeria’s election on all levels is result collation. The professor sited that one of the foremost problems of electoral misconduct in the country, can be attributed to the unsafe and unprofessional method in which election results are put together.
There’s typically a large movement of documented papers and votes polled handled by one too many people during elections. Prof. Odinkalu argues that the movement of such sensitive materials that are potentially capable of making or marring a candidate’s legitimate chances of winning, can only lead to massive corruption. These documents are taken from the polling units to INEC and any number of things can interfere with the integrity of the results, he explained.
The inadequately monitored movement of materials after an election exercise from the polling units to the local government collation center, or the state collation center and even the national collation center, is nothing but an avenue for fraud.
To fully understand the magnitude on which the potential for such grand corruption lies, there are 119,973 polling units currently in existence that will be employed for the 2019 elections according to Prof. Odinkalu. Each polling unit around the country has a significant number of people assigned to it. When you factor in the multitude of people that will be going through this collation process, it becomes quite imminent that electoral mishaps are bound to occur.
Nigeria has performed elections for more than two decades now and yet incidents like stolen or missing ballot boxes still plague the electoral process. The vulnerability of the whole exercise will always be at an all time high as long as the analogue approach is still in use. Prof. Odinkalu fantasizes that if the digital option was activated, criminal activities such as stealing of ballot boxes, things like rigging very well known to be the order of the day and other unfortunate, unpleasant circumstances can be avoided.
The professor postulated that if all the polling units scattered around the country were digital data transmission enabled, this fiasco would disappear in a jiffy. He proposes that going digital will be phenomenal for Nigerians and INEC alike. He is reported to have inquired of the government and relevant authorities, asking if the digital way out would be employed in the 2019 elections or at least taken into consideration for the elections in 2023.
Speaking on social media, Prof. Odinkalu says there are real threats that may or may not arise via the participation of Nigerians digitally. He therefore charged Nigerians to keep the election banter to a respectable degree in order to foster a united nation. In addition, he also made reference to the fact that if Nigerians do not intentionally desist from causing harm and chaos to the elections on social media, they should all be ready to face the consequences.
Odinkalu laid down emphasis in his remarks concerning the use of social media by all parties involved. He explained that everyone had a huge role to play and it did not matter in what capacity they did so. He charged INEC to be intentional in disseminating helpful, not unclear information via social media. He also admonished the police and other security agencies to strongly utilize their social media positively, constantly reassuring the people. Lastly, he encouraged the masses to take complete advantage of their social media. He enjoined them to use it as a tool to not only effect a change but more importantly to monitor and speak up concerning the turn of events during the forthcoming elections.
The Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan, was also said to have made remarks concerning the involvement of Nigerians digitally, stating that at four months to the elections, the conference couldn’t have come at a better time. He said this at the same New Media, Citizens & Governance Conference (#NMCG2018) organized by Paradigm Initiative, BudgIT and Enough is Enough.
Mr. Sesan tried to illustrate that the conference was a welcomed opportunity and deemed it necessary in aiding all and sundry in critically analyzing the impact of the electorate in the digital atmosphere. It is no secret that the influence of social media in Nigeria is on a steady rise and has continued to gain momentum. Mr. Gbenga Sesan is of the opinion that this growth needs to be monitored and hence the conference was therefore paramount in achieving this. He maintained that it helped to lead the right conversations pertaining to Nigerians and their digital interaction with government and politics.
In closing, an Emmanuel Alebiosu, from the Department of Political Science, Federal University, Wukari, further hinted that the conference was beneficial in keeping the Nigerian populace abreast on how to effectively utilize the power of social media as the elections drew nearer. These statements were made to support and also to lay emphasis on the huge role the Nigerian social media is going to play in the forthcoming elections.
All over the world, the power of social media has been used to change policies, keeping public exercises like elections and public officials honest. Subscribing to Prof. Chidi Odinkalu’s perspective, the digitalization of the Nigerian electoral process would be a defining moment in the nation’s history towards achieving free and fair elections.