Governance & Policy

What the adoption of e-voting by Nigeria’s House of Representatives means for e-governance and democracy

July 11, 2019 · 4 min read
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Three weeks after the inauguration of Nigeria’s 9th National Assembly, the newly elected leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila announced electronic voting for members of the house.

The announcement shown on video was made in the house of assembly. In the video, Gbajabiamila can be heard announcing the e-voting system for members of the house of representatives.

https://youtu.be/YCNJ4Pp7lao

The next day, the same announcement was posted via Gbajabiamila’s official Twitter account; @femigbaja.

The tweet read;

“In my June 11th Inaugural Speech I spoke about reforming @HouseNGR I am glad to inform our constituents 3wks down the line we have succeeded in having E-voting/E-Chamber Attendance Register. Moving forward Nigerians will see us vote electronically on critical Bills and Motions.”

This announcement is undoubtedly a positive step towards e-governance in Nigeria.

Speaking to Techpoint on the development, political analyst, Wale Osunde said;

“This is a welcome development that portends great things for Nigeria’s democracy because participation of house of reps members can now be transparent.”

He also said it also eliminates favouritism and promotes objective votes.

“Before now, everyone could see who voted for or against a motion, and this raised issues around favouritism. But now, members of the house will most likely be able to vote their choices without fear or favour,” he said,

The technology

In the aforementioned announcement video, Gbajabiamila informed members of the house that “you will notice little panels that have been installed on your seats in front of you”.

Even though not explicitly stated, an image shown indicates the panels are audience response systems (ARS).

This particular model is the Reply® Interact Mini manufactured in Germany by Infowhyse GmbH, provider of audience response keypads.

The Reply® Interact Mini has an LCD screen, a send key, 5 keys for multiple choice questions that require A – E or 1 – 5 answers, and another 3 buttons that have YES, NO and ABSTAIN buttons. The last 3 buttons are what the house or representative members will use.

Reply® Interact Mini

Answers automatically display on a computer screen presumably manned by Gbajabiamila via a Reply® compliant software that syncs with Microsoft Excel.

These responses will indicate multiple choices; YES, NO, ABSTAIN.

In a follow up tweet to the announcement, Gbajabiamila said “constituents can now know how their lawmaker voted on critical legislation.”

It is unclear if, and how the house of reps intends to build a platform for citizens to monitor votes from reps.

Wale Osunde said security was one of his major concerns for this technology and preceding ones. And apparently, some Nigerians on social media share the same reservation.

“As wonderful as technology is, it is quite easy to manipulate. Therefore these technologies should be sourced from the most independent manufacturers without any political leanings. There should also be structures in place to check for failings,” Osunde said.

There is no documented high-profile case of compromised audience response systems (ARS), but at least two YouTube videos show hacks and manipulations of an iClicker; another brand of an ARS. This means that with the right motivation, results can be tampered with.

This move can catalyse general electronic voting

The underlying technology behind this move is not groundbreaking or cutting edge, but one of the seeming strong points is that it may be a precursor to finally generalising electronic voting in Nigeria.

The upsides to electronic voting in a Nigerian general election are transparency,  improved logistics, increased voter turnout, and in the long run, a reduction in the cost of conducting elections.

In May 2018, Kaduna State employed electronic voting machines in its local government elections making it the first in Nigeria and West Africa.


Suggested Read; Inside Nigeria’s first ever electronic voting exercise in Kaduna State


The elections in Kaduna had its lapses, but generally highlighted the possibilities and upsides of electronic voting as a highly viable method of conducting transparent elections.

Apart from funding, legislation still remains the biggest hurdle to an electronically conducted general elections in Nigeria. Amending the electoral act to allow e-voting has been a major debate in recent times.


Suggested Read; 4 reasons Nigeria is not ready for electronic voting at general elections


Hopefully, after the House of Assembly, the Nigeria Senate gets an in-house feel of the ARS experience and it becomes easier for them to relate with the process, see the merits and become familiar with the technology.

This familiarity will maybe lead to a positive attitude towards a law that allows electronic voting in the general elections.

According to the speaker, as there are several of them, not all motions and bills will be decided upon with the e-voting system.

“We will be adopting the e-voting system for only those we consider of importance and significant,” he said.

At the time of the video, Gbajabiamila said “hopefully the systems will be operational tomorrow” being the 4th of July. As at press time, Techpoint could not confirm if the system was already in use; emails sent from the contact form on the National Assembly’s website did not submit.

Victor Ekwealor

Victor Ekwealor

Author

tech. media. startups. africa. vc | Twitter: @victor_ekwealor

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