As part of the preparations towards the anticipated launch of electronic voting in forthcoming elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC says it has commenced the analysis of the various electronic voting machines showcased by over 50 companies.
It added that it was looking forward to the amendment of the legal framework that would enable electronic voting, noting that it remained committed to introducing electronic voting machines in the electoral process to replace the manual system that had put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed these in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Friday. He explained that the commission was currently attending to procurement issues to the extent allowed by the COVID-19 protocols.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had said during the 2021 budget defence before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters on November 4, 2020 that the commission would deploy the electronic voting machines very soon, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship poll scheduled to hold in November this year.
Yakubu had earlier said that over 40 companies that indicated interest in hard and software production would be invited to demonstrate to the commission how their Information Technology solutions meet the commission’s specifications.
“It is difficult to give you an idea of cost or when the process would be concluded, but we are determined that we are going to deploy electronic voting machines, electronic balloting machines very soon in our elections, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship election in 2021.
But, Okoye said in the interview, “The commission is presently engaged in the procurement of INEC Voter Enrolment Devices (IVED) for the planned Voter Register update processes. These devices will be used to enrol Nigerians that have attained the age of 18 years, clean up the voters register and acquire additional biometric that will be in consonance with the use of Electronic Voting machines.
“The commission invited over 50 companies engaged in hard and software production to demonstrate the different brands and versions of their Electronic Voting Machines. The companies demonstrated the different Electronic Voting Machine solutions available.
“Some of the companies demonstrated the solutions virtually. The commission is analysing all the demonstrated systems for purposes of choosing the ones that are in tandem with our ecosystem, is rugged, simple to use and easily maintained.”
Some political watchers who spoke to one of our correspondents however called on the commission to ensure the process was transparent so as not to deflate the anticipated benefits and people’s confidence in the proposed e-voting system.
Asked if INEC was still committed to electronic voting in 2023, Okoye said, “The commission is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process and the commission is committed to the introduction of electronic voting machines in Nigeria.
“We are therefore attending to procurement issues under the shadow of the pandemic. The pandemic no doubt affected and still affects production capacities of hardware and software companies. We are also looking forward to the amendments of the electoral legal framework that will domicile more concretely the use of technology in the electoral process.”
There has been divided opinions on whether the country was ripe for electronic voting, but Yakubu said at the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives in October 2020 that elections in the country were too manual, expensive, cumbersome and archaic. He added that “the encumbrance of the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed.”
Following the suspension of the Ekiti East state constituency election over reports of violence, the commission said it was too early to speculate on when the election would hold given the level of violence. The election, which held on March 20, left four people dead, including a policewoman, while some others sustained injuries.
Asked when the election would hold, Okoye said, “Innocent voters died. A policewoman on electoral duty died. Innocent persons were injured. Fear and apprehension were created in the minds of the voters and electoral personnel. The indefinite suspension of the election led to loss of resources expended in the conduct of the election and tension has yet to abate.
“It is too early to speculate on when the election will hold. Families are still in mourning and our condolences to the families of all those who lost loved ones during the election. We also wish those that sustained various degrees of injuries quick recovery.
“The commission will meet at an opportune time to review the conduct of the election and take a decision on the way forward. But it is too early in the day to talk about going back to conduct the election. Going back now will send a dangerous signal to the effect that those who died are expendable commodities and do not matter.”
Asked what INEC thought was the best way to curtail the excesses of politicians who frustrate the peaceful conduct of elections, he said the commission was in support of the creation of Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal to handle the issue of arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders.
About two years to the conduct of the 2023 general elections, Okoye said the commission would soon release the timetable and schedule of activities.
The INEC chairman had said in October 2020 that presidential election would hold on February 18, 2023. But Okoye said in the interview, “We are getting ready for the 2023 general elections and the commission will soon release the timetable and schedule of activities for the election. The political parties are already aware of the exact date for the 2023 election.”