This week, the eyes of the world were on two African countries- Kenya and Rwanda. Both countries conducted presidential elections. Co-incidentally, the incumbent Presidents of both countries, Paul Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta were both returned into office. Questions followed the Rwandan elections but the Kenyan one was really dramatic
There were a lot of admirable things with the Kenyan elections. 2 young people were voted in as MPs with little or no funds. A 100 year old man voted in the election and a pregnant woman gave birth at the polling station and named her child, Ballot. Interestingly, Kenyans living abroad could vote at their embassy in Rwanda. They even adopted e-voting in their elections, a feat that Nigeria has been unable to achieve and struggled with for years
However, there was a dent in the Kenyan election uhuru experience (pun intended). Incumbent President, Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration as winner of the election were trailed by allegations of hacking. Defeated long time rival and opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, had alleged on Wednesday that the electoral commission’s servers had been hacked to award the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, a significant lead, thereby casting significant doubt on early results. In a country with history of post-election violence in 2007 leaving 1,300 people dead and 600,000 displaced and again in 2013 with over 300 dead, Mr. Odinga’s comment renewed fears of unrest. In addition, Christopher Chege Musando, a senior manager in information technology at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which is responsible for counting votes and declaring the results of the Aug. 8 election was killed on the eve of the election. He had been missing for three days, commission officials said, and he was believed to have been tortured and murdered.
For Nigeria, this is a learning curve. We have long advocated and clamoured for the amendment of our constitution and the electoral law to accommodate e-voting. E-voting was used during the recent constitutional amendment by the National Assembly. The National Assembly in March also passed the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017 into law, giving the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) full powers to conduct elections. However, with these developments in Kenya, one wonders if Nigeria is ready just yet for e-voting. Elections in Nigeria are usually rife with pre-election and post election violence. There are reports of voter intimidation, intimidation of electoral officers as well as rigging.
For advocates of e-voting, they cite it as a way of dealing with ballot snatching and ballot stuffing which is rife during elections in Nigeria. With the numerous election challenges marring elections in Nigeria coupled with porous security and a weak cyber-security system, one wonders if we are ripe for e-voting yet. Will the system be able to survive hacking? Will the IT officials responsible for implementing the system be safe? Will it be manipulated to rig elections or award more votes to a preferred candidate? Will we have faith in the technology? What is our cyber-security policy and is our cyber-security crimes Act enough to deal with this? Nigeria was listed in a recent report as one of the World’s highest risk countries for cyber-attacks
Previous attempts to use technology in our elections have not been too successful. The permanent voter’s card and card reader is an example. Whether it was able to reduce electoral fraud and guarantee the integrity of our elections is yet to be seen. Even in the US, where e-voting is common place, there have been concerns as to the integrity of the system. The allegations of Russia meddling into the elections and even hacking the electoral systems is an example
For Nigeria, e-voting might go a long way with helping us in our elections but we need to learn from the Kenyan experience. The right cyber-security framework needs to be created to protect it from hacking, INEC staff oriented properly and seasoned and trained IT professionals recruited and protected. Kenya had barely a few months from when its amended electoral law to accommodate e-voting, we have a year plus. If Kenya can do it, we can a well but we don’t want to solve problems and end up creating new ones. The only way to do this is to learn from the Kenyan 2017 experience