It was a beautiful twilight one Sunday, the year was 2006. After a tranquil morning and a mentally exhausting afternoon, I decided to stretch my legs and hang out with a few friends to blow off some steam.
I got the chills as I walked along the one-kilometer stretch of road to my hang out spot. Normally, on a Sunday evening, the whole stretch of that road will be buzzing.
On both sides of the road were privately owned hostels. We called them ‘lodges’. In front of some of the lodges were shops. Those too were open for business, but I didn’t see any buyer or seller.
My heart pounded fast. “An alien space shuttle probably took everyone away except me,” so I thought, as I was worried about the unusual emptiness. My worry instantly changed to fear as I got spooked when I heard screams, I later realised that these were screams of excitement, I was relieved knowing that at least everyone was okay.
I eventually made it to my friends. They were in a joyous mood, hugging and slapping backs. I looked silly before them when I asked what was happening. After a few diss which felt like jabs below the belt, I was ‘enlightened’. It was the #BBNAIJA finale. Katung just won.
Fast-forward to 2019. Because of my activities on social media, I was no longer in the dark even though I had never watched a minute of the show, ever. Some names and images kept popping up on my social media handles. So I had a little idea of what was happening or thought so.
On the finale of this year’s show, I returned home after hanging out with my friends to see my significant other lost watching the grand finale on television. I joined in to view the last moments of the show. Just before the winner was announced, a man walked on stage to confirm the results were not rigged, that every vote counted, all fifty million or so of them. Fifty million!
I did some extra digging. For the whole duration of the show, total votes amounted to a staggering two hundred and forty million (240,000,000) votes. Meaning that for the thirteen weeks the show was on air, there was an average of nineteen million (19,000,000) votes every week. Agreed, one has the right to vote more than once, my attention here is focused on how seamlessly, free and credible the whole process appeared.
The June 12 1993 elections are considered to this day, the most credible election ever conducted in Nigeria. It was an open ballot election. Between 1999 and 2019, Nigeria has gone through six election cycles. Every election cycle, international and local election observers read out a long list of irregularities in their press conferences. The election tribunals are flooded with cases of election malpractices and irregularities. Some politicians take advantage of the gullies in the Electoral Act and election process to gain an unfair advantage. From the point of accreditation to the point of collation there are many areas the process could be tampered with. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has tens of thousands of staff and ad hoc staff all over the country with a probability of them being turned to favour a particular politician because of the benefits they will get.
With all this in mind, how about a scenario where points humans can interfere and influence the outcome of elections are significantly reduced?
If we do not get our electoral system/process right, we will never get the right people in office and our dear country will not get the leaders they truly deserve. The Big Brother Naija voting was pretty simple. “send VOTE and your favorite housemate’s name to a shortcode.” That was all the voters using the SMS option needed to do. The system takes over from there. Who says we, as a nation cannot implement an e-voting system which is peculiar to us? In today’s world, data is everything. As a matter of fact data will shape how the future world will be run. 3-D printing, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum computer, etc run or will run on data. Data is the future, crude oil is not.
There are at least thirty-six million (36,000,000) bank accounts connected to the Bank Verification Number (BVN). This number represents only fifty-one percent of active bank accounts in Nigeria. There are over one hundred and seventy million (170,000,000) active phone lines in the country. Nigeria had over eighty-two million (82,000,000) registered voters for the 2019 general elections. The bio-data of every one of that number is in a database somewhere. So, there is no shortage of data in the coutry.
For the 2019 presidential election, total turnout was about thirty-four percent (34%), which represents an eight percent (8%) drop from the 2015 election. There could be many reasons more people did not turn out to vote. Voter apathy in Nigeria is mainly due to a lack of trust in the Nigerian System. By ‘Nigerian System’ I mean, electoral umpire, political gladiators, decades of failed promises, electoral process, just to mention a few. If the final outcome of our election cannot be influenced easily by any human, then we can truly say we are on a path to having good leaders.
The naysayers will point to the fact that data can be hacked and manipulated. And that Nigerian politicians will go to any length to short-change the system. Well, I will not dispute that. I can also say that where e-voting is done on a regular basis, countries more advanced than ours, you hardly hear of situations where the system data is hacked into and manipulated to favour a candidate. It is quite rare.
Big Brother Naija has shown that electronic voting can be done successfully in Nigeria. All we have to do is figure out a system that works for us. We may not be able to have a hundred percent (100%) e-voting for all registered voters, but with the data at our disposal we will most likely see an increase in votes electronically (considering also the logistics nightmare we already experience in the country), thereby increasing voter turnout, eliminating irregularities to a reasonable level, and increasing the chances of having the right people in office.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “it always seems impossible until it is done.”