Uzokwe's Searchlight

Nigerians must reject the use of electronic voting system for the 2007 elections. The time is just not yet ripe for it. They must resist it with the same gusto used against the third term project.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


major phase in the battle for the salvation of democracy has come and gone in Nigeria. President Obasanjo has been handed a devastatingly humiliating defeat. Analysts believe that the defeat has not only drained his political capital to vanishing points but may eventually consign the modest achievements he may have made to the dustbin of history. Be that as it may, the issue of tenure elongation is dead. In retrospect, though, this exercise was good for Nigeria. It tested the will of Nigerians to fight for what should be their most-priced possession- Democracy. It tested the will of Nigerians to look a benevolent dictator in the eyes and tell him that "he has no clothes on". Had this not happened, Obasanjo would still be prancing around, believing that he is indispensable to Nigeria. Now he knows that he has overstayed his welcome and must begin to gather his belongings for a one way ticket to Otta, come 2007.


Having said the above, let me caution that Nigerians must not be fooled into thinking that Obasanjo has thrown in the towel. Far from it; indications are that he is not about to roll over and play dead. Even if he wanted to, the political jobbers around him, who continually deceive him into believing that he is a colossus, will again start putting ideas into his head. These are the men that General Obasanjo's wife referred to in her candid interview aired a few weeks ago.

It has been reported that the president's search for a successor has begun in earnest. Some feel that his recent trip to Port Harcourt, to meet with one of his favorite governors, Odili, was geared towards anointing him as a successor. If this is true, it does not surprise me that he wants someone who supported his third term bid and would be willing to shield him from persecution and embarrassment after he leaves office. On their own part, the selfish political jobbers, around Obasanjo, like Ojo Maduekwe, would want him to support a candidate that would continue to provide them with jobs around Aso Rock.

The reader should not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with an outgoing president looking for a successor that he feels would continue with programs he started. It is routinely done in advanced countries were democracy has taken hold. The catch, though, is that in those advanced countries, they always conduct elections where THE PEOPLE would have the final say. Herein lies the problem with Nigeria. We are dealing with an administration and a PDP party that presided over one of the most hideous and despicable rigging exercises called elections in April of 2003. Ballot boxes were freely stuffed in the full view of law enforcement agents and nothing happened. Private Citizens owned up to engaging in massive rigging and still walk the street as free men. What is the guarantee that the same will not happen in 2007? What is the guarantee that General Obasanjo would not hand- pick a successor and then ram the person down the collective throats of Nigerians via PDP masterminded election irregularities? Nigerians have to be vigilant against having a successor foisted on them. This is where the issue of the so-called Electronic Voting System (EVS) comes in.

The Chairman of INEC, Prof Maurice Iwu, proposed the use of Electronic Voting System for the 2007 election. He contended that the introduction of the System was to "remove all elements of subjectivity" in the voting process. The argument makes some sense but can only be tenable where all things are equal. In Nigeria, all things are not equal; there are a lot of elements that would militate against the successful implementation and use of the system. Also, it has been proven that these electronic systems are prone to malfunctioning. For example, on May 17, 2006, Electronic Voting System was used in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and as many as 100 systems reportedly malfunctioned. The most prevalent problem was that the computers would not produce zero count printouts at the beginning of the day. Zero count print-outs are supposed to confirm, at the beginning of voting, that there are no votes already registered on the machines before voting started. If the Electronic Voting System is susceptible to that type of malfunctioning, it is fair to conclude that it could also be used to aid rigging by programming votes into it prior to the start of voting or at the end. In Nigeria where "anything goes", established riggers, especially PDP, would have no qualms exploiting this loophole. If they were able to stuff ballot boxes during the 2003 elections, out of desperation to win, manipulating the EVS will be, for them, a walk in the park. This is why Nigeria must reject the system for now.

In the case of the EVS malfunction in Pittsburgh, several of the reported problems were rectified because experts were on hand to do so. In Nigeria, it will be difficult to get many experts, on stand by, to rectify problems. Even when they are available, the culture of bribery and corruption will not allow them to do what is right. For the right price, they will channel their expertise into helping riggers achieve their dubious aims of vote manipulation.

Nigerians must therefore reject the use of electronic voting system for the 2007 elections. The time is just not yet ripe for it. They must resist it with the same gusto used against the third term project. If this is not done, come 2007, PDP and Obasanjo will hand down to Nigerians a person of their choice and then use the EVS to legitimize him. This is not to say that they will not attempt to repeat what they did in 2003 if physical balloting is used. However, with all the expose in the courts about the 2003 elections and how ballot boxes were stuffed, Nigerians now know what to look for at ballot stations and where to maintain the greatest vigil to avoid a repeat. With EVS, the modus operandi of the riggers would change and Nigerians would be caught unawares again. A stitch in time saves nine.