Are locally-made e-voting machines equal to the task?

Features & Reports

LOCAL innovators may have heaved a sigh of relief recently when acting President  Yemi Osinbajo signed three executive orders into law. One of the three laws encourages “support for local contents in public procurement” and compels all government agencies to stick to local products.

•Solar evoting machines

This means that the Federal Government and its agencies must patronise locally made goods and services, in line with the local content policy.

With this particular law, it was expected that all government procurements would comply with the new presidential directive by contributing their quota in the  economic revitalization policy drive and at the same time  encourage local manufacturers, particularly  innovators.

The new policy is also expected to save the country some capital flight usually lost to foreign manufacturers. For instance, INEC spent about N34.4 billion on importation of 132,000 units of data capturing machines for the 2011 voters’ registration exercise. The development was deplored by the then Minister of Science and Technology, Mohammed Abubakar, saying that Nigeria may not have to spend that much again on elections as local technologies for the same purpose can be found in the country.

It was in the light of this urgency that the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, challenged the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) to    develop a home grown technology that would drive the 2019 general elections.  In response to the challenge, NASENI, six months after, unveiled Nigeria’s first solar-powered electronic voting machine which could replace the traditional system of voting in Nigeria, after series of tests and retrials by local engineers and approved by the minister.

Solar powered electronic machine

The solar-powered electronic machine made in Nigeria by NASENI is said to support cloud-based computing, a tech trend that has received a lukewarm reception in Nigeria  but could help ensure a transparent election process. With the solution, the NASENI   said the electoral body can hold up to five national elections at the same time without the usual encumbrances.

The solution NASENI said provides answers to all electoral challenges by minimizing interference to the election process, eliminating the use of ballot boxes, eliminating the use of paper ballot, elimination of multiple voting, and real time collection of results. Though, the device is not immune to hacking, NASENI said measures were taken to make the device tamper proof but more efficient and reliable.

While receiving the new device during the formal presentation by NASENI, Dr. Onu explained that the motive behind the introduction of the device to INEC was part of efforts to remedy the challenges associated with the country’s electoral system, which includes rigging and ballot box snatching, among others.

He said with the e-voting machine, there would be a significant reduction in election litigation in the country, as election results would reflect the true wishes of the people. He added that permanent voter cards could now be issued within five minutes with the help of the machine.

Onu stated that NASENI’s focus is to ensure that the country is able to produce many of the equipment and machines currently being imported.

However, despite the excitement that greeted the invention of the NASENI e-voting device, the INEC at the formal presentation of the machine by the Minister, last week, was said to have shown lack of interest in the device, with a move to scuttle the effort of the agency.

A source at the meeting was quoted as saying that INEC underrated the capacity of the machine to carry the 2019 general elections, arguing that it may fail to print out election results earlier enough, which may lead the Commission into unnecessary litigations.

The source who witnessed the presentation and pleaded for anonymity also said that INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mamoud and other staff of INEC “were shocked that NASENI could produce such novel technology but in order to please the aggrieved minister and his team set up a technical committee to look into the device and send in its report on July 29.”

According to the source, ‘the angry minister who felt disappointed at the manner INEC received the locally made technology, challenged INEC to adopt the machine and deploy it for 2019 general elections since he had tested and confirmed it to be efficient enough to meet INEC’s standard and requirements.’

Ingenuity of local engineers

It was equally gathered that the furious minister further challenged INEC to adopt the machine as it is capable of taking five or more different elections simultaneously.

The INEC Chairman was said to have argued that he wasn’t convinced on the capacity of the machine because of possible litigations on release of election results but the result was printed right there to his bewilderment.

INEC had earlier in the day barred journalists from witnessing the presentation to celebrate   the ingenuity of local engineers.  However, INEC, on Sunday, came out to deny turning down the e-voting machine, saying it would rather fully support NASENI to ensure it succeeds in putting the technology into use.

Meanwhile, technology experts have lauded NASENI for the innovation and called for its application in line with government local content policing.

Whether the effort of NASENI in proving that Nigeria has the capacity to develop her own technology and the promise made by INEC are genuine, are to be seen.

—Nigeriatoday