Background to the Study
Election is the process of choosing a candidate for public office. Election is a critical component of any democratic society. As such, Nigeria’s returned to democratic rule and engagement with the democratic process led to the conduct of its general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. General elections are elections conducted in the federation at large for federal and state elective positions (The Electoral Institute, 2015). The 2015 presidential election appears to be the most keenly contested in the history of elections in Nigeria because it was the first time about four major opposition parties came together to form a very strong party, All Progressive Congress (APC) in order to challenge the dominance of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the polity. Indeed, according to Omotola (2013), the election became the only game in town, shaping and reshaping public discourse and political actions.
The use of electronic card readers at the 2015 general election in Nigeria has infused some level of transparency and credibility into Nigeria’s electoral process (Okonji, 2015). It was observed that when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) first announced its plan to introduce electronic card reader machine for the March 28 and April 11 2015 general elections, many Nigerians, especially politicians, vehemently opposed to it. They felt the country has not developed to a level where such technology can be employed for elections. Besides, they felt the uses of electronic card reader would disrupt the entire electoral processes.
The public outcry that greeted the planned introduction of electronic card reader machines was enough to discourage INEC from introducing it. However, because of INEC confidence in the efficacy of modern technologies in achieving quick results, coupled with its vision to transform the country’s electoral process from its old norms that was characterized by ballot box snatching and multiplicity of ballot tomb-printing, INEC went ahead and introduced the technology against all odds (Vanguard, 2015). However, many technology experts in Nigeria and outside, who monitored the elections are full of praises for INEC for insisting on the use of electronic card reader machines, saying it is the best thing that has ever happened to the Nigerian electoral process in the area of election transparency. They have called on the electoral umpire to introduce electronic card reader machines in subsequent elections, believing it is a sure way to achieve transparency and credibility in every election.
Prior to the 2015 general elections, a number of technologically based reforms (e.g. biometric Register of Voters, Advanced Fingerprints Identification System) were embarked upon by the new leadership (headed by Prof Attairu Jega) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the election management body empowered by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to organize, undertake and supervise all elections in Nigeria.
However, despite the confidence of INEC in the use of electronic card reader in the 2015 general elections, the machines came with some challenges, even though the elections have been widely adjudged as being successful. For instance, during the March 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections across the country, the electronic card readers malfunctioned in several polling units, a situation that caused undue delay in the accreditation process. It, however, worked perfectly in other polling units. The challenges ranged from rejection of permanent voter’s card (PVC) by the electronic card readers, inability to capture the biometrics from finger tips, to irregular capturing and fast battery drainage. INEC officials have to abandon their polling units and took the electronic card readers back to their office for proper configuration. In order to salvage the situation, which was almost becoming frustrating, INEC ordered the use of manual process for accreditation, But before the order could go round the states and local government areas, it was already late to conduct accreditation and actual voting in some areas, a situation that forced INEC to extend the exercise to the next day in all affected areas.
Concerned about the massive electoral fraud witnessed in the past general elections in Nigeria, INEC deployment of the electronic card reader in 2015 general elections was to ensure a credible, transparent, free and fair election in order to deepen Nigeria’s electoral democracy. However, the used of the electronic device in the 2015 general elections generated debate among election stakeholders before, during and after the elections.
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