One of the greatest threats and impediments to democracy is to subvert the will of the people, analysts observe.
They observer further that the management of elections, especially election results, is significant to the electoral process and consolidation of democracy in any country.
Over the times, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not only reiterated but demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that the votes of electorate in every election count in determining who wins an election.
In recent times, the commission has introduced some technology innovations to ensure transparency in the electoral process, including the Permanent Voter cards (PVC), Smart Card Readers (SCR) and regular update of voters register.
To further strengthen election management process and enhance transparency of the system, INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, on Aug. 6, introduced a dedicated public election result viewing portal, known as “The INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal’’.
The portal which can be access by longing in to https://inecelectionresults.com, enables Nigerians to view polling unit results in real time on election day.
The portal was introduced alongside with Z-pad, a tablet with dual functions of uploading of scanned copies of election results at polling Units (PUs) to the portal, as well as a secondary authentication mechanism to support the smartcard readers on voters’ verification on election day.
The instruments were test-run at the Aug. 8, Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election in Nasarawa State and subsequently deployed for the Sept. 19 Edo governorship election.
While INEC assured the public that the result viewing portal and the Z-pads would be used for Ondo State governorship election and subsequent polls, it dropped the use of the z-pads for secondary authentication mechanism to review and perfect the device for that function.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, announcing the introduction of the portal, said that the commission was aware that result management had remained a major source of mistrust in Nigeria’s electoral process.
“Citizens are often concerned, and sometimes rightly so, that results may not always be consistent with votes cast.
“INEC is determined to address any source of this concern through enhancing the level of transparency in the conduct of elections, more so in the process of releasing results of elections.
“It is a fundamental principle of democracy that in elections, votes are not only correctly counted, but that they also count,’’ Okoye said.
He recalled that in consistent with INEC commitment to transparency in election management, the commission introduced the Form EC60E, which is a poster version of the primary result sheet, the Form EC8A.
“This replica of the polling unit result is pasted at the PU after votes are counted, recorded and announced.
“This poster, now widely known as the People’s Form EC8, has increased transparency in result management.
“The form enables the citizens to photograph the results and project the outcome of elections, even before the final results are announced.
“Unfortunately, this has also led to abuses, as unofficial and at times false results are known to have been circulated, particularly via social media, leading to tension and casting aspersions on the final outcome of elections,’’ he said.
Okoye, however, stressed that that the result view portal did not constitute electronic collation of results.
He said that the collation of election results shall remain as provided for by law, a manual process of completion of relevant result sheets and their upwards collation until the final results are determined.
“The commission hopes that this innovation would improve the transparency in election result management and further consolidate public confidence in the electoral process’’, Okoye said.
Interestingly, various stakeholders including voters, political parties, civil society organisations, election observers and the international community, commend INEC’s performance in the Edo election, describing it as the most credible and improved election conducted by the commission in recent times.
They commend INEC on logistics deployment, including early arrival of materials, opening of polls, as well as the deployment of its new innovations, the Z-pad and result viewing portal.
While some see the result viewing portal as a “magic wine’’ in the Nigeria electoral process, others describe it as a key innovation boosting citizens confidence in the electoral process.
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room), one of the accredited groups that observed Edo governorship election in its preliminary statement, observed that the election appeared to have been a marked improvement on recent previous governorship elections.
An ICT expert, Mr Christopher Chidi, said one of the innovations that made Edo election a success was the introduction of the “result viewing portal.
“The portal has made it difficult for politicians to alter election results at will at the collation centres at the wards, local or state level’’.
Also, Mr Moses Gabriel, a civil servant, said that the portal contributed a lot to the success and credibility of the Edo election.
“Since the results from the polling units are displayed live, nobody can now tamper with the mandate of the people as expressed by them at the polling units.
“I commend what INEC has done in Edo and we are hopeful it will be extended to future elections, especially in the Ondo State governorship election,’’ Moses said.
The Head of Publicity, National Consultative Front (NCFront), Mr Tanko Yunusa said that the use of the Z-pad, has eliminated rigging at collation centres.
Yunusa said: “You must give the process kudos. When INEC introduced Z-Pad, it helped to checkmate the social malfeasance that usually happens at collation centres.
“This is a welcome development and there is an improvement in the process as we move on in our democratic setting. It was a hard working process that yielded result,’’ Yunusa said.s
The co-convener of Centre for Liberty, Mr Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said that the general conduct of INEC staff, security personnel and other stakeholders in the Edo election validated Nigerians’ views that electoral reform was urgently needed for progress of the nation’s democratic process.
“INEC has already demonstrated its willingness to embrace this lofty leap with its Z-pad initiative.
“With the introduction of the results viewing portal and the Z-pad, electoral fraud, if not eradicated’it will be reduced,” Atoye said.
Also commending INEC performance and its innovations in Edo governorship election, the National Publicity Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, urged the commission to extend the innovations to future elections.
Ologbondiyan said: “Nigerians hope that what we have witnessed in Edo will not be an off-season procedure; we demand that this credible process applies to all our elections.
“The PDP applauds the use of virtual portal by INEC to upload results directly from the polling unit, the base of our election, which made it impossible for electoral violators to hijack this electoral process.
“It is our hope in the PDP, this new found image of INEC will gather more thresholds in future elections, particularly the Oct. 10, Ondo State governorship election.’’
Ologbondiyan, urged INEC to strengthen its processes, particularly in the area of card readers, to forestall the type of delays witnessed in accreditation of voters in Edo.
He also commended President Muhammadu Buhari for allowing credible election, imploring him to continue in the spirit of ensuring that the people are allowed to freely choose their leaders at all elections.
Ologbondiyan added that the Edo election had indeed shown that credible elections were possible in Nigeria, if all stakeholders played by the rules.
The Young Progressives Party (YPP) National Publicity Secretary, Mr Egbeola Martins, said that the innovations by INEC in the Nigeria electoral process, especially the result viewing portal, is a welcome development.
“INEC is by this feat admonished to collaborate with the National Assembly to give legal backing to this innovation that has further enhanced the electoral process by making it more transparent.
“Failure to act quickly in this direction may give enemies of democracy the opportunity to take advantage of the lacuna in our electoral laws thereby giving them the impetus to challenge any outcome in court.
“When the alteration of election results becomes difficult as seen in the just concluded Edo election, it increases the confidence of electorate to participate in the electoral process based on the strength that their votes will count,’’ he said.
All in all, analysts observe that while Nigerians await the full automation of the country’s electoral process, INEC should continue to deploy key technology innovations allowed within the Electoral Act, Nigeria Constitution and other legal frameworks, to promote the integrity and transparency of the country’s electoral process.(NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria