There seems to be a lot of donkey business in the National Assembly this week.
Firstly a constitutional debate in the Senate was set aside so lawmakers could consider a bill regulating donkey breeding.
Then House of Representatives speaker Femi Gbajabiamila was forced to deny reports that Electoral Act Amendment Bill was being altered to outlaw the electronic transfer of election results.
The speaker’s statement came in response to a question by Representative Ugonna Ozurigbo who stated constituents have “inundated him” with calls opposing the move.
Press reports had already prompted more than twenty organisations to voice alarm that the decision would undermine the Independent National Election Commission’s efforts to improve the efficiency and credibility of Nigerian elections.
Commission Chair Mahmood Yakubu has already described the manual process of collating votes, calling it “expensive and cumbersome (and) sometimes chaotic” and highlighting how the current law forces officials to “write results manually and collate them manually right from the polling unit to the ward, from the ward to the local government, then, the state and from the state to the national level, in the case of the presidential election”.
Mr Yakubu continued:
“A lot has been achieved in other climes with the simple application of technology. So, the encumbrances to the deployment of technology in the transmission of election results should be removed.”
Instead of this, some lawmakers at least seem to have attempted to establish more encumbrances- at the expense of our democracy.
As the leader of the campaign to improve democracy in Nigerian through the deployment of established and easy-to-use digital technologies I believe that if we are to restore the credibility of our electoral processes it is vital that we use more electronic technology – not less.
It will be clear to anyone that the current process detailed by Mr Yakubu is riddled with weak spots which make it far too easy for votes to be manipulated and falsified.
This is one of the many reasons why Nigerians – and international observers – do not trust our elections.
Only 39% of Nigerians are satisfied with the way democracy is working in our country, while 60% say they are not satisfied.
And as a result our voter turnout is the worst in West Africa, with only one in three Nigerians bothering to vote in the last presidential election, compared to almost 70% in Ghana.
Electronic transmission of election results is a simple safeguard that every vote cast was counted correctly, and counted for the correct candidate.
But we don’t just need safer communication between officials – we also need better communication between elected and electors.
We do not know for certain that there ever was an attempt to ban electronic communication of election results, or whether rumours and gossip simply got out of control.
The same newspaper that this week ran the headline “Senate Bows to Pressure to Restore Electronic Transfer of Results” also reported how Assembly leaders had “decried reports that the lawmakers were planning to remove electronic transmission of election results from the Electoral Act amendment bill”.
It was this confusion that led voters to “inundate” elected officials like Representative Ozurigbo with questions.
The Representative’s experience also proves how keen Nigerians are to engage with both politics and politicians
Sadly, credible channels of communication between voters and politicians are all-too-often missing in Nigeria.
In the era of fake news, it becomes harder and harder for voters to identify what it real and what is relevant on social media. They need clearer communication from their leaders.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead we are attempting to address this issue by releasing free app called Rate Your Leader.
Rate Your Leader allows elected officials to interact directly with confirmed voters in the divisions they serve – and to do so in a way which makes offensive communication impossible and misleading communication unhelpful.
Politicians and people alike can use Rate Your Leader to engage person-to-person, understanding each other’s requirements and opinions. This way, leaders can find out rapidly what matters most to the people who elect them, and collaborate to address those issues.
Rate Your Leader also allows users to rate their politicians for their transparency and accessibility – signposting to their friends, neighbours and peers that this is a credible source of information.
In 2021 democracy is digital. Democracy means more – and needs more – than the administrative process of carrying it out.