INDEPENDENT National Electoral Commission (INEC) has produced a special application to fight the scourge of vote buying and selling and other electoral malpractices. The application, according to INEC Commissioner, Dr. Mustapha Leeky, will provide voters opportunity to report on observations from their polling units. The app can be downloaded without charge from the INEC website or Google play store, allowing observers to take pictures of situations and transmit them to INEC. In addition, INEC’s efforts to discourage vote buying by candidates include not allowing voters to take any photographs inside the polling booths with which to assure vote buyers that they had delivered their votes according to terms of contract for selling their vote.
The special app is a creative use of technology to address some of the many problems that feature in electoral malpractices in the country, particularly with respect to flaunting of vote buying in recent elections in many parts of the country. No attempt to reduce activities of electoral malpractices can be too much. It is, therefore, commendable that INEC has invested funds to deploy technology for discouraging vote buying and other electoral crimes. The current do-or-die attitude to elections by candidates and their supporters constitutes a desperate problem that requires a desperate solution.
The INEC commissioner’s enthusiasm about the app is ample: “It allows every Nigerian to be an observer and a reporter of events as it happens, this you can download freely and have it on your smart phones, so you can take pictures, you can also take a short video and send it to us, it is geo-reference, so we know exactly where that issue is taking place and we can easily draw the attention of police or other security agencies to make sure that matter is actually addressed.”
But if deployment of technology is going to achieve its goals, citizens or average voters who are not security staff need to be provided with more user-friendly technology. Provision of 12 telephone lines, none of which is toll-free, puts the financial burden of surveillance on patriotic citizens who volunteer to do the job of security staff. For example, it is over-sanguine to expect 12 telephone lines to be adequate for receiving complaints from patriotic citizens who may need to be on a long queue to reach INEC during a 10-hour election day. Perhaps 12 telephone lines per state would have been more realistic, given the brazenness and magnitude of vote buying in recent elections.
INEC’s announcement of deployment of technology to discourage open vote buying around polling units is, though in the right direction, rather awkward, especially as provision of details of the working of the new application is likely to push vote buying and selling further underground and well ahead of voting time. As useful as the new app may be, it is also crucial to re-educate stakeholders about the importance of their need to give full commitment to free and fair elections.
Stakeholders also need to make their supporters buy into the culture of respect for electoral rules and regulations. There is no better way to do this than for INEC to be vigilant and ready to apprehend and prosecute in good time candidates and their supporters who conduct themselves as criminals in a matter designed to allow citizens to exercise their right to choose those to rule them in a free and fair atmosphere.
World-wide, technology is being used increasingly to stem criminal activities or prevent them before criminals have time to act. INEC’s introduction of technology to reduce incidence of electoral malpractices is in order. Since elections are regular aspects of democracy, the commission should be provided with adequate funds to use technology to discourage criminality, while other efforts are made to ensure that citizens’ use of technology to collect intelligence for INEC is properly protected by security men assigned to polling units.