For there to be a true demonstration of democracy in Nigeria, there must be an unquestionable allowance for the citizens to freely exhibit choice and collectively decide on the majoritarian preference for self-governance and self-determination. Technology has become increasingly crucial to democracy in Nigeria as it aids in disseminating essential and balanced information, plays an educative role in the lives of indigenes, allows freedom of expression, and allows every citizen to have their voices heard and be involved. Furthermore, the advancement of technology has been taken advantage of by the electoral system in Nigeria. Technology is used for biometric documentation of voters and voter registration to eliminate the problem of “ghost voters.” The use of technology in the electoral process does not, however, remove threats to the integrity of the electoral process, such as state security to suppress opposition or armed forces to intimidate voters and manipulate results.
Besides using technology in the active electoral process, it gives the public the power to communicate. Unlike in previous generations, the potential for nearly every member of society to have their voices heard has increased dramatically with the acceptance of social media. The sheer force of the public through social media can be seen in the temporary ban of Twitter by the current head of state from June 5, 2021, to January 13, 2022. The longstanding protest against SARS, which demonstrated a unique coalition of Nigerian youth, began on Twitter and was further promoted through other social media channels. With over 48 million tweets advocating the End-SARS movement, Nigerians utilised social media to emphatically enunciate their displeasure with the system and their desperation for lasting change.
Despite the many accolades of technology in the democratic system, it can be exploited negatively to stifle political opposition and overwhelm the population’s will. It has been reported that there is a danger of cyberattacks with the recent increase in the digitalisation of the electoral
process. With the 2023 elections representing the first time in Nigeria’s history that presidential elections will be conducted almost exclusively via digitalisation, it is important to learn from the incidents during the Ekiti and Osun States’ elections. It was reported that during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, there were several attempts from other nations to invade the electoral portal and potentially sabotage the reliability of the results. To prevent cyberattacks in the upcoming elections, a significant proportion of INEC’s budget has been apportioned for cybersecurity systems. The INEC chairman states that engineers have been tasked with strengthening the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal.
Nevertheless, the lack of steady network coverage may discredit the hard work placed into the digitalisation of the electoral process because the electronic transmission of results may depend on network coverage availability. Likewise, the lack of technological understanding of the older generations and the rural community can impede the flow of the digitalised electoral process. The latter may lead to a lack of trust, influencing how the relevant individuals relate to the system. To mitigate the potential problems of the digitalisation of the electoral process, it has been suggested by Chris Uwaje, Chairman of Mobile Software Solution, that INEC collaborates with technological specialists, specialists who could strengthen security concerns while undertaking the duty of eradicating technological ignorance and distrust.
Whilst we eagerly anticipate an improved electoral process, the words of Uwaje are worth noting: “…INEC should be guided by those who provide the technology service to it. INEC is not formulated to be a tech company. It is burdened with all these functions. INEC is to govern the integrity of elections. There should be solution providers as another agency in charge of the technology supporting INEC’s ability to carry out its functions. There has to be an enabling law. There has to be another agency, another commission, in charge of ethical issues in elections. It is the function of INEC to conduct elections and release the results. But then, it can only do that with technology. And because they are not a tech company, they need tech services as another government organ responsible for digital infrastructure provision to INEC. From a technological point of view, we are really at the starting point of democratic attainment. Our laws must be revisited on how INEC is structured or restructured in the future.”
Article by Ireoluwakitan Omoyeni