President Buhari has always been clear about what he thinks to be the causes of his stunning victory in 2015. Two months after taking office, in an international speech, he thanked God, the United States and technology for his win. As the leader of one of the most religious countries in the world and a person of faith himself, it won’t come as a surprise that Buhari put God first. And given that he was speaking on an official visit to Washington D. C., it was only polite that his host made it to the top three. But his praise for technology could only have come from a pure belief in its vital role in his success at the polls.
With America’s ‘role’ disappearing upon Buhari’s departure from the country (replaced by Nigerians, his party or sponsors, depending on to whom he was speaking), God and technology remained constant factors. On some occasions, he thanked God for technology, implying that the Almighty – who after all works in mysterious ways – worked through technology to secure his victory. In other words, technology was the reason for his thanking God, or at least it sits next to God in his thankful mind. And Buhari is right. Undoubtedly, technology played a pivotal part in helping him become the first Nigerian to oust a sitting president at the ballot box.
But for the electronic voting authentication device that became known simply as Card Reader, Buhari’s fourth – and mostly likely final – shot too would have ended in yet more tears. It was that gadget that turned things around by making electoral rigging impossible – on this occasion only. Aware that the small plastic machine accurately captured and transmitted the thumps of those that trooped out to cast their votes, and having been warned that any difference in the transmitted figures and the actual votes would ground the exclusion of such unit from the tally, politicians had no option, but to, for once, let Nigerians decide their fate.
Multiple voting, ballot-box stuffing and results manufacturing, that had become integral to our electoral system, had to give way. The election was generally peaceful and seamless because thugs were rendered useless and Nigerians believed that their votes were going to count. And they did. President Jonathan conceded defeat without mounting a legal challenge (something which Buhari pioneered in his own losing campaigns). Virtually all gubernatorial and legislative losers followed Jonathan’s lead. My colleagues who made fortune from litigating election petitions every cycle weren’t too happy, but it was terrific for the country and our judges were saved the additional workload.
President Jonathan did not accept because he was resigned to his loss, but because there was simply no path back to Aso Rock Villa. Thanks to technology, most Nigerians participated in its freest and fairest election. Both domestic and international observers, for the first time, commended our election process. No one understood the decisive role of technology in this democratic revolution better than the winner who had tasted the bitterness of rigged losses three times.
Given the President’s appreciation of Card Reader, it should be no brainer that he would – more than anyone else – work to entrench technology in our democracy so that our elections would get even more credible. As the most vocal opponent of corruption and rigged elections, the major victim of ballot manipulation and the greatest beneficiary of technology, one could have betted one’s life that Buhari and APC would position technology at the very centre of our democratic life.
Well, those who made such a bet need to pay up. Instead of securing the technological security of our elections, Buhari’s government dismantled even the modest progress we had made. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, Buhari refused to assent to the Electoral Bill that would have cured the legal setbacks Card Reader had suffered in our courts and consolidated the place of technology in our democracy. He argued that the Bill was too far into the 2019 electoral season, and that signing it into law could create confusion and uncertainty, even as INEC indicated its readiness to implement it, all stakeholders had been carried along and ordinary Nigerians were yet to tune in to the process.
The result was a return to the ignoble past. Armed with conflicting court judgements watering down the legal effect of Card Reader, devious politicians got back at it again. Electoral malpractices such as voter intimidation, ballot-box snatching and stuffing and falsification of results were reported across the country and bitter legal battles ensued. Nowhere demonstrated this descent to chaos and fraud like Kano State. Following the questionable cancellation of some results that led to the declaration of its gubernatorial election “inconclusive”, the incumbent governor and his cronies – who belong to the ruling party – employed the most brazen of methods at the supplementary election to rape democracy in broad daylight.
As if to crown Kano’s disgrace as the template for 2023, APC yet again rejected the use of basic technology in future elections a couple of weeks ago when its members at the National Assembly voted down INEC’s proposal to transmit results electronically. APC legislators started by amending the Electoral Bill to empower the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and – even more ridiculously – themselves to give INEC approval as a precondition to deploying e-transmission. Then they summoned the NCC to tell them what they wanted to hear: that INEC is incapable of e-transmission. It resembles a contestant on a game show telling the judges how the results must be decided.
Meanwhile, the APC used misinformation and scaremongering to convince Nigerians that e-transmission is impossible because only 50 per cent of the country has internet connectivity. This, even though the INEC has been clear that their proposed system – just like the Card Reader – doesn’t need internet connectivity to work. Some even framed the issue as a war in their usual divisive style, arguing that e-transmission is designed to disadvantage the north.
Others claimed that e-transmission will be insecure and can easily be hacked into, turning into cyber-security experts overnight. Why wasn’t Card Reader hacked in 2015? Each Card Reader was configured to work only on election day, only in its polling location and to only transmit, but never to receive, information. Why are we now unable to replicate – if not improve on – that? If Nigerian banks can securely operate their apps for years, why is the Nigerian government unable to employ a secure app for just a few days in four years?
If APC were to follow the Qur’anic injunction that the recompense for good is good, the party would have been at the forefront of promoting technology in our democracy. But it chose the opposite because it is not confident of its record. APC is terrified that technology would do it in 2023 what it did PDP in 2015. What seems lost on the party however is that God works in mysterious ways. If God worked through technology in 2015, no one knows what He will employ when APC’s time is due. Those in power today may do well to keep in mind the opening line of the legendary Shata’s sermon-like song: “Mu gargadi mai gina ramin mugunta” (Let’s warn the digger of an evil hole) where he finishes with a caution, “Wata kila fa kai ka fada” (You may possibly wind up tumbling in).