The rate of Internet usage across the globe has increased tangibly. This development, without doubt, has become a fundamental instrument for assessing the level of technological advancement in the world in the 21st Century. This study therefore, assesses the role ICT play towards the credibility of elections in Nigeria with particular reference to the 2015 general elections. The paper reveals that ICT plays a pivotal role as a watchdog and paves the way for it to serve as an agent in monitoring or assessing elections in Nigeria’s fourth republic. It concludes that ICT in general and social media in particular has contributed greatly to the credibility of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria and reshaped journalism in Nigeria to meet up with the global standard of practice in terms of reportage. The study recommends that electoral management body should make adequate provisions for standard ICT gadgets for the conduct of future elections in Nigeria if mistakes of the past must not be repeated.
Keywords: ICT, Election, Challenges, Possibilities, Nigeria.
It is not an exaggeration to state that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become indispensable in the 21st Century as it enhances the effectiveness and efficiency in every aspect of human endeavours. ICT is regarded and seen very important owing to the fact that it plays crucial roles in the management of modern days organizations. This is because modern Organizations rely solely on technical solutions for the day to day running of organizational activities. Suffice it to say that many organizations in this 21st Century have decided to employ Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for smooth running of their daily operations. To Rabindra (2012), the effective use of ICT allows organization to increase productivity, cut costs, improving efficiency as well as providing better customer services. It should be further stressed that employees can work efficiently and effectively when exposed to the use of modern technological gadgets and Nigeria’s Election Management Body (EMB) is not an exception to the above fact.
Fundamentally, election remains one of the most important attributes of democracy if a country wants to be recognized globally as it is central to competitive politics. Democracy represents among other things such as the rule of law, freedom of speech and expression, fundamental human rights, equality before the law and more importantly, freedom to vote and be voted for through competitive free, fair and credible elections. Therefore, the need for credible election becomes indispensible. In the opinion of Jinadu (2003), the future of any liberal
democracy to stand the test of time, it must depend largely on the conduct of free and fair election and a responsible party system. However, Election to Bratton (2008) empowers and guarantees the people to choose among the candidates contesting for top political offices with clearly specified rules. This signifies a process of selecting those that represents a particular organ at a particular time by prospective members of the group at regular interval to protect the collective interests of the people without fear or favor. In the same vein, Omotola, (2010) opines that election guarantees political participation, competition, provide legal framework for smooth change of government between different competing groups. It is against the foregoing that this study assesses the role been played by the ICT in the credibility of elections in Nigeria with specific emphasis on the 2015 general elections.
In this section, opinions of some scholars have been reviewed to get proper picture of the relevance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria in particular and the world in general. Information and Communication Technology has been in existence around the world for some time now. This is to say that there have always been ways of communicating through technology throughout the evolution of all types as the history of ICT can be traced to the evolution of computers. The early computer was a calculating machine to perform computations. The history of Information and Communications Technologies is however, written information science discipline (Hahn & Buckland, 1998). In fact, majority of references to information technology have always been concerned with computers, though the exact meaning has shifted over time (Kline, 2006).
According to Wilson and Lawan (2015), advances in Information and Communication Technologies have transformed nearly all, if not all areas of human endeavours. Technology like the Internet has in no little ways impacted on professional routines. This is an indication that Internet has spurred a transformation of how journalism is practiced and who is doing it. Suffice it to say that in the emerging democracies Africa inclusive, the issue of free, fair and credible election has been subject of debate at different time and space because of the high degree of irregularities that marred various elections conducted in the continent in the past. These irregularities include ballot stuffing, inflation of voter’s register, intimidation of voters by political thugs, conniving with the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) by any government in power to manipulate and inflate election results among others, all these malaise have resulted into political conflicts instigated by the disputed elections, (Fischer, 2002; Kayinga and Okello, 2007; Bratton, 2008). Nigeria is however, not an exception to the above fact, looking at the nature and character of elections in the country right from colonial period (1922) to the present fourth republic, which have been full of malpractices as captured by Ibrahim (2010). That is not to say that there have never been credible elections in the country, for instance, few cases such as the 1959, 1979, 1993, and 1999 general elections are adjudged as less chaotic and fair to some extent. On the other hand, there are also major elections in the country that were fraudulently conducted which has been acknowledged by different scholars, as well as local and international observers including the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), the Carter Centre, National Democratic Institute (NDI), fourth republic elections at all levels in Nigeria are not without
shortcomings as such, they lack the credibility of being free and fair, this is on account of the fact that elections’ results are always challenged at the election petition tribunal by the defeated candidates and political parties on several grounds.
The introduction of ICT in the conduct of elections in Nigeria came into limelight at the preparation towards the 2015 general elections with the introduction of technologically based reforms to curtail the previous fraudulent nature of elections in the country. These technological innovations include biometric register of voters, advanced fingerprints identification system as well as the efforts of the social media operators who contributed tangibly to the success of the elections. ICT became prominent in 2015 after it was given due attention and recognition by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders in the administration of election in the country by the introduction of permanent voters card (PVC), Smart Card Reader as well as an improved utilization of social media by political parties, INEC itself and the electorates. The introduction of ICT in the electoral process is likely to reduce electoral frauds and malpractices. This is to say that the Internet now serves as the units that have been absent in the traditional media.
There are many theories on media in particular and ICT in general and how they influence peoples’ attitudes, opinions and most importantly, their social behaviour. However, for the purpose of this study, Agenda-setting theory was applied as a theoretical framework. Agenda setting theory was made popular by the assertion of Cohen (1963) that the press ‘may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is successful in telling its readers what to think about’. There are plenty of evidences that the media have a strong influence on people’s perception of which issues are important and which problems they want their government to do something about. The influence of the media increases when the need for orientation among the viewers is much.
The Agenda setting theory attempts to determine how the popular agenda of the media affects society and attempts to explain why mass media has gained so much power over the thoughts of people everywhere. This theory conceptualizes and explains the different forces that dictate how important issues in the media are perceived by people in the society. McCombs and Shaw regarded Watergate scandals in USA as a perfect example of this theory. The theory also takes a back-to-the basics approach to communication theory and research. The agenda setting theory was first discussed during the 1968 presidential election. The theory is a robust and widespread effect of mass communication, an effect that results from specific content in mass media (McCombs, 2004). The agenda setting theory with the prevailing selective exposure hypothesis, reaffirming the power of the press while maintaining individual freedom.
In their groundbreaking study, which was first discussed and measured during presidential campaign (McCombs, 1993); they believed that the theory created a cause and effect relationship between the media and public agenda. They emphasized that the media influences the way we-public think. The theory attempts to prove that the media is able of telling the public what current issues created by the mass media in a given society, that is, the theory was discovered to create public awareness of issues created by the mass media.
In this respect, the need for agenda setting in the role of ICT on the credibility of elections in Nigeria becomes necessary here because the theory lower the unpleasant issues that people can observe directly as well as for other issues that the audience is well informed about. The media have little power to set the agenda when people have sufficient political knowledge to counter argue the claims made by the media. Therefore, agenda-setting effect is stronger for concrete issues that are easy to visualize than for abstract issues (McCombs & Reynolds 2002; Yagede & Dozier, 1990).
The Role of ICT in the Credibility of Election in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic
In most part of the world today, almost all the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) have decided to employ the use of ICT in the conduct of elections and all the processes involved for the purpose of improving and deviating from the traditional (analogue) method in their various countries and Nigeria inclusive. The above assertion is line with the opinion of Therese (2001) that the application of ICT to elections can increase administrative efficiency, reduce costs and enhance transparency. This is to say that ICT has all it takes to promote and instill confidence in the electoral system and reduce frauds to a minimal level. Currently, there is no single operation in the electoral process that cannot be computer-aided or even be completely taken over by ICT if the country in question is willing to digitalize.
To (Haneefa and Nellikka 2010), the exponential growths of the Internet and the increased reliance on digital information have transformed newspaper journalism with new ways and means of disseminating news and other products. It has put online newspapers to challenge of updating and providing fresh news frequently and providing other channels of reaching and engaging the audience. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the application of computer related gadgets to store, transmit and communicate information not only on election but other aspects of life. ICT is a driving force in the 21st century because of its relevance to almost every aspect of human endeavors such as economic, political and educational developments among others. ICT has become enabler of change, it does not bring change on its own rather, it serves as a facilitator of change in bringing about a stable political system (Olugbenga, 2001).
However, ICT do not only facilitate exchange of information, it enhances the process, creating new modes of sharing ideas and reducing the cost of transmitting and processing information. ICTs are also “about information flowing faster, more generously and less expensive throughout the planet, as a result, knowledge is becoming an important factor in the economy, more important than raw materials, capital, labor, or exchange rates” (Francois, 1995). Furthermore, experts are of the view that ICT not only facilitate development opportunities but also serve as an avenue for developing countries to make use of in all areas of life to catch up with the developed countries. To sum it up, ICT in the words of Hans:
If properly used they can reduce poverty; empower people; build capacities, skills and networks; inspire new governance mechanisms and reinforce popular participation at all levels. The range of applications are limitless, from electronic commerce, to the empowerment of communities, women and youth; from the promotion of good governance and decentralization, to advocacy programs,
including the observance of human rights; from long distance education to telehealth and environmental monitoring (Hans, 2000).
Note worthy is that the employment of ICT has improved the electoral process in many ways such as political campaign, citizens’ participation, debates amongst contenders, news room discussion, the conduct of opinion polls and the general enhancement of election administration among others. Meanwhile, countries such as Brazil and Chile now use ICT to monitor their elections and have successfully deployed voting machines to that effect. The use of voting machine has resulted in fast voting and the counting of votes. This has reduced disputes in results declaration since political parties can check the machine and be satisfied with its performance or output (Darkwa, 2001).
It is now germane at this juncture to state that ICT has become an enabler and a facilitator of change in curtailing the various challenges facing the world as a whole and the developing nations in particular especially in the area of technological advancement. Fundamentally, attention of this paper is given to the role of ICT on the credibility of election with particular emphasis on Nigeria. Different types of ICTs have been employed by different countries of the world ranging from USA, India, Canada, France, Germany, Brazil, Australia, Egypt, Ghana, Togo, among others in the conduct of elections. For instance, in USA and Brazil e-voting was used during their elections as well as utilized media in other election related processes such as campaign, opinion polls etc. This is why (Newman 2011) observed that social media platforms such as Facebook is far an important social network for referring traffic, and Twitter has become a crucial interactive tool for journalists and audience. It spread through newsrooms and now plays a central role in the way stories are sourced, processed and disseminated as well as accommodating audience responses. The usage of social media during electioneering campaign is not new as many countries of the world have in many occasions proved the relevance of social media in winning elections generally. A good example of this is the former American president- Barrack Obama’s usage of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace which many believed to have contributed greatly to his success during the 2008 presidential election. Again, the Indian 2012 and Nigerian 2015 presidential elections respectively are also other good examples.
Interestingly, due to the constant irregularities in electoral system in almost all developing nations with their emerging democracies, the desire for ICTs technologies in the electoral process becomes important so as to reduce electoral malpractices. It is also imperative to note that such technological panacea such as electronic voting machines, polling stations, webcams and biometric identification equipments have the potentials for accurate and ostensibly tamper-proof innovations that concerns all the processes of elections and are expected to reduce fraud to a minimal level in the process of registration, voting and vote counting.
Biometric identification systems are on the increase for voter registration exercises across low and middle-income countries of the world more than 34 of them employed biometric verification system in preparation for their electoral processes. Different African countries adopted different biometric systems to improve transparency in elections, including but not limited to Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Mauritania, Kenya, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Mozambique (Chikodiri, 2015).
Evidence from the above lamentations was captioned by Watson, Ibrahim, Alhassan, Muhammad and Gibrilla (2015). They observed that majority of the citizens of Ghana value the utilization of ICT in administration of election in the country and that has helped in a transparent electoral process to a large extent. They however, emphasized that training and re-training of staff by Electoral Management Body (EMB) is constantly needed to uphold the effective usage of ICT facilities during election process.
It is pertinent to note that ICT should be used not only in the conduct of elections but also be employed to prevent election related violence. It has been stressed that in 1992, 1997 and 2007 presidential elections in Kenya, thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a politically motivated violence. In the same vein, (Kanyongolo and Lunn 1998; Mwongera 2012; Nowrojee 1993) added that citizens having access to Internet especially youth as what obtained in Kenya during the election has contributed greatly in preventing election related violence. The Communication Commission in Kenya (CCK) provided that by December 2012, 89.10 percent of the citizens in Kenya lives in areas with access to Internet, which helped in spreading information that will ease the tension during and after the election.
Iruonagbe, Imhonopi and Ahmadu (2013) held that all over the world mass media is seen as the watchdog of the society, this is because it is saddled with the responsibility of disseminating truthful, factual and accurate information on different subject matter electoral processes inclusive for the overall societal growth and development. But in a different opinion, (Yaqub and Maikudi 2015) examined the “The Role of Mass Media in 2015 General Election in Nigeria” and discovered that what the above conceptualization of mass media set out to achieve was not feasible, considering the way mass media conducted itself in Nigeria’s 2015 election. They examined further that during this election, the mass media with the exception of ‘Social Media’ resulted to all sorts of unethical behavior of blatant lying and falsehood against the candidate of the then opposition party, All Progressive Congress (APC) (Gen. Muhammadu Buhari Rtd) which in their opinion, is a breach of their professional ethics in the name of supporting the ruling party. Adding that in spites of the hate campaigns propagated by the mass media, Nigerian electorates were not misled considering the outcome of the election. They concluded that there is the strong need to strengthen the professional code of ethics of the media by the appropriate authority to prevent the future occurrences of such behavior for the betterment of the country in general. In the same direction, (Andrew 2015) asserts that social media’s influence in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria was stronger than it has ever been, it will continue to shape and re-shape campaigns for years to come. From the above submission, it is crystal clear that the 2015 general elections in Nigeria was dominated, decided and directed by social media. This is evident in the fact that within minutes of votes being counted at different polling units during the 2015 elections in Nigeria, the results were all over social media before the official announcement of the results by the election management body (INEC) and people were following and recording the results, and when the results were officially announced the results matched with that of the social media. This further shows that social media encourages political participation as almost every one depends on social media for breaking news (ICFJ, 2016).
Challenges of ICT in the conduct of Election in Nigeria
Having appraised the important role played by the Information and Communication Technology in the conduct of elections in Nigeria and the world at large, it is also worthy of note that the new innovation is faced with a number of challenges. In the opinion of (Adeleke 2015), the utilization of Information and Communication Technology tools such as PVC and Card Reader in Rural Areas in Nigeria during the 2015 general elections was faced with a lot of challenges. These challenges according to him include lack of adequate power supply, absence of qualified personnel to handle the equipments, lack of proper functioning of the equipment during the conduct of the election and a host of others which according to him, contributed to its failure in some quarters. It should be stressed at this juncture that the application of ICT is not only the prerequisite for ensuring free, fair and credible elections therefore, proper care and training of staff to handle those gadgets should be taking seriously.
Possibilities of ICT in the conduct of Election in Nigeria
It is fundamental to note that Nigeria has witnessed series of fraudulent acts at different point in time in the course of organizing and conducting elections and this made some scholars and stakeholders in the Nigeria’s democratic experiment to advocate for a paradigm shift from the traditional (manual) way of conducting elections to that of modern way- ICT based support elections not only in Nigeria but across Africa in order to uncover and reduce electoral frauds.
To (Emmanuel 2015), the usage of ICT tools in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria is a step forward in reducing the previous malpractices during elections and not only that, subsequent election should be fully technologically driven. Supporting Emmanuel’s argument, (Charles 2016) asserts that what is required in the Nigerian electoral system to fully address some of the electoral challenges is e-voting. He asserts further by proposing the type of e-voting machine needed for the country which is Smart Electronic Voting Machine.
It is also important to stress here that the Nigerian Media is obviously in pursuit of technological proficiency. According to (Pate and Wilson 2014), Nigeria’s media history paints an explicit picture of an institution that has gone through several eras and stages of transformation: from analogue to what is today described as the digitization in both print and broadcast sectors. An era characterized by increased ICT driven media. In the same vein, (Chikodiri 2015), explained that the employment of ICT tools in the conduct of 2015 general elections in Nigeria has in no small way reduced a lot of irregularities during the elections such as inflation of voters register, ballot stuffing etc. He discovered that ICT tools used (Card Reader and Permanent Voters Card) has rekindled the confidence of most Nigerian voters, Civil society organizations, International Community and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) compared to what was obtained in the previous elections in the country from colonial period to date.
It is on record that previous elections in Nigeria before the advent of the Information and Communication Technology, outcome of elections’ results were usually based on here say. The above assertion was supported by the position of (Salihu, and Solomon 2016) who opined
that previously, elections in Nigeria were marred by all sorts of malpractices which in some cases, leading to violence. Much more fundamentally, the employment of ICT technology (PVC and Card Reader) is responsible greatly for the minimal drop in the amount of election petitions filed by aggrieved party members and political parties who were defeated during the 2015 general elections in Nigeria when compared to the previous elections conducted without the use of modern technological gadgets (PVC, Card Reader Machine and a host of others).
This paper examined the role of Information and Communication Technology in the credibility of elections in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. It is however, important to note that the focus of the studies has been on election at the national level and much of the attention was given to Presidential Election. Fundamentally, special preference was given to the roles been played by two aspects of the ICT tools (PVC and Card Reader) in the conduct of the election and that of the Social Media. The findings of this study have shown how and why the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in general and social media in particular have contributed tangibly to the credibility of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria and reshaped journalism in Nigeria to meet up with the global standard practice of the profession. This is an indication that there is that tendency or prospects of meeting the new millennium media or the digitalization of Nigerian media.
Based on the revelation of this study and the challenges identified, the following recommendations are hereby made as guide for future elections. First, the electoral management body needs to make provision for standard ICT gadgets for the conduct of future elections if mistakes of the past must be avoided. Second, efforts should be intensified towards training and retraining of their personnel for proper handling and smooth operation of the ICT tools because one of the challenges faced by the innovation in the last election was the inability of some of the ad-hoc staff to effectively operate the Card Reader Machine. Third and lastly, there is also the need for improved welfare of the staff recruited for the purpose of conducting elections to avoid any form of corrupt practices before, during and even after the elections.
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