On Saturday 25th of February 2023, The Federal Republic of Nigeria held its presidential (and National Assembly) elections. Historically, the Nigerian elections have been known to involve a lot of violence, thuggery, vote buying, and voter suppression and intimidation, and this was no different.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body in charge of conducting elections in Nigeria, has developed several mechanisms to ensure a free and fair election. The latest development is the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), an electronic device that uses biometrics to verify and authenticate voters.
However, due to the peculiar nature of the Nigerian elections, the BVAS is not nearly enough to prevent the manipulation of polls and other forms of voter suppression.
A Quick Overview of the Nigerian Electoral Process
All Nigerians of voting age (18 years) and above register their biometrics and other Personal Identifiable Information (PID) to get their Permanent Voter’s Cards, which allows them to vote in elections. During this process, voters are assigned to a polling unit based on the address given by the applicant.
- The various parties hold primaries. Then, the sequel to winning the primaries of their respective political parties, aspirants begin their campaign and try to win the populace’s heart with charisma and several promises, as I imagine is done in other democracies.
- Finally, elections are here. First, voters go to their respective polling units, get accredited with the BVAS, and are subsequently given a ballot paper. Then, voters signify their choice by applying ink-stained fingerprints.
- The presiding officer counts all votes in the presence of voters and representatives of the political parties. Finally, the results are uploaded to a central INEC database, and INEC announces the winner.
This process seems simple enough. However, it is rife with several hiccups, many of which can be solved by applying blockchain.
What is the Blockchain?
The blockchain is an immutable ledger of transactions; it is a database protected by cryptography that records and stores, permanently, every entry made into it. Unlike other databases using Create Read Update Delete (CRUD), the blockchain is only Create and Read. All messages sent successfully on the blockchain cannot be reversed, can’t be altered, or tampered with.
I believe you can begin to grasp how this can benefit electoral processes.
The blockchain isn’t Bitcoin or crypto. Instead, Bitcoin is built using blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies are perhaps the most popular utility for blockchain because they solve double spending in other forms of digital currency. But we won’t talk about that here.
Hiccups in the 2023 Nigerian General Elections
As the day of the elections approached, the atmosphere was charged with hope, fear, and other strong emotions. There were three leading aspirants for the presidency seat: Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Previous elections have been a tussle between two major parties PDP & APC, with other parties not standing a chance. However, Peter Obi of LP became a contender in the race due to some stroke of genius and personal ability. However, many mocked him and his supporters, saying he didn’t stand a chance and didn’t have the structure of the other two popular parties.
Fast-forward to election day, Nigerians trooped out in mass to vote for their preferred political candidates.
However, trouble struck. Many polling units reported the unavailability of electoral materials, including ballots, and in some cases, absent electoral officers. Other polling units reported instances of voter suppression and intimidation involving violence. Several voters were injured, ballots were burnt, and general chaos. In other units where voting was carried out successfully, many voters reported that INEC officials were being pressured to alter votes through bribes or threats of violence by armed thugs.
Furthermore, results were not being uploaded to the INEC database. Amidst all this chaos, INEC remained silent, which further helped to cement the idea that election results were being tampered with.
It took about 24hrs after the elections had concluded before INEC spoke (and failed to address the pain points of voters). It’s not hard to imagine what happened in those 24hrs, with reports of electoral officers being intimidated by thugs of certain political parties.
You should note that several polling units had to hold their elections 24hrs after they were initially meant to, due to the absence of electoral materials and officials.
How the Blockchain Solves Nigeria’s Electoral Woes
The most significant problem with elections in Nigeria is the manipulation of results due to human error or intentional human intervention. The manipulation and human error issues can be solved by automating the voting process and collating results.
However, automation isn’t nearly enough to prevent manipulation; databases can be hacked, or false data can be fed into the database.
Now, this is a critical point where the blockchain comes into play. Blockchain, by nature, is decentralized, trustless, immutable, and open. Recall that every transaction recorded on the blockchain cannot be changed; it is impossible to tamper with the information stored on-chain. This ensures the integrity of the votes cast by voters.
The next thing is the issue of security and disenfranchisement of voters. By integrating the blockchain with existing biometric technologies (i.e., BVAS), voters can vote from the comfort of their homes by verifying their biometrics through a selfie or using fingerprint scanners built into most modern smartphones. This circumvents the need to go to polling units and subject themselves to risks.
However, users without a smartphone can go ahead to polling units to get accredited to vote.
Using blockchain eliminates waste and costs incurred by printing ballots, hiring personnel, and other overhead. In addition, results can be viewed in real-time by anyone, which removes the uncertainty or possibility of foul play in the collation of results.
You may wonder if blockchain has been tested in electoral processes. Several Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO) use blockchain to vote on proposals. It is the same process fundamentally, but it needs to be tweaked to fit the peculiar nature of the country.
Proposed Reformation of the Electoral Process
- Voters Registration: During the voters’ registration. The information from their biometrics is hashed and used to generate a key, which can be used to validate transactions or votes.
- Voting: Voters verify themselves and sign their votes using biometrics on their smartphones or get verified at polling units.
- Vote counting: Results are updated in real-time as people vote. This eliminates wait time and provides an unprecedented level of transparency.
A blockchain-based electoral system ensures a secure and transparent electoral process. I know this has several limitations, but this will take the collective effort of the Giga Nigerian Tech Brain and all stakeholders, and I am sure we can smoothen things out. If perfected, this process can be applied in all democracies worldwide.