INEC ELECTION RESULT VIEWING PORTAL (IREV) AND ELECTION INTEGRITY: A CRITICAL EXAMINATION PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN ELECTORAL PROCESS.
1.1 Background of the study
Elections are a fundamental element within the framework of a democratic system. The active engagement of individuals in the electoral process is crucial for conferring legitimacy upon elected political leaders and consolidating their power and authority. It facilitates a kind of governance in which the ruler's authority is derived from the agreement of the governed. Thus the necessity for functional democracies lies in the establishment of elections that are characterised by principles of freedom, fairness, transparency, and trustworthiness. Furthermore, it is important for a democratic system to be perceived as resilient and enduring.
In order for an election to be deemed as possessing integrity, it is imperative that it meets the criteria of being both free and fair, while also maintaining transparency. This is particularly true within emerging democratic systems. Elections are often handled through manual processes, which are susceptible to corrupt practises and manipulations. These factors often contribute to post-election unrest, crises, and protracted legal disputes before tribunals and courts. According to Ikelebe (2016), the presence of an inadequate electoral system leads to a persistent occurrence of crises and legal conflicts inside election tribunals and courts subsequent to electoral processes. The author stated that the presence of deficient democratic procedures invariably fosters conditions that give birth to crises, resulting in the establishment of feeble democracies, politically unstable institutions, and administrations without legitimacy.
Consequently, the erosion of the public's trust, assurance, and inclination to select individuals who best embody their interests in governmental representation becomes apparent.The argument posits that the electoral disaster might be ascribed to opportunistic politicians and partisan election officials who use the vulnerabilities inherent in the traditional voting system to perpetrate acts of electoral fraud. The combined impact of the irregularities, encompassing significant deficiencies in voter lists, the exploitation of the incumbent's authority, a dearth of transparency, and the presence of actual or perceived bias among election officials resulting in actual or perceived fraudulent activities, fosters a climate conducive to election-related violence. Moreover, this phenomenon has wide-ranging consequences as it erodes public trust in the democratic process (UN, 2012). According to a study conducted by Isiaka, Ibrahim, and Kolawole (2021), the observed situation elucidates the increasing trend of violence, characterised by incidents of fatalities and severe physical injuries. The existing paper ballot voting process exhibits vulnerabilities to manipulation and human error, while also lacking essential elements of a genuine election such as accountability, transparency, and the assurance of free and fair play.
Significantly ensuring the integrity of electoral processes and its sustained preservation necessitates the implementation of effective election management practises by an impartial electoral management body possessing the requisite expertise to administer elections that are both equitable and transparent. Ugoh (2022) posits that in highly developed democratic societies, the electoral authorities are frequently overlooked due to their extended history of successfully organising impartial and equitable elections. Therefore, electoral management organisations in developing democracies, such as Nigeria, encounter significant levels of mistrust, criticism, and scrutiny. It is noteworthy to remember that Nigeria has seen a total of nine presidential or general elections since attaining independence, with the exception of the upcoming 2023 general election. Since 1999, elections have exhibited a consistent and methodical pattern, ensuring stability in the electoral process. The trustworthiness, quality, and integrity of these elections are a cause for concern among voters, political participants, and domestic as well as international observers. Since the year 2003, general elections have been marked by widespread discontent among political candidates, voters, and observers. Elections were characterised by a wide range of electoral irregularities, including the theft of ballot boxes, the use of vote buying, the implementation of secret voting, the utilisation of violence, the dissemination of fraudulent results, and instances of electoral violence, to name just a few. The aforementioned phenomena were observed in a sequence of legal proceedings that followed the release of election outcomes and the declaration of victors, invalidation of results, and eventually instances of violence associated with the electoral process at each level (Amao & Ambali, 2022).
As a result, several academics have provided extensive analysis on the necessity of reforming the Electoral Act via evaluating the relationship between the Independent National election Commission (INEC) as the electoral regulatory body and the overall legitimacy of Nigeria's election process (Ademowo, 2016). The primary area of agreement is in the crucial and delicate function that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) plays in strengthening an emerging democratic system. The outcome of an election can be influenced by the actions and inactions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (Moses, 2022). On the 25th of February 2022, former President Muhammadu Buhari responded to the widespread demand for electoral act change by granting his assent to the Electoral Bill 2022. This act effectively repealed the existing 2010 legislation and established a fresh Electoral Act. The recently enacted legislation establishes a legislative structure that grants the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the authority to regulate the method of voting and transmission of election results. Additionally, it enables the INEC to reassess declarations of election results that were made under coercive circumstances (PLAC, 2022). The newly enacted legislation specifically authorises the utilisation of technology in electoral processes. Ugoh S.C. (2022) opined that it also introduces a revised definition of over-voting and imposes an obligation on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to undertake "reasonable measures" to provide assistance for individuals with disabilities (PWDs) throughout the voting process. The newly implemented legislation also modifies the established schedules for the execution of electoral processes and establishes novel timeframes for political parties to meet certain obligations and engage in activities pertaining to the nomination of candidates for elections. It is anticipated that the implementation of the new legislation would result in heightened engagement of individuals in the political process.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The enhancement of voting methods in Nigeria has become a prominent concern in recent years, prompting concerted attempts towards reform. One such endeavour is the use of electronic gadgets as a potential solution. Scholars specialising in Information Systems (IS) and practitioners of democracy endorse the use of diverse technologies as a means to enhance democratic practises. The integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with election processes, such as the adoption and spread of e-voting, has been shown to result in notable enhancements of democratic practises in diverse democracies worldwide. According to The Guardian Newspaper (November, 2020), INEC pursues to maintain the twin technology as a bulwark against 10 most pervasive weaknesses in Nigeria’s election result management process, namely, falsification of votes at polling units, falsification of number of accredited voters, collation of false results, mutilation of results and computational errors, swapping of results sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of results sheets, obtaining declaration and return involuntarily, making declaration and return while result collation is still in progress and poor record-keeping.
Nevertheless, following the conclusion of the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections, there have been apprehensions raised over the efficacy of the Election Result Viewing Portal and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System implemented by the Independent National Electoral Commission with the aim of enhancing the electoral process. According to Okonji (2023), the Election Result Viewing Portal and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System used by the Independent National Electoral Commission during the last presidential and National Assembly elections were deemed inadequate. In light of the fact that a number of candidates have initiated legal proceedings to challenge the outcomes of the electoral surveys, the lacklustre performance exhibited by BVAS and IReV during their initial substantial stress test has potentially cast a cloud over the forthcoming 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections.
Similarly, Oyemike (2023) asserted that BVAS encountered many challenges upon its initial introduction. During the Isoko South Constituency 1 by-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021, presiding officers expressed discontent with the machine's perceived incapacity to capture the thumbprints and facial features of specific voters. The presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023, were marred by similar challenges, indicating a lack of improvement on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) following the initial setback. Numerous polling locations had technical issues with the IReV platform, with instances where BVAS devices failed to successfully record voter registrations. In addition, Babalola (2023) observed, based on information from Yiaga Africa, that by 7:00 p.m. on the day of the election, none of the polling stations had uploaded the results, even though it was expected that the results would be available on INEC's website after the completion of voting and vote counting at many polling stations. However, NEC finally proceeded to publicly disclose the results and subsequently issued a public apology, acknowledging their own carelessness. The commission attributed the technical challenges experienced by its result portal on the failure to expand the IReV platform adequately for a nationwide election.
In contrast, Iremeka (2023) posited that despite the observed limitations in the adoption of electronic voting, as evidenced by the 2023 elections, there is a sense of hope for the future due to the electoral defeat experienced by notable politicians and public figures as a consequence of employing the IREV system. According to the speaker, there is evidence to suggest that several incumbent governors of the nation experienced electoral defeat in a manner that was unprecedented for them. The deployment of the IREV was associated with a noticeable enhancement, as shown in Lagos, when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu experienced electoral defeat to a very small political party for the first time since 1999. A number of incumbent governors experienced electoral defeat in their attempts to secure senatorial positions during the 10th National Assembly, citing a same underlying factor Although extant literature exist on the impact of teachnologies in electoral process, little or no attention has been given to Inec Election Result Viewing Portal (IREV) and election integrity: a critical examination public confidence in electoral process.
1.3 Objective of the study
The objective of this study is focused on INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IREV) and election integrity: a critical examination public confidence in electoral process. Other specific objectives includes:
i. To examine the public opinions regarding IReV effectiveness in the just concluded 2023 general election electoral.
ii. To ascertain whether the INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) depicts integrity in 2023 electoral process and management in Nigeria
iii. To determine whether the performance INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in terms of assuring intergrity has significant impact on public confidence in Electoral process.
iv. Investigate factors promoting INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) inability to deliver unto public expectations in terms of election outcome.
1.4 Research Question
i. What are the public opinions regarding IReV effectiveness in the just concluded 2023 general election electoral?
ii. Did INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) depicts integrity in 2023 electoral process and management in Nigeria?
iii. Does the performance INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in terms of assuring integrity has significant impact on public confidence in Electoral process.
iv. What were the factors promoting INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) inability to deliver unto public expectations in terms of 2023 election outcome?
1.5 Research hypothesis
Ho: The performance INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in terms of assuring integrity has no significant impact on public confidence in Electoral process.
Hi: The performance INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in terms of assuring integrity has significant impact on public confidence in Electoral process.
1.6 Significance of the study
This study provided insights into various dimensions of electoral integrity and how they impact public trust in elections. By identifying dimensions of electoral integrity, the study drew attention of election management body in Nigeria (INEC) to key indicators for building public trust in elections.
Given the prevalence of electoral disagreements between contenders in Nigeria, knowledge gained from this study would be of prime importance to a variety of stakeholders including INEC, voters, candidates, political parties, government, media, observation missions, development partners, and so on. It would potentially help policy makers to come up with necessary regulations that can improve INEC integrity which in turn may result in public trust in the electoral process. Findings of this study will be relevant to policy makers and stakeholders in other to establish appropriate framework for ICT implementation in Nigeria electoral process considering the outcome of 2023 general elections.
Empirically the study will add to the general body of knowledge and serve as a reference material to scholars and student who wishes to conduct further studies on related field.
1.7 Scope of the study
The scope of the study is borders on INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IREV) and election integrity: a critical examination public confidence in electoral process. The study further investigate factors promoting INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) inability to deliver unto public expectations in terms of election outcome and explore the implication of the performance INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in terms of assuring integrity has significant impact on public confidence in Electoral process. The study is however delimited selected local government in River State.
1.8 Limitation of the study
Like in every human endeavour, the researchers encountered slight constraints while carrying out the study. The significant constraint was the scanty literature on the subject owing that it is a new discourse thus the researcher incurred more financial expenses and much time was required in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature, or information and in the process of data collection, which is why the researcher resorted to a limited choice of sample size. Additionally, the researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. However in spite of the constraint all these constraint were downplayed to give the best.
1.9 Definition of terms
Electoral Integrity:electoral integrity is rooted in ‘international conventions and global norms, applying universally to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the preelectoral period, the campaign, on polling day and on its aftermath.Such norms emphasize fundamental freedoms, democracy promotion, and human rights, without which elections cannot be classified as ‘free and fair’.
IReV: is an online portal where polling unit level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted and published for the public.