Following the current security situation in Nigeria some citizens are nursing the feelings that the 2023 general elections may be in jeopardy.
But, the President of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Adesina Sodiya, has a message for the nation’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He believes the country is ripe for electronic voting system.
Prof. Sodiya, in this interview with the Editor TechEconomy.ng, Peter Oluka, expatiated on this concept and why INEC should convene a forum of stakeholders to deliberate on starting the process for e-Voting technology in Nigeria. Excerpt:
How far have we gone towards developing and implementing local content policies?
Prof. Sodiya: Of course, there are policies on local content in Nigeria coupled with the Executive Orders. But, the challenge is that we are not there yet in local content absorption. What people normally tell us is that we must get our products at par (quality) with the foreign counterparts. We have talked about OEMs and software development and I want to repeat, there is no software need of this nation that cannot be developed locally.
On hardware, we have challenges to drive that area. Nevertheless, we need to test and evaluate these solutions before selling or deploying them. You do not horridly put up software or applications and push them out without even conducting beta testing.
There was a situation a school secured computers from an indigenous OEM through NITDA and they told us that within three months some of the systems packed up. We need to do a lot of evaluation, validation and (stress) tests before we push to the market. That is why the foreign counterparts keep waxing strong.
We have thought of setting up testing lab to champion endorsement program for products going into the Nigerian market. When NITDA came on board we decided to relax that. Now, we have been reminding NITDA the need to build that testing lab. Such lab will help increase our indigenous products’ competitiveness across the globe.
The FG cum the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not been able to build system for e-voting. Perhaps, the fears are attributed to card-reader failures, network glitches during results transmission, hacking, among other factors. What efforts have NCS and CPN made; as the leading voices among IT practitioners in Nigeria, to help Nigeria drive this?
Prof. Sodiya: The e-voting system we are using in CPN has features that can assist any organization to have free and fair voting process. It has auditing features, among others. As a body we have been propagating for e-voting in Nigeria. We have written INEC on this.
E-voting is a sensitive platform, but it will work perfectly if we want it to work. The effectiveness depends on the managers; we will continue to preach e-voting in Nigeria.
At a point we received information that INEC met with vendors for possible supplying of e-voting machines, we frowned at that because you can’t start deploying such technology without sampling the opinion of stakeholders. NCS wasn’t invited. We have to get it right from the foundational level.
E-voting is more technical inclined than the politics itself. It is completely a professional issue. You have to be concerned with the privacy issue, the security; you have to be sure people are not coerced to vote. There are so many things to check in e-voting system.
One of the major benefits of e-voting is that we would have eliminated the physical challenges of elections like bandits attacking polling units. People will be able to vote from the comfort of their homes…
…But is Nigeria ripe for e-voting?
Prof. Sodiya: If we adopt e-voting we are not going to spend as much as we spending on card-readers. Just set up the central database, all voting will be harvested there real-time. Even if you need to create centers where people can go physically to vote, there will be minimum number for those centers.
E-voting is the way to go in solving some of our electoral challenges. People keep making reference to infrastructural challenges, but the platform does not require so much to set up.
It is not something we can be afraid of. If we can adopt and implement e-payments with transactions running into trillions of Naira, why can’t we implement e-voting successfully? There is need to engage professionals and stakeholders to achieve that target.
Will e-voting address the problem of voting from anywhere not minding where you registered or obtained voter’s card?
Prof. Sodiya: It is very simply. If we have an integrated electoral platform where you registered becomes a non-issue. It is through e-voting that if you see yourself in Lagos and you want to vote in your village in Sokoto, you need not travel that distant to vote. People need not risk their lives traveling to cast vote during general elections; just specify the local government and it will reflect.
What do you have to say about ensuring square pegs in square holes with regards IT experts heading IT/ICT departments in Government MDAs?
Prof. Sodiya: You know the Federal Government have constituted the Boards for tertiary institutions under the Ministry of Education. We are recommending to the Boards to leverage teaching and learning though e-learning platforms. We keep telling the government that nowadays if you are considering moving tertiary educations’ activities to IT or cloud platforms, you need to include IT professionals in these boards. If the tertiary institutions are making presentations on IT projects and there is nobody on the board that is an IT expert, I don’t know how they intent to approve and handle such projects.
So, the Federal Ministry of Education and State Ministries need to consider engaging IT professionals on these boards. I saw over 30 boards recently constituted and when you look at the board members you will see IT professionals are not given the required attention.
When you question the rationale behind this some people would tell you that ‘IT practitioners need to play the politics’. But the truth remains, IT rules the world now. It has instituted a new global economic order. The place of IT in any economy is unquantifiable. We need not play politics to get recognized.
You have been the NCS President for a year+, what have been your challenges and achievements?
Prof. Sodiya: When you come to an office with clear intentions and have put strategies in place, you are not going to find some of the things difficult to pursue them. Before I became the president I was on the NEC for about 8 years. I am fully aware of developments in NCS.
Running a Society like this is more of serving the interest of your members. Many of them are joining the association for professional development. So, they will measure your performance based on how well they are gaining in that area. Therefore, we considered serving members’ interest as crucial.
We have focused majorly on education; helping members to be update to date with emerging technologies. Don’t forget that this is a dynamic discipline with changes almost daily. We have had a number of capacity building programs.
In the area of research and development, we have created digital library for our members. All our articles and journals are not available to members, online.
On NCS-government relationship, we have stepped up engagements and continue to make impacts on policy developments. In areas where we needed to challenge the government we have done that constructively.
In the area of membership, we have continued to attract attention of practitioners who weren’t considering joining NCS before now. During our induction ceremony in year 2020 we were able to get 800 new members. That means our efforts are paying off. We have set new target for this year. We are looking at getting up to 1000 IT practitioners for induction.
We used to be members of IFIP – International Federation of Information Processing. At a point our membership was terminated. Now, we have reconnected to the body. We have also renewed our membership of the British Computer Society (BCS). And more international recognitions are coming for NCS.
The challenges: Well, they are not peculiar to NCS. The challenges are faced by all professional bodies which is having the funding to executive your programs. There are many things we set out to accomplish but have delayed due to funding like our building. When I came on board, I thought within two years we would have gotten pass the stage we are presently. Though we have tried by signing a contract that will get the project to roofing stage, but we wished to do more. When we came on board it was at the third floor stage. We are taking it to the final floor and COVID-19 contributed to these challenges. Apart from that, sincerely, members of the executive, the secretariat are t performing well. All our activities have received interest from within and outside the country.
My interest is to do things for my society. I do not wish to leave the Society the way I met it.
How easy or difficult has it been combining your lecturing job with the NCS presidency?
Prof. Sodiya: It is actually a lot of work combining the two tasks. NCS work at times is more than full-time work; that is if you want to really dedicate yourself to it. Bur because of the interest we have to continue to do our part because we have generations coming that we have to set pace for them. Well, I am used to multi-tasking.