Virtual governance: A young man’s blockchain solution to elections

Ibrahim Shehu cast his votes for representatives in state legislature and governor in Lagos Nigeria on Saturday April 14, 2007

“Elections in Africa are a fading shadow of democracy”. A lot of Africans will agree with Jerry Ojumah on this. The problem of leadership in Africa is one that has bedevilled the continent for many years. Today, Africa remains the poorest and least developed continent in the world. The third world continent has not spawned leaders who will drive citizens wounded by poverty and scarred by terrorism, out of their misery. Perhaps, the continent has spawned these potential leaders, and the true problem is that they have not been given a chance at the wheel of governance. 

When it comes to elections in Africa, the tales carry enough tragedy— from deep electoral malpractices to violence. Jerry Ojumah has one of such tales, and this is why he used his ingenuity and creativity to create an election process that could afford Africa a chance at the limelight. 

Jerry is a Nigerian designer, developer and entrepreneur, who is passionate about building sustainable solutions for the future. Technopreneur is a more accurate term for what Jerry is. Using technology to find solutions to the problems of the world is what pushes Jerry as an entrepreneur. 

i-Elect

The i-Elect platform is one of the solutions Jerry is bringing to the world, specifically to Africa. i-Elect uses blockchain technology to bring ease and transparency to voting. The mission of the platform is to “To use decentralized technology to simplify public information for organizations and government parastatals, thereby, stimulating a community of active citizens and enabling their right to demand accountability, institutional reforms, efficient service delivery and an equitable society.”

The decentralized system of voting which i-Elect brings to the table, ensures that no one has the power to alter or make changes to the data on the blockchain, not even the creators of the i-Elect platform. This is essentially the beauty of blockchain. 

What is blockchain?

Since blockchain technology is the spine of the i-Elect platform, a simplified understanding of the technology is necessary. According to Jerry, blockchain is a “decentralized system or decentralized technology that ensures credibility…a distributed ledger technology that records the movement of data assets on a decentralized ledger”. 

A simple analogy of blockchain is a ledger owned by everyone. Everyone has a copy of this ledger, whatever data that is recorded in the ledger, reflects simultaneously in everyone’s ledger. To make alterations to the ledger, you have to repeat the process across everyone’s ledger— a process which is practically impossible. 

The  birth of i-Elect

Jerry’s motivation for the creation of i-Elect is the sketchy nature of elections in his country, Nigeria. But the motivation runs deeper. Jerry has one of those tales weighty for the tongue to tell. In 2011, Jerry lost a close friend to the election that year. The elections in April that year, were heralded as one of the bloodiest in Nigeria. Over 800 were feared dead in the violence. 

According to Jerry, “how can performing your civic right and duty be an endangerment of your life?” 

Jerry told Decentralize Africa that people wait in line for hours just to cast their votes, and unfortunately, some still end up not being able to cast their votes after hours at the polling unit. 

This, and many others, are the problems Jerry solves with i-Elect. 

Tamper proof

Ballot papers can be altered, manipulations are possible and mistakes can be made in the physical process of voting. The snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractices are frequent occurrences during elections in Africa. I-elect eliminates the possibility of tampering with results, citizens can see real-time results during the course of the elections. 

Privacy 

Voters’ identity and who they vote for is not made public. “Everyone is anonymous on the platform, you don’t know who is voting for who”, Jerry said. 

Accessibility. 

The need for leaving the comfort and safety of your home to perform your civic duty is eliminated. Voters can register and vote from anywhere in the world. “Blockchain makes that happen, voters can participate in a modern and convenient way,” Jerry says. 

Affordability

In 2019, the President of Nigeria sent a budget of N245 billion to the Senate for approval, while the electoral body, INEC(Independent National Electoral Commission), had  N194 billion of the total sum. According to a statement made by the INEC director, he said, “the cost of election operation and logistics is enormous…”. 

A digital voting platform like i-ELECT eliminates several costs incurred by the analogue process of voting. For example, N407 million was spent on vehicle maintenance and N499.5 million was spent on the acquisition of speed boats. These expenses can be eliminated by adopting Voting on the Blockchain. Jerry also says, “These expenses can impact several other sectors of the economy. Pumping them into education, for example, will create significant change in the country.” 

Practical use case

A practical use case for i-Elect is the Covenant university alumni association election. “The election was open for 72 hours, where people could vote at any time within the 72 hours.” Jerry stated  that some members that were outside the country had the opportunity to vote. Voters could see who was leading in real-time. The election was a success, and all participants attested to the fact that the process was tamper-proof and seamless. 

No need for INEC?

“We need an electoral body, they will be able to verify who is qualified to participate in the election”. This was Jerry’s response when he was asked if the digital-based voting will eliminate the need for an electoral body. 

Fast internet connection, which is also a major impediment to any virtual process, is also solved with USSD codes. This means that voters do not need the internet or an internet-ready device to participate in the election exercise. The platform, which is also language-based, caters for citizens who do not speak or understand English.

No doubt, Jerry has presented Africans with an innovative way to choose their leaders. Maybe with it, the right people will be put at the wheel of governance and Africa will have a chance at gearing full economic development. 

However, the question still remains: Will the current political ecosystem give way for an innovation that will make it less toxic and bring about true democracy?

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