Expectedly, the passage of the 2021 electoral amendment bill, especially clause 52(3) by members of the National Assembly has continued to generate controversy among the ordinary and progressive-minded people of Nigeria seeking electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as one of many ways to ensure free, fair and credible elections.
Specifically, Clause 52(3) stated that INEC may transmit results of elections by electronic means, where and when practicable, at its discretion.
But a Senator had sought for the amendment to the clause at the Senate to read: “The commission may consider electronics collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the National Communication Commission (NCC), and approved by the National Assembly.”
This was against the amendment sought by another Senator, which was also the same as the recommendation made by the Senate Committee on INEC that presented the report that said the Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable at its discretion.
But the Senator’s amendment ceding some INEC jobs to NCC and National Assembly scaled through the Senate. This clause, to say the least, other than the fact that it is an unnecessary bone of contention, not agreeable to the majority of Nigerians.
In an unsurprising move, and in furtherance of what has since come to be their character, some members of the National Assembly, last week, comfortably and easily, as they always did, brushed aside the wish and aspiration of the common and progressive people of Nigeria to take their electoral system a notch higher than what it is – fraudulent.
The legislators, sometimes jokingly called ‘legislooters’ by Nigerians, in a bizarre, dramatic and apparent indication of their collective interest, regardless of party differences, not to face, but rig the 2023 general elections, voted to reject the electronic transmission of elections results in the recent electoral reform bill.
Thus, the federal lawmakers, through that unpopular singular action of theirs, have exhibited a seeming legislative rascality and obviously denied the fact that Nigeria and Nigerians want involvement of technology in their electoral process to achieve acceptable and transparent elections.
Yet, even more surprising to Nigerians, as far as the action of the federal lawmakers is concerned, is the fact that the lawmakers appear to be rubbing sand in the face of the President Muhammadu Buhari, who had, on different times and places, stated his willingness to bequeath credible, transparent, free and fair electoral system.
Again, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that should have been given a fair and less restrictive legal framework to carry out its constitutional duties of organising, undertaking and supervising elections in Nigeria, in line with the dream of the President and the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, was apparently not considered in making of the bill by the lawmakers.
In fact, despite the rejection of electronic transmission of election results by the National Assembly in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, the use of technology is clearly feasible in ordinary and progressive people’s attempt to deepen democracy in Nigeria, the INEC said.
Prior to now, INEC had, without any legislative backing, successfully conducted elections using card readers, and transmitted results electronically in several constituencies in Nigeria, without encountering any of the problems now being raised by these clearly backward-thinking legislators that voted to reject the use of technology in the country’s electoral process, even when INEC said it can.
The commission, which has witnessed tremendous achievements under the leadership of Professor Yakubu, premised its optimism to achieve the President’s dream on the fact that its joint committee, made up of telecommunication stakeholders, had revised the system and concluded that electronic transmission of results is practicable and doable in Nigeria.
INEC, through its National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said it is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process.
He said that the INEC had, on many times, demonstrated its readiness through the creative, innovative and strategic deployment and application of technology in various aspects of the electoral process with the goal of limiting human interference in the electoral process and, ultimately, rigging of elections.
Specifically, Okoye said: “INEC has the capacity to transmit election results from the polling units to the registration area collation centres to the local government collation centres, the various state, federal and senatorial district collation centres, and the state and national collation centres.
“The Joint Technical Committee constituted by the commission and the Nigerian Communications Commission and made of telecommunication operators met on March 9, 2018, and the consensus was that the requirements for the electronic transfer of results proposed by INEC is practicable. The meeting, therefore, agreed that the solution that INEC wants to deploy is possible.”
Therefore, one wonders if members of the National Assembly, by passing the bill without according due respects to the INEC, which is a body constitutionally established to prepare, conduct and supervise elections, and without recognising the ability and determination of the body to sanitise electoral system, have not clearly violated the constitution of Nigeria which they swore to uphold.
In any case, even if, as it was claimed by the lawmakers (or is it lawbreakers?) when they sat to show their insensitivity to the wish of the people, that Nigeria is only about 50 percent covered with network, the country has two years to ensure 100 percent network coverage.
There is no gain saying the fact that the calibre of a country’s leader and the process through which leaders emerge, especially in a troubled country like Nigeria, cannot be overemphasised. Of course, Nigeria is lucky to have Buhari as its leader but, if truth be said, soon, in less than two years from now, he will be gone while the problems currently bedeviling the country threaten to outlast him.
This scenario, precisely, points to why the process through which the next president will emerge should be of interest to all, especially so to the lawmakers, and any attempt to confuse, cloud and discourage transparency and honesty of the process must, in the first place, not be considered by the so-called legislators.
In fact, in Nigeria’s legitimate and ideal attempt to produce good, sensitive, not selfish and insensitive leaders, there is no reason the country cannot vote more money for development of the telecommunication infrastructure and better funding for INEC all with a view to making sure that country gets credible polls.
And there is no gainsaying the fact that Professor Mahmoud Yakubu will provide the enabling environment for the people of the most populous black nation to elect their leaders through credible, free and fair means.
For now, it is shameful that Nigeria, with its size, resources and sophistication, is just in the year 2021 debating whether it should deploy technology in the transmission of election results, when some smaller nations, in terms of size and resources and sophistication, have deployed this system many years ago.
Thus, we must resist the attempt, from any quarters, including that which is now coming from the supposedly hallowed chambers of the National Assembly, to draw us further backward, after the country has witnessed few achievements in its electoral system under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and INEC chairman Professor Mahmud Yakubu.