Indications emerged yesterday as to why President Muhammadu Buhari refused to append his signature on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill last Friday.
LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that the president took the decision not to sign the bill when it was discovered that some unscrupulous Nigerians had perfected plans to tamper with results of the 2019 general elections with the help of a new technology they had acquired which they would have used to distort the functioning of the electronic voter machine.
These individuals, it was also learnt, had taken their plan a notch higher by engaging the services of a Russian firm to hack into the electoral system in order to manipulate the results in favour of their clients.
Our usually impeccable source further disclosed that President Buhari declined assent because under the new electoral bill, electronic voting and transmission of results are mandatory, a situation that could have, with the hacking arrangement, vulnerably exposed the 2019 electoral process to manipulation.
According to the source, when President Buhari got wind of the sinister plot, “he quickly contacted his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who assured him that he would ensure that no rogue elements would find the space in Russia to interfere with Nigeria’s elections in 2019”.
It was also gathered that some politicians have already entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica, a British IT consulting firm, for the management of their political campaigns, among other services. The plan, our source added’ is to use the consultancy firm “to reach out to other ‘hacktivists’ (subversive users of computers and computer network to promote political agenda) in UK, Russia and others”.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the IT consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had in recent past been accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence how people vote in many countries. Following a report early this year that a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, had told British lawmakers how an Israeli spy firm, ‘Black Cube,’ was “engaged to hack into Buhari accounts to get access to his medical records and private emails,” the federal Government in April this year commenced a probe into the revelation.
It was reported that the federal government is also probing the report which suggested that the consulting firm that combines data mining, brokerage and analysis with strategic communications for electoral process, manipulated Nigeria’s 2007 elections by organising campaigns to weaken the chances of opposition parties. Cambridge Analytica had earlier been reported to have been hired by an unnamed Nigerian billionaire to support the re-election of a former Nigerian president in the 2015 polls.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu had reacted then saying “Nigerians deserve answers from the PDP, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica on how and why they improperly obtained and used data to interfere in Nigerian elections.
“An investigation should help to determine if there is a linkage between the various killings and maiming that have characterised our elections since 2007 and the misinformation activities of the Cambridge Analytica. Such investigation will also help President Buhari to achieve his wish to leave a legacy of improved elections”, Shehu added
It was also reported on March 28, 2015 that the INEC website was hacked by a group calling themselves the ‘’Nigerian Cyber Army’’. In a statement posted on INEC’s website- www.inecnigeria.org, the group replied however that they hacked and took control of the website to protect results from being manipulated by anyone, through any means. They also claim to be protecting the rights of Nigerians to elect their leaders.
Confirming the hacking through its Twitter handle, @inecnigeria, INEC said, “We are aware of the recent hack of our @inecnigeria website, we are currently investigating this incident #NigeriaDecides”
While pre-empting the situation as well as making provision to tackle possible interference in the 2019 polls, chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on January 30, this year, said that although the 2019 election results shall be announced electronically, the physical copies of results of the elections would be given to party agents
President Buhari had last Friday declined assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018, citing impending confusion that would pervade the 2019 elections if the bill is signed into law as reason for not signing the bill. Major high points of the Bill include the use of card readers and other electronic devices in the conduct of elections.
Invariably, Sections 49 and 52 of the Electoral Act, 2010 was amended and reviewed, to allow INEC use card reader to authenticate voters’ card, use total number of voters authenticated with card reader as actual figure of voters that voted in that unit, and transmit the votes electronically.
Section 153 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) gives power to INEC to issue regulations, guidelines or manuals for the conduct of any elections in the country. Electoral Act, 2010 draws inspirations from Section 153 (1) (f) and Third Schedule Paragraph F. 15(f) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). An example of this is Guidelines and Regulations for the 2015 General Elections.
Supporters of President Buhari have described the Electoral Act amendment bill controversy as unnecessary distraction to blackmail the President into signing the law with his eyes closed. According to them, the new Electoral Act amendment bill is like a landmine laid on the path of the president by the PDP-led National Assembly, despite the fact that the president has unambiguously explained his reasons for not assenting to the Electoral Act.
They argued that the Act is fraught with dangers which, if ignored, could create chaos and confusion during the 2019 elections.
In recent survey of views conducted by our sister publication, LEADERSHIP Weekend, some lawyers had warned that since INEC neither budgeted for the use of card reader in the recently approved budget to conduct election nor trained officials for the use of the electronic device all this while, the use of card reader in view of 2015 experience in the country is enough to discard any idea of its use anywhere in the country for the conduct of the 2019 elections.
The use of card reader they held, requires INEC officials at the end of voting process to compare the number of voters verified by the card reader with the number of accredited voters, and total votes cast for consistency, which led to avalanche of conflicting judgements in the court after the 2015 elections.
Besides, they said it is fraught with abuses and is easy to manipulate the electoral system since the election officials have not been properly trained in the use of the technological device to authenticate and transmit results.
Presidential Candidates Back Decision
Meanwhile, the Forum of Presidential Candidates has endorsed President Buhari’s refusal to assent to the controversial Electoral (Amendment) Bill.
After a consultative meeting they convened yesterday to review recent developments in the polity, the 40 presidential candidates, who are members of the forum, said that they supported President Buhari’s action because “the time is obviously inauspicious to tinker with the Electoral Bill, especially when the process leading to the 2019 general elections is fully on course.”
In a statement signed on their behalf by the presidential candidate of Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance, Alhaji Shitu Mohammed Kabir and his Movement for the Restoration of Democracy counterpart, Mallam Danjuma Muhammad, the presidential candidates said their earlier position had been vindicated that the amendment bill contained “deliberate hurdles” capable of derailing the forthcoming general elections.
The statement reads in part: “Our position is premised on the fact that we see stumbling blocks against a free and fair election next year. To be specific, the Amended Electoral Bill which stipulates electronic verification of voters and transmission of results will deliberately disenfranchise many voters, especially in the rural and remote areas of the country owing to obvious constraints of power supply and internet connectivity.
“The time left for the 2019 elections is too short for INEC to recruit relevant staff and give them adequate training. We also think that the electoral body may not be in a position to respond fast enough in cases where the electronic devices malfunction. The constraints and impediments of time and resources in difficult terrains will deliberately deny many local communities the opportunity to vote.”
The presidential candidates said they suspect that those asking President Buhari to sign the amendment bill have a sinister design to derail the electoral calendar.
“We suspect a hidden agenda if the electoral umpire is forced to adjust its programme to accommodate the personnel, budget and other logistics in the guise of abiding with the provisions of the amendment bill”, they said.
Last week, the forum had filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Abuja, where it prayed the court to stop Buhari from signing the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The three plaintiffs, Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance, Allied Peoples Movement and Movement for Restoration and Defence of Democracy, joined the Senate president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, INEC chairman and the Attorney-General of the Federation ad Minister of Justice as defendants.
No Plan To Override President – Reps
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday spurned reports suggesting that it has commenced moves to override President Muhammodu Buhari on the Electoral Act Amendment bill.
Spokesperson of the House, Hon Abdulrasak Namdas, who spoke with LEADERSHIP last night in a telephone chat, noted that the president acted within his constitutional powers.
He added that the lawmakers would examine the reasons adduced by the president before taking any position.
Namdas explained that the House could not have acted on speculations and media reports when it has a laid down procedure of receiving communications from the president.
He said, “The House has an established procedure for receiving communication from the president. The Speaker will come before members and read the letter addressed to the House through him by the president. Until that is done, I cannot speak about the position of the House. We will await the president’s letter and listen to his reasons; we cannot act on social media reports.
“So, we are waiting for the Speaker to read the president’s letter on the floor of the House. That is when officially we will deem it that the president has communicated to us”.
Also, a lawmaker from the North East who spoke to our correspondent noted that it would be impossible to override the president’s veto because those who are opposed to his position cannot muster the two-third majority needed.
The lawmaker who did not want his name in print said most of the lawmakers seeking re-election from the zone are banking on the goodwill of President Buhari to win elections, and as such they wouldn’t take decisions contrary to the president’s interest.
“Where will they get the number from? Let us assume that they even attempt to override it, their best will remain an attempt. The reality is that today in the House of Representatives, there is no way those opposed to the president will achieve the two-third majority of 240 members. It is impossible,” he said.
When pointedly asked if Senate President Bukola Saraki can influence two-third majority of the Red Chamber to override the veto, the lawmakers said, “Where will Saraki and his cohorts get the two-thirds majority in the Senate? It is not easy. Just as the anti-Saraki forces couldn’t get the two-third to remove him as Senate president, he is not also likely to get the two-third to veto the bill. And don’t forget that the concurrence of both the Senate and House of Representatives is needed to successfully override the president’s veto,” he stated.
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