The recent conduct of local government election in Kaduna State via electronic voting and transmission has rekindled the call for the use of same technology for the forthcoming 2023 general elections, MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes
Amid the controversy surrounding the feasibility or otherwise of the transmission of results of the forthcoming 2023 general elections electronically, Kaduna State government raised the debate on the feasibility of electronic transmission of results when it conducted its local government elections earlier in the month, using the e-voting system.
This is the second time the state government was using the innovation in the conduct of its poll, the first being in 2018.
Kaduna is the first state in the country and the second government entity in Africa after Namibia to achieve this feat.
Prior to the September 4 date, Dr. Saratu Binta Dikko-Audu, chairman of KADSIECOM, presented the upgraded electronic voting machines for the 2021 local government elections to the stakeholders.
She said the commission was encouraged by Governor Nasir El-Rufai to deploy technology for elections, noting that KADSIECOM, therefore, acquired electronic voting machines which were successfully used in 2018.
“We pioneered the electronic voting system during our last Local Government Councils election, that was in 2018,” she said.
“Why that happened was because the Governor of this State, Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, being very progressive and courageous, decided when we came on board to task us with the responsibility of deploying technology to our Local Government Councils election.
“Initially, we thought all he meant was using the smart card reader because it had been such a success in the 2015 elections. But he said no, he wanted us to go the whole hog and have citizens actually vote on a machine and so we set out to develop the voting machine which we eventually presented to the public in 2018.”
Most Nigerians had over time craved for an amendment to the Constitution as well as the Electoral Act 2010 to allow for an electronic voting system, which many believe will boost the confidence of voters in the electoral process if properly implemented.
Section 52 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), outlaws electronic voting in Nigeria. It states: “The use of the electronic voting machine, for the time being, is prohibited.”
However, many have argued that the need for an amendment to this section of the act to allow for electronic voting will address lack of enthusiasm usually exhibited by most eligible voters each election year.
The country’s elections have always been marred by gross irregularities such as ballot snatching and stuffing, vote-buying, manipulation of figures as well as thuggery and violence, among others. It is against these backdrops that relevant political stakeholders have persistently clamoured for adoption of modern techniques, especially the e-voting system to improve the nation’s electoral process.
In the buildup to last year’s governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in a policy document hinted at a plan by the electoral umpire to “work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.”
While many construed this to mean that 2021 is the take-off date for e-voting in Nigeria, spokesman to INEC chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, clarified that “what the policy says under ‘ICT and Voter Registration’ is that INEC will pilot the use of electronic voting at the earliest possible time (not Edo and Ondo), but work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.
He added: “The key words here are pilot, work and towards. As we all know, INEC cannot unilaterally introduce electronic voting because our constitution does not allow/recognise it. That’s why we said we will work towards the full introduction of e-voting.’
That was not the first time INEC will seek to adopt the electronic voting system. Yakubu’s predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, had in 2012, said the commission was ready to adopt modern technology in the conduct of elections as long as it is in line with the provisions of the constitution.
Sadly the legal constraints are yet to be addressed. An opportunity to break the glass ceiling and put Nigeria on the path of adoption of technology to enhance her electoral process was dashed recently as the National Assembly voted against electronic transmission of election results.
In the Senate, for instance, out of the 88, who were available to vote, 52 of APC extraction, voted against, while 28 of PDP extraction voted in favour. Twenty-eight of the senators were absent from plenary.
The APC senators hinged their position on the claim by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that only 43 per cent of the country has network coverage. The PDP senators, on the other hand, said allowing the NCC and the National Assembly to meddle in the affairs of INEC will affect the integrity of elections.
The House of Representatives also turned down electronic transmission of election results despite protests by its members of PDP extraction, who staged a walk-out during voting on the issue.
As expected, condemnation trailed the lawmakers’ rejection of the proposal that would have empowered INEC to transmit election results from the various polling units.
The national publicity secretary of PDP,, Kola Ologbondiyan, said majority of Nigerians were shocked by the Senate’s rejection of electronic transmission of election results without conditionalities.
The decision, according to him, amounts to undermining Nigeria’s electoral process. He added that the action of the APC senators was an “atrocious assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in our electoral process in a manner that would engender free, fair and credible process.”
He further described the action of the senators as a direct affront and a defilement of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which clearly conferred operational independence to INEC to conduct elections, free from interferences and regulations from any other agency of government.
Similarly, the umbrella body of registered politics in Nigeria, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), not only berated the federal legislators for their action but urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign into law the Electoral Act 2010 amendment, when transmitted to him by the National Assembly.
The CNPP Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, who spoke on behalf of the group, said “withholding assent will be the only proof that Mr. President is not part of the conspiracy to undermine the country’s electoral process.”
Despite lawmakers’ rejection of electronic transmission of election results, INEC said it has the capacity to transmit election results electronically across the country regardless of the poor conditions in remote areas.
The commission said its joint committee which consists of telecommunication stakeholders had revised the system and concluded that e-transmission of election results was practicable.
In the same vein, the Resident Electoral Commissioner of Ogun State, Olusegun Agbaje, said INEC “is absolutely empowered by the constitution to transmit election results electronically without seeking the approval of the National Communication Commission (NCC).”
Agbaje said this while speaking to journalists in Abeokuta, the state capital, recently.
He urged federal lawmakers not to stop INEC from performing its constitutional role.
The REC said it would be a great disservice to Nigerians and democracy if the National Assembly prevents INEC from transmitting election results electronically.
He said, “The commission is in no way shy in transmitting election results electronically. In fact, we have the capacity to do that. We are only waiting for the National Assembly not to disturb us.
“Even as we are now today, I believe that the commission has enough reason and legislation to back us to do this,” he said.
Similarly, the director of programme, Yiaga Africa, a civil society group, Ms Cynthia Mbamalu, stated that what is expected of the leadership of the National Assembly is to constitute a Conference Committee that will ensure the harmonisation of the different versions of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed by both chambers.
The success of the electronic transmission of Kaduna LG result shows possibilities that the technology can be successfully used for the 2023 general elections.