There was outrage among political stakeholders recently over the rejection of electronic transmission of election results in the forthcoming polls.
Particularly, the passage of the 2021 electoral amendment bill, especially clause 52(3) by the National Assembly has continued to generate controversy among Nigerians seeking electronic transmission of election results by the INEC, as one of the ways of ensuring free, fair and credible elections. The passage was not without drama, chaos and what looked like well-choreographed political trickery.
At the moment, 52 senators, all of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), voted against the obligatory transmission of election results, while 28 voted for it during the clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021. 28 others were absent during the voting process.
Reacting to the position of NASS, one of Africa’s foremost think-tanks, CDD-West Africa, sees benefits in an electronic system that can both record votes digitally and produce an instantaneous paper record of each vote (a digital receipt and ballot paper showing only the party voted for) to be received by the voter and inserted in a secure box for later cross-referencing with the electronically transmitted results. A valid result, therefore, will be one where the digital and paper records correspond.
CDD-West Africa also strongly has a preference for fully digitising the process based on the well-documented and chaotic nature of the current manual results collation and tabulation system.
Another monitoring group, YIAGA Africa, said the digitised voting process was a no-brainer because the traditional manual means “has increasingly become susceptible to manipulation, fraudulent, wrong computation of results, violence and attacks on election officials.
Also, amidst the acrimonious debate across Nigeria over the decision of the National Assembly on the amendment to the Electoral Act, the INEC has hinted it is working on procuring at least 200,000 electronic voting machines.
The commission said by its processes and procedures, they are dealing with four components of Electronic Voting System (EVS) which are Electronic Voter Register (EVR), Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), Electronic Voter Authentication (EVA), and Electronic Transmission of Results (ETR).
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Abuja, the INEC’s national chairman and commissioner for Information and Voter Education Festus Okoye said the commission has invited 49 companies for a Request for Information (RFI) demonstration and we are yet to shortlist any company to supply any of the machines.
Okoye said the commission in-house engineers are currently evaluating all the submissions
According to him, ‘’We invited 49 companies for a Request for Information (RFI) demonstration and we are yet to shortlist any company to supply any of the machines. Our in-house engineers are evaluating all the submissions.
‘’The commission is working on the estimates for these machines and we are working at procuring at least 200,000.’’
He noted that the commission has been uploading Polling Unit Results with its Smart Card Readers, the Z-pad, and other electronic solutions.
‘’The commission has been uploading polling unit results with its smart card readers, the Z-pad and other electronic solutions.,” he added
For now, the National Assembly has continued to come under serious criticism as a result of its decision to vote down the adoption of electronic transmission of the results of elections from the polling stations to the central collation centres.
It would be recalled that the initiative which first came into the equation in the eighth National Assembly led by Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki who was the 13th Senate President in Nigerian history was aimed at strengthening the credibility of the electoral process and ensuring that results announced at the end of elections reflect the actual votes cast by the electorate.
Also, the system was used in the conduct of the Edo State Governorship elections last year and the result was evidence of the improvement it could bring to the electoral process as well as deepen the nation’s nascent democracy.
The 8th NASS successfully passed the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2017 thrice and on each occasion, President Muhammadu Buhari who was then scheming for his re-election in the 2019 polls found one reason or the other to withhold his assent to the bill.
Now, it seems the reason the Bill was not signed into law was that the President and his party were opposed to the aspect that they believed will not accord with their wish in the elections. At least the bulk of the Bill passed by the defunct Senate and the one considered by the committee on INEC of the present chambers are the same, except that the legislators now voted to water down one of the most progressive initiatives of the last Assembly.
The question now is, how did Saraki and his colleagues in the 8th Senate as well as the House of Representatives headed by Hon. Yakubu Dogara made the passage of the Electoral Act possible without any rancour or crisis?
A public affairs analyst, James Uneze said this is where the capacity of the leadership of each chamber, their popularity or acceptance among members, the motive and interest of the leadership as well as their loyalty to common cause come into play.
According to him, “With Saraki and Dogara, the two men enjoy solid relationship, popularity and acceptance with and among their members. And this is because both men refuse to be dictated to by any power Centre outside the legislature. Rather, the external force that can dictate to Saraki, Dogara and their colleagues are the people – the electorate.
“Under Saraki’s watch, hardly can you get a time when a Senator insisted on a division of the Senate during voting on issues, except during voting on Constitution Amendment bills. Division of the chambers for voting during constitution amendment process is a compulsory method necessary to fulfill the provision of the constitution on the issue of two-third or three-fifth support for the issues to be amended.”
Uneze added that it is therefore easy to mobilize members in support of a Bill whose purpose is patriotic, rather than partisan, broad rather than narrow, creative and problem solving rather than conservative or uninspiring.
However, with the majority of Nigerians still bitter over the decision of the Senate and House of Representatives to vote against electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria, a top official of the INEC has rubbished the claims that there is no network coverage across the country to warrant transmission of election results in 2023.
INEC director of Publicity and Voter Education, Elder Nick Dazang faulted the claim even as he has described the witness of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) official who appeared before the House of Representatives as a blatant lie.
Dazang revealed that the Commission was traumatised that a sister Commission (NCC) which has been in the know since 2018 that INEC has the capacity and capability to transmit results electronically should come back in 2021 to attest that electronic transmission of election results is no longer possible in Nigeria.
According to him: “In January 2018, INEC approached NCC that it wants a technological- driven Commission and both have been working closely to deliver free, fair and credible elections in our country for the benefit of our citizens. They are also aware that two network providers- MTN and Airtel have assisted JAMB to conduct their examinations across Nigeria. So INEC is still wondering why NCC has suddenly made a U-turn that there is not enough network coverage in the country.”
The INEC director of Publicity and Voter Education however said NCC is on its own as INEC has gone beyond rhetorics to try the innovations designed to clean up Nigeria’s tainted electoral processes and they have been working perfectly well in the off season governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states as well as states and National Assembly Bye-elections across Nigeria.
“I am convinced that if INEC was given the chance to appear before the National Assembly alongside NCC, the Commission would have told the Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members that all the network providers in Nigeria have assured INEC that network coverage is 100% across the country,” Dazang insisted.