The National Assembly has further amended the Electoral Act 2010. One of the provisions of the legislation which has got most Nigerians agitated is the issue of transmission of election results. This is not surprising, for the issue of free, fair and credible polls has been a recurring one especially since the return of civil rule in 1999.
The country’s election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under its immediate past chief executive, Prof Attahiru Jega, did a lot to restore some credibility to the elections, including deploying electronic technology in the form of the card readers to capture eligible voters, and employing top level academics as returning officers, persons with hard-earned reputations who would not be easily compromised.
It was largely because votes of the electorate counted that at the end of the general election cycle in 2015, the incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, lost to the challenger, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, the first time it would happen in Nigeria, and a rarity in Africa.
Since then there have been calls to further entrench electoral transparency in the country, especially after some of the top academics were found to have sold out, and cases of result manipulation persisted.
Consequently, the Eighth National Assembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki amended the electoral Act to, among others, allow for the electronic transmission of election results right from the polling booth. But President Muhamadu Buhari refused to assent to the bill, saying at the time, that it was coming too close to elections in 2019 and would cause confusion.
Last week, the National Assembly lawmakers passed the Electoral Act Amendment bill, but its decision to approve a conditional transmission of results electronically caused quite a stir, not only among lawmakers but across Nigeria.
In the version passed by the Senate, the lawmakers added a proviso – that INEC can transmit election results electronically subject to approval by both the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly, to ensure there is network coverage of the election areas. The partisan nature of the vote for this provision showed there is need for further discussion on the topic as only senators from the ruling APC supported this conditional transmission while all the opposition senators voted for unconditional e-transmission of election results.
This provision negates Section 78 of the constitution which grants INEC autonomy to make decisions on how to conduct elections, and would no doubt attract legal challenge.
The lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed a slightly different version, with the variance being that INEC would decide where to do e-transmission of election results.
It stipulates in Clause 52 (2): “Voting at an election and transmission of result under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission.”
INEC has repeatedly maintained its willingness and insisted on its capacity to transmit results electronically. Even after the lawmakers’ vote, INEC commissioner for information and voter education, Festus Okoye, reiterated the commission’s capacity to transmit results electronically even from remote areas. INEC’s confidence stems from its successful deployment of the technology in governorship polls in Edo and Ondo states, and other stand-alone legislative elections.
The benefits of electronic transmission of results are are too obvious. It effectively removes the threat to life and bodily harm posed to both voters, election officials and security agencies by hoodlums who snatch ballot boxes and result sheets. It will also cut out corrupt inducement of collation officials and ensure the sanctity of the vote, among others. It will lead to cleaner elections, and ultimately better governance.
Officials of both Houses – Senate and House of Representatives – will now meet to harmonise their positions on Clause 52 of the bill, and they are most likely to adopt the House of Representatives position. This means INEC can decide to use e- transmission in one area and manual in another. That’s a recipe for confusion and controversy.
Unfortunately, the lawmakers have passed the stage where they can give Nigerians what they want: for INEC to obligatorily transmit election results electronically side-by-side with manual transmission, to ensure credibility of the process.
When the bill gets to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, we join our voices with millions of Nigerians who want him to decline assent to the bill in its present form. He has variously pledged to bequeath credible election to Nigeria as one of his legacies. He now has the opportunity to do so with the final outcome of this electoral law.