Democracy remains man’s popular system of enthroning a government for the overall public good. For democracy to thrive, votes of the electorate must count just as deliberate exertions must not be spared in weeding out forces committed in violating rules of the game. A corrupt ballot system cannot give birth to the election of transparent leaders committed to upholding the popular will of the majority. It is based on the need to enthrone a corrupt-free political system that democratic nations have left nothing to chance in reviewing the rules for the emergence of an inviolable system.
Unlike developed democracies that have evolved over decades and centuries in protecting electoral votes from being manipulated, Nigeria’s democracy crawls in growing a transparent electoral system. Before now, victory at the polls has depended more on one’s ability to game the system than following the rules set by the electoral umpire. Over two decades after the dawn of Nigeria’s unbroken democracy, the loopholes and glaring attempts at ensuring the sanctity of votes have remained a nagging headache for our embattled electoral body.
Last Thursday before the Senate embarked on its annual recess, it undertook a review of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that had caused rift among members. Speculations had been rife that the earlier and original recommendations of the joint technical committee, jointly chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya of the Senate Committee on INEC in Senate, and Hon Aisha Dukku of Electoral Matters Committee in the House of Representatives, had been tempered with.
Initially, many Nigerians had erroneously believed that the Senate’s decision had slammed the door against electronic transmission of results and, by extension, the electronic voting system. Many analysts had, without following the ingredients of the debate, interpreted the upper chamber’s decision as akin to approving only the manual transmission of election result. Sadly, this is not the case.
Even before Thursday, many commentators had raised doubts that the two committees on INEC in both the upper and lower chambers were then already compromised. The inability of the joint committee to avail the public of information on grey areas of the bill had thickened the dark clouds of controversy, with Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase, who presided over plenary on Thursday, postponing the rancorous debate to Friday. When the House returned yesterday to plenary for a resumed deliberation on the bill, Wase simply skipped over the controversial section of the bill that had attracted heated debate, insisting that the particular section in question had been passed on Thursday. Some angry members of the House have vowed to revisit the matter after the House returns from its annual recess.
Supported by some media platforms that most times are in love with sensational headlines, the Senate’s Senate’s decision on the bill was mistakenly portrayed as amounting to an outright endorsement of manual transmission of poll results. On the contrary, what the Senate did on Thursday was to endorse the use of manual transmission of electoral results in areas encumbered by network challenges as reflected in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
There are conditions that are capable of facilitating a hitch-free electronic voting, with the presence of an efficient internet services as most prominent. Briefings to the National Assembly by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had disclosed to lawmakers that currently, there’s only 46 percentage of National 4G Network Coverage, while the remaining 54 percent of the voting populace lies outside the network coverage.
A press statement issued by Ezrel Tabiowo, who is the Special Assistant (Press) to Senate President Ahmad, attempts to justify the review of the clause 52 (3) as amended by Senator Sabi Ibrahim: “The upper chamber during a clause-by-clause consideration of the bill approved electronic transmission of results during elections, provided that such areas are adjudged by the National Communications Commission (NCC) to be adequately covered under its national coverage and approved by the National Assembly.”
The initial recommendation prescribed by the Committee, according to the statement, had noted that the, “Commission (INEC) may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.
“This, however, was amended by the Deputy Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi to read, “The Commission may consider electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.”
Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe and other members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the upper chamber, Senators Thompson Sekibo and Albert Bassey Akpan, had disagreed with the position of Senators Abdullahi and Ndume, insisting that across-the-board implementation of electronic transmission of of poll results be adopted regardless of network coverage challenge. Riding on Order 73 of the Senate Rules that calls for division, Sen Abaribe called for division of the chamber to enable voting on the contentious amendment as put forward by Senator Akpan. The result finally resolved the matter with 28 voting in support of Bassey’s amendment, while no fewer than 52 voted for the retention of Sen. Sabi’s amendment.
Since the dawn of the current unbroken democracy in May 1999, Nigerians have always expressed distrust on the sanctity of our voting system. While many have continued to voice out worries over poll results that often turned out into rancorous litigations, not a few believe the adoption of electronic transmission could prove the magic wand in combating election riggers who most times find it easy to compromise electoral officials.
One fact stands out clear: While it is obvious that electronic transmission has become the only viable means of stopping elections riggers on their tracks, it is foolhardy to expect things not to go wrong in some sections of the country on Election Day. If the 4G network is what is required to conduct electronic voting, it is evidently indisputable that not all parts of Nigeria are covered with 4G network. Riverine areas and hard-to-reach communities may be excluded in participating in the political process and such excluded areas may turn out electoral battlegrounds in determining eventual winners.
Taking into consider nation poor internet services that have thrown Nigeria’s online banking into jeopardy, adopting a blanket adoption of electronic transmission on all areas could throw spanner in the works and set our fragile democracy on a rancorous path of frightening capriciousness.
The recent fears expressed by southern governors over electronic transmission of result are not devoid of cogency. Their suspicions may not be unconnected with the public awareness on how electoral officers have deployed the manual transmission system in altering results in a democracy many still consider as fragile with weak institutions. When impostors assume power in a democratic system through manipulation of the electoral process, the hope of sustaining and deepening such a democracy could be likened to searching for flourishing green fields in desolate deserts. Much as electronic transmission holds the key in upholding the inviolability of the electoral system, approving its wholesale complete usage in the country could turn a means of facilitating rancorous elections that may atrophy our democracy.
Most the problems bedeviling Nigeria’s democracy is hinged on corruption that has enabled money bags to buy their ways through to elected positions. A transparent system that promotes the sanctity of votes serves as a sure way in deepening democracy and making elected officials accountable to the public. As long as wealthy and corrupt people are allowed to game the electoral system for political power, then, the attempt to rid the electoral system of rot may continue to be a mirage.
The attempt to involve the NCC and National Assembly in the transmission of result as contained in the bill passed by the Senate has been condemned just as some members of the lower chamber are not ready to let go the matter without a fight. With Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State describing the passage of the amended bill as unconstitutional, the days ahead are still fraught with uncertainties over who holds the aces ahead of the 2023 polls that promise to be more contentious than past elections.