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The Tricky Matter of Electronic Transmission of Election Results

Chairman Mahmud Yakubu had urged the National Assembly to amend the 2010 Electoral Act which has been under consideration for years to make provision for electronic collation and transmission of election results.

However, there was pandemonium on the floor of the Senate, few weeks ago when the red chamber attempted to amend Clause 52 (3) of the new Electoral Act over the mode of transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) on Election Day.

Earlier, the joint National Assembly Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters has recommended that INEC should reserve the power to transmit results by electronic means where applicable on the day of the election.

However, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, representing Niger North, said that the power to determine the practicability of electronic transmission should be saddled with the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) with the approval of the National Assembly.

There was heightened tension when the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, put the amendments sought by Abdullahi to voice vote and he ruled in favour of the Niger Senator. Lawan’s action further increased the anger of many senators, mostly from the southern part of the country and this led to a stalemate that lasted over 20 minutes. The development forced the Senate President to call for a closed session.

Historically, Nigerian elections had been marred by irregularities. There are unlawful incidents such as intimidation of collation officers by politicians, security agents and thugs, as well as misconduct by INEC staff and logistical shortfalls.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in the report ‘COUNTING THE VOTES’ – a postmortem analysis of ward-level collation during Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election canvassed further amendment of the Electoral Act (2010) to allow for the introduction of electronic transmission of results. According to the CDD, the effect of the collation problems on the electoral process included: less transparent elections, more inconclusive results and growing concerns about INEC’s integrity.

Electronic transmission of results was widely adopted by stakeholders during public hearings by the National Assembly. In 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign it into law after arguing that it was too close to the election date and would disrupt the conduct of the 2019 elections.

INEC has been using an electoral act, which made room for simultaneous accreditation and voting, using the Smart Card Readers, SCR and the current EA which provides for manual election result transmission. It had adopted the electronic transmission of results in some recent elections from the state constituency election in Nasarawa State, the September 2020 Edo State governorship polls and Ondo governorship elections, a development that was commended by stakeholders.

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that in the new process, any interested Nigerian could track or monitor the results of the election from his or her house.

“Once results of elections are announced from the collation centres, down to the wards local governments and final collation centres, any person can monitor it without any human error. From the form EC8a to EC8b and Form EC8c, the result would be the same; there cannot be any difference,” Yakubu said.

There is a strong contention by some lawmakers with respect to the clause in the amendment on electronic transmission of results – “That the power to determine the practicability of electronic transmission should be saddled with the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) with the approval of the National Assembly.”

Abdullahi said that NCC has to come in because there are some areas in the country where call services and internet connectivity are either poor or non-existent.

The House had, on Thursday, 15 July  2021, invited the NCC to brief it on the nation’s network coverage before continuing debate on the contentious provision of electronic transmission of results during elections. Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, NCC, Engr. Ubale Maska, who spoke on behalf of the NCC team, told members that less than 50 per cent of the country enjoys 3G Internet coverage, which electronic transmission of results could rely upon.

He said that as of 2018 when the Commission carried out a survey of 109,000 polling units, of the country’s 119,000 polling units at the time, only about 50.3 per cent of the entire country were covered mostly by the 3G and 2G networks. About 49.7 per cent of the national spread did not have Internet coverage, which will be required for real-time electronic transmission of electoral results.

When asked if 2G technology could be used for electronic transmission of results, Engr. Maska said though he wished the INEC was around to answer, however, only 3G could transmit results effectively. The NCC recently introduced guidelines on National Roaming for a better pact for mobile telephone users in the country to solve the problem of poor network coverage by service providers in some areas.

These guidelines, according to the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and CEO of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, are designed and developed to encourage National Roaming between Roaming Providers and Roaming Seekers within a predetermined framework to remove uncertainty and ensure seamless communication across all networks in Nigeria.  The NCC also released its latest document on co-location, which is an element of the interconnection of networks; therefore it is essential that operators agree in terms of its implementation towards ensuring seamless interconnectivity.

These steps, according to industry stakeholders, will help to solve the challenges of unserved and underserved areas in terms of connectivity nationwide for elections as well as the use of the electronic medium to transmit results. The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Attahiru Jega has commended the National Assembly for taking steps to review the Electoral Amendment Act (2010) as amended but faulted the exclusion of electronic transfer of results. Jega who spoke as a guest during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics lamented that the decision of the 9th Assembly to allow INEC to use electronic voting without the electronic transmission of results is counterproductive.

“You can’t permit INEC on one hand to use electronic voting and not use electronic transmission of results because usually, they go as a package. Once there is robust software and hardware for doing so, it now brings efficiency, transparency and real-time ability to see the result as they are transmitted from the polling unit to a National Collation Centre,” Jega said.

The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan averred electronic transmission will address defects in the manual collation of results; snatching of ballot materials; interference by politicians, security agents, thugs and kidnap electoral officials which are common features of elections in Nigeria.

Pundits are of the belief that in Nigerian elections, you can win during voting but lose during collation; therefore electronic transmission will take away the power of the returning officers to influence the election process.

“Sometimes returning officers also get intimidated. We have cases where returning officers are intimidated to declare false results in favour of particular parties or candidates – we saw such cases in Taraba and Imo in the last elections. We can’t continue to amend the Electoral Act on every occasion. If INEC feels we are not cyber-secured enough to do it now, it should not stop the provision being in the Electoral Act. We will just have to keep it pending when the capacity is there,” they argued.

On his part, Eze Onyekpere of the Social Justice group said it would eliminate the need for collation centres since results will be transmitted from where voting took place and everybody will witness it and there will be no manipulation.

Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Olanrewaju Suraju, harped on the need to populate INEC with people of integrity with flawless character that is not explicitly attached to political parties for the purpose of this exercise.

Some analysts have expressed palpable fear that there is a need to understand the potential of misuse or abuse of the electronic transmission system, especially in Nigeria where disputes associated with elections are postponed until you go to court. They advocated for provisions to give INEC power on what to do when infiltration or abuse of the electronic transmission is identified.

They added that the amendment must not allow situations where politicians would abuse the electronic transmission system and ask the opposition to go to court. They highlighted that even if electronic transmission is allowed, it will be subject to judicial review, citing Kenya as an example; hence the paper trail must form part of the finalization of the results process.

Indeed, the country has a long, unflattering history of inconclusive elections prefigured by-election malpractices. The intent of those opposing the electronic result transmission is also evidently not salutary to the yearnings of Nigerians for free, fair and transparent elections.

True, Nigeria’s internet penetration is still low in many regions as the NCC confirmed that Nigerian broadband penetrations still stand at 39.6 per cent. Also currently, it is uncertain what kind of transmission technology INEC wants to deploy.

INEC and NCC should work strategically to boost the communication networks through the telecommunications operators in the country to get the desired results as soon as practically possible.

The stark reality to be grappled with is: if after two decades of GSM and internet services in the country, the nation has only been able to achieve less than 50% broadband penetration, how much more can she accomplish in this regard before the 2023 general elections?

Categories: Features