- INEC: 20% of Nigeria not covered by mobile communications
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission ((INEC) had made all arrangements to transmit results of the 2019 general election electronically but was frustrated by the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, a top official of the commission told THISDAY.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, challenging the outcome of the poll in which INEC declared the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) Buhari as the winner.
Both the PDP and Atiku are claiming that results it gleaned from INEC’s server showed that they won the contest.
The commission’s lawyers have, however, submitted that INEC did not transmit the poll’s results electronically, therefore, there was no basis for the main opposition party’s claim.
A top official of the commission who did not want to be mentioned because issues are already joined at the tribunal, however, explained to THISDAY that the electoral body was ready to deploy electronic transmission of results until the president refused to sign the amendment bill, which would have given the exercise legal backing.
Among others, the rejected Electoral Act Amendment Bill (2018), gave a legal backing for the electronic transmission of results from the polling units, the serialisation of ballot papers for each polling unit and the announcements of results in the presence of the agents of the parties.
It also legalised the use of Smart Card Reader and outlawed the use of Incident Forms.
However, Buhari vetoed the bill, saying some of its provisions would cause confusion for INEC since the elections were too close for their implementation.
The source said while it was ready to transmit the results electronically, there were fears that the court could nullify them, if asked to, for violating the subsisting Electoral Act (2010), as amended.
However, he said he did not want to say much on the matter since it was part of the issues to be determined by the Presidential Election Tribunal.
The source said: “Yes, we have a server or website. We have a website for the registration of voters. We have a server for political parties’ registration where all data are stored. We also operated a pilot transmission of results in the Ondo and Osun State governorship elections.
“But all our efforts came to nothing with the president not signing the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill) in the twilight of our preparations for the elections. So, we consulted on what to do and we were advised to stick to the subsisting laws on the elections. This is because to insist on going ahead with the electronic transmission of election results could put the elections in great danger.
“Someone could go to court and say that we operated outside of the constitutionally-recognised rules of the elections. Someone could go to court and the elections would be declared null and void.”
He cited the Supreme Court judgment in a suit challenging the election of Mr. Nyesom Wike as governor of Rivers State in 2015, in which the apex court declared that the use of smart card readers during the poll was illegal, as it was not covered by the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
The source said besides the presidential veto, it discovered that about 20 per cent of the country’s landmass was not covered by mobile telephone technology.
He said: “Another point is the non-coverage of the country by the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM). We discovered that over 20 percent of the country is out of the coverage of the major GSM providers. This is what we called the blind spot.
“We consulted the National Communication Commission and the Computer and Satellites Communication Association and we were advised to avoid this controversy. So, the main problem was how we transmit the election results electronically to this 20 per cent we refer as blind spot.
“Another challenge is the fear of people hacking into the electronic results that it is being transmitted.”
On what happened to the N2.27 billion appropriated for Information Communication Technology, the INEC official said: “I told you that we were ready for the electronic transmission, but for the non-signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill.”