Recently, INEC said electronic voting in 2023 was non-negotiable. The electoral body was accused of making such a false promise ahead of the 2019 general election. Can INEC be trusted again? Chuks Okocha writes
This multibillion-naira question many Nigerians are asking is whether or not the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could be trusted? Can INEC be trusted to the extent that subsequent elections in the country be conducted with voting and results transmitted electronically?
To a great extent, there is already partial electronic voting in the country, which is done through the smart-card readers (SCR), though not legally backed up by the Electoral act. The Supreme Court had tacitly rendered it partially illegal, as it was not recognized in the electoral status book. It’s continued use is so to say least, illegal, because it is not provided for in law. That was why it was not included in the electronic transmission of results from the voting centres to the collation centres and ending up at the INEC website.
Before the 2019 general election, INEC made serious efforts to ensure that the election results were transmitted electronically. But at the eleventh hour, such plans were cancelled. One of the basic reasons given by the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was that there are over 20 percent of data blind spots, where the global satellite system network did not cover.
He said as preparations for the election entered the eleventh hour, that it was discovered after meetings with officials of the Nigerian Communications Commission and other ancillary bodies that there were places, where there were no GSM networks. So, according to him, the idea of transmitting the results of the elections electronically was aborted.
Amplifying the position of the INEC chairman, the national commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, said the non-signing of the amended electoral act by President Muhammadu Buhari was the last straw that stalled the electronic transmission of the result in the last elections.
The nation is gradually preparing for the 2023 general election and INEC is optimistic that there would be the use of the SCR and electronic transmission of results. But this is subject to the passage of the amended electoral act currently under works at the National Assembly. But INEC has expressed optimism that electronic collation and transmission of results would be achieved in the 2023 election.
Okoye disclosed this during a national stakeholders’ forum on elections held in Abuja – an event was organised by the convener of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room and Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, led by Clement Nwankwo, with support from the United Kingdom Department for International Development.
At the event, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), represented by his Special Assistant (Ethics and Justice), Juliet Ibekaku, and the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, gave undertakings that the government would ensure early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill into law.
According to Okoye, the commission was committed to the enhancement of the power of the card readers as the dominant procedure for verification, accreditation and proving over-voting in the electoral process, adding that INEC would seek the incorporation of the card readers in Section 49 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
“We believe that electronic collation and transmission of results are possible and achievable in the 2023 election. The commission will continue to improve the electoral system through the adoption of new election technologies, where feasible and relevant, and will, in all cases, examine the viability and relevance of such technologies before adoption,” he stated.
Omo-Agege acknowledged that some aspects of the electoral law were deficient and required retooling to bring about the desired improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
He said part of the problems associated with the elections in the country was because some of the guidelines being implemented by INEC were not backed by extant laws and as such were being flouted by politicians.
“It is for these reasons and much more that we are coming up with very clear provisions amending the principal Act to give unambiguous effect to electoral guidelines, regulations, and manuals duly issued by the commission in strict compliance with Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended),” Omo-Agege said.
He listed other proposed constitutional amendments to include provisions focusing on resolving issues surrounding the introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process particularly, the accreditation of voters and ensuring that the Act clearly forbids members of political parties from taking up employment in INEC.
Malami said the federal government was committed to ensuring an early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill into law.
The AGF noted further that the government had set up the Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee in 2016 to review the laws governing the electoral process and also took steps to actualize recommendations proffered by the committee, beginning with the approval of the recommendations of the committee by the Federal Executive Council and subsequent transmission to the legislature.
Malami, however, noted that the amendments recommended by the committee fell short of the expectations of a majority of Nigerians, and thus, was not passed into law.
“This administration is already working with the 9th National Assembly with a view to ensuring an early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill into law.
“The Executive is committed to working harmoniously with the National Assembly through continuous engagement and systematic coordination in the passage of bills,” he said.
With these assurances from INEC, the National Assembly and the attorney general, the ball is not in the court of INEC to give assurances that there would be electronic voting by the next general election, but in the hands of President Mohammadu Buhari.
This is because, when the National Assembly is ready with an amended electoral act, the next big question is, will the president sign it into law? It is not for INEC to decide. It is for INEC to implement what has been decided. It is, therefore, expected that by signing a new electoral law, it is the only legacy left for him to ensure that there are transparency in the management of elections in Nigeria.
INEC’s position in this matter is simply to obey the last order. Financially, Nigeria was ready for electronic elections, but the truth is that the non-committal of assent to the amended electoral act by the president stalled all efforts of INEC and dashed the expectations of Nigerians.