Senate’s Volte-face on e-Transmission of Election Results

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IN THE ARENA

Last Tuesday, the Senate dropped its ‘wimp’ image by boldly reversing its earlier controversial position barring the Independent National Electoral Commission from electronic transmission of poll results, Louis Achi writes

Following a motion moved by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, last Tuesday, for the re-committal of some clauses of the Electoral Act – Clause 43, Clause 52, Clause 63, and Clause 87 – lawmakers in the Committee of the Whole and Plenary, considered and approved Clause 43 (as recommended), Clause 52 (as amended), Clause 63 (as recommended), and Clause 87 (as amended).

This led to the passage of the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 122) after it was read the third time on the floor of the Senate chamber. When signed into law by the President Muhammadu Buhari, the amendments by the lawmakers will allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the mode of election results transmission, among others.

It could be recalled that the INEC, recently and emphatically restated its preparedness for the deployment of online transmission of election results ahead of the 2023 general election. The national electoral umpire had debunked ‘fears’ earlier raised by the Senate based on unconvincing report from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

INEC succinctly made the point that the technological tool would usher in a transparent electioneering process in Nigeria and that the political and ethnic undertones in the debate on the electoral reform bill were unnecessary and counterproductive. For good measure, INEC clarified that the decision for the electronic transmission of results was an outcome of over 10 years of circumspect research and study.

In July, both chambers of the National Assembly controversially passed the Electoral Amendment Bill. But while the House of Representatives retraced its steps on the matter, the Senate with mule-headed stubbornness, insisted on retaining the provision that subjects INEC’s constitutional power to the approval of the National Assembly and the NCC.

Senate’s earlier curious position subsisted until last Tuesday, despite the fact that INEC had deflated the NCC report that a greater percentage of Nigeria is not covered by the Global Satellite Mobile telecommunications system. INEC had stoutly held that 93 per cent of the country are fully covered while the remaining seven per cent would be adequately taken care off. This is despite the fact that the constitution prescribes no role for the NCC in the electoral process.

Indisputably, as demonstrated in other democratic jurisdictions across the globe, a reliable technology-enabled system would minimise disputes over electoral fraud and rigging of results and thereby remove the need for long-drawn litigation that has hobbled democratic choice.

A good example is the relative successes of last year’s governorship polls in Edo and Ondo states. These were attributed to the deployment of technology in transferring election results. The introduction of the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) enabled results from polling units to be transmitted to a portal for citizens to view.

“By this outcome, I am convinced that public institutions in Nigeria will continue to play their roles as guardians of public policy. The civil societies are the watchdogs of public policies and the institutions. Probably, we would not have come to this path without the active engagement of the civil society agents. This outcome should further encourage Nigerians and the civil society to do more in order to guarantee good governance in the country,” an elated former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, reportedly said.

In his reaction, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who commended the persistence of Nigerians, lauded the Senate for reversing itself on electronic transmission of results, saying it was a huge victory for the nation’s democracy.

Ekweremadu said the Senate’s action justified his assurances to Nigerians in July that all hope was not lost for electronic transmission of 2023 election results despite the initial setback. Significantly, it could be recalled that Ekweremadu had in a statement on July 17, 2021 assured Nigerians that the “results of the 2023 elections will ultimately be electronically transmitted because it is the best way to go”.

Nigerians were not however impressed by his assurances because he had abandoned the Senate session during the voting for the e-transmission of results to attend a less-important legislative assignment outside the country.

For the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a situation where courts decide those occupying political offices is totally unacceptable, reprehensible and disheartening, adding that if the country’s democracy is still a baby, Nigeria would not be regarded as a serious country in the comity of nations.

Commending the Senate and INEC, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State noted that, “Part of the challenges we are facing today as a nation stems from lack of faith in the electoral process, which has huge implications on socio-economic activities in the country, including foreign direct investments. Once we are able to get the people to have faith in our electoral process where the people can truly decide who leads them, part of our problems would have been solved.”

For once, it would appear that the national interest has trumped narrow political gaming that adds no value to Nigeria’s troubled national journey. The Ninth Senate must truly be commended in this instance for shedding its unflattering ‘wimp’ and ‘rubberstamp’ image and striking out for a new Nigeria, anchored on credible, technology-aided, democratic power transitions.

By yielding to intense public pressure to reverse its earlier decision to subject electronic transfer of results to the discretion of NCC and handing the INEC the sole right to the innovation, the Ninth Senate has registered an important milestone in meeting its enduring statutory mandate and the citizens’ expectations.