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Apprehension over Collation of Election ResultS

Apprehension over Collation of Election ResultS

The resolve of the Independent National Electoral Commission to transmit election results electronically and collate the same manually in 2023 has obviously fuelled the recent public apprehension about the integrity of the next general election, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu recently stirred the hornet’s nest when while addressing a delegation of Media Trust Group in Abuja, he explained the resolve of the commission “to transmit election results electronically and collate the same manually.”

 Yakubu’s dialectical use of “electronic transmission of election results and manual collation of election results” led to public uproar against the commission.

For the civil society, the commission was just testing the waters of electoral manipulation ahead of the presidential and federal legislative elections slated for February 25, 2023 as well as the governorship and state legislative elections scheduled for March 11, 2023, which they threatened to resist vehemently.

 Like other civil society actors, the Civil Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) specifically warned against ploys by some powerful political actors, who it alleged, often preyed on the weak electoral process “to secure votes through electoral frauds, vote buying, multiple voting, money laundering and vote forgery.”

For the opposition parties too, INEC has already started pandering to the overture of the ruling party, which they claimed, marred the outcome of the 2019 presidential election. Conscious of what happened in 2019, the opposition parties are now prepared to avert the repeat of similar errors wherever they manifest before or during the 2023 elections.

 The presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar also felt uncomfortable with the way Yakubu muddled up the use of the electronic transmission of election results on the one hand and that of the manual collation of election results on the other hand. As a result, he was concerned about INEC’s integrity to conduct credible and transparent elections in 2023.

In a response by the spokesman of his campaign organisation, Atiku alleged that INEC “is laying the foundation for the rigging of the 2023 elections through the manual collation of election results. Section 60 of the Electoral Act, 2022 is clear. At the close of voting at the polling unit, the voting results will be uploaded. It means by the time the officer from the unit goes to the ward, he cannot present a result different from the one that was uploaded.”

 With the heat Yakubu’s comment generated, INEC’s Chairman on Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye attempted to clarify INEC’s position from the legal perspective. But Okoye’s intervention never quelled the public apprehension about the integrity of the process.

Civil society actors largely attributed such apprehension to the failure of the commission “to earn public trust in its previous undertakings between 1999 and 2015.”

Also, they linked it to the flaws of the 2019 elections that utterly “ruined the gains of the 2015 elections.”

What does the Electoral Act, 2022 recommend with respect to the transmission and collation of election results?

The new electoral regime spells out how the election results will be transmitted immediately after vote counting at every polling unit. Section 50(2) of the 2022 Electoral Act largely resolved the public apprehension on how election results should be transmitted without ambiguity.

 The section states: “Subject to Section 63 of this Act, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”

For the key actors, the mode of transmitting election results is neither a subject of dispute nor a source of public fear because it has been resolved under this section as far as the current debate is concerned.

Perhaps unknown to key actors, the electoral regime too largely clarifies how the election results should be collated after the voting exercise.

Under Section 60(5), specifically, the Act stipulates that the presiding officer “shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission.”

By interpretation, this section is not specific about the method the commission should adopt to collate election results as in the case of Section 50(2), which unequivocally prescribes electronic transmission of election results.

 As its provisions have revealed, the Electoral Act markedly differentiates the transmission of election results from the collation of election results without ambiguity. Consistent with the electoral regime, the former takes place during the voting process and requires that election results are transmitted electronically.

The latter, as Okoye succinctly put it, is a post-voting activity, which requires a presiding officer “to transfer the results, including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner prescribed by the commission.”

In its wisdom, INEC embraced a manual method of collating results after vote had been completed and results declared at the polling units.

Okoye further clarified that the presiding officer “shall after recording and announcing the results deliver the same along with election materials under security and accompanied by the candidates or their polling agents, where available to such person as may be prescribed by the commission.”

The section did not specifically mention the phrase “manual collation of election results” as the INEC chairman put it at a session with the delegation of Media Trust Group. Under Section 60{5), however, the Electoral Act empowers the commission to prescribe a method of collating election results from the polling units.

By implication, the collation process “is still essentially manual” as witnessed during the recent elections. But every election result collated manually must be subject to cross-verification to ascertain that the number of accredited voters stated on the collated result “are correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units.”

Since August 2020 when it conducted Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election, INEC has been test-running this method. It deployed the same method during the governorship elections in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun States. So far, the method has prevented ballot box snatching and multiple voting. However, it has invented vote trading, a more dangerous trend that reflects the socio-economic realities of the federation.

If the election results transmitted electronically will eventually prevail, why then should INEC collate manually? Even when the commission has clarified its stand from the perspective of the Electoral Act, this question still eclipses the hope of civil society actors and even opposition political parties with respect to the integrity of the electoral umpire and the credibility of the  2023 elections.

Like other key actors, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Nigeria’s foremost independent civil society election observation organisation, has challenged INEC to rebuild the confidence of the electorate to exercise their suffrage beyond clarifications it provided to justify its resolve to collate election results manually.

As a strategy to ensure the credibility of the entire process and secure much-needed public trust in its future undertakings, however, TMG  wants INEC to henceforth refrain from taking actions that violate or perceive to have violated provisions of the new electoral regime.

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