2023 elections: Trouble looms NASS drops electronic transmission of results

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may conduct the polls without provision for the transmission of results electronically in the ongoing Electoral Amendment Act reforms despite the nationwide clamour by the stakeholders.

A copy of the Bill due for passage on Tuesday by both chambers of the National Assembly, showed that electronic voting will be approved, but not the transfer of results.

According to the Bill, INEC will not be empowered by law to transmit results electronically to the central server, but will instead rely on the alleged current fraudulent system, where results will be transmitted manually.

Observers said that the new model INEC plans to adopt in the conduct of the 2023 general elections, may hit a brick wall, if the Senate vis-a-vis the National Assembly refuses to include this important aspect in the law.

Section 50(2) of the proposed Amendment Act reads in part: “Voting at an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission (INEC), which may include electronic voting provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means.”

The heightened fear that the National Assembly predominantly controlled by lawmakers elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may pass a defective Bill into law also informed the protest of last week in the parliament by leaders of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In November 2019, when the Bill was debated on the floor of the Senate, the sponsor of the Bill and Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, included electronic transmission of results in it. However, that clause was conspicuously missing when the Bill went for public hearing.

The Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly had attempted the electoral reform, but failed to get the presidential approval at the end of the day. The Bill had sought to strengthen internal democracy, reduce the cost of politics, widen political participation and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections through technological innovations and an electronic database.

However, there were concerns raised over the enforceability of some of its provisions.

President Muhammadu Buhari in refusing to sign the bill had said: “I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

The crisis that followed the attempted amendment in the 8th Senate led to the suspension of Omo-Agege.

The suspension was upturned by the court. Unable to be readmitted, Omo-Agege on April 18, 2018, allegedly led thugs into the Senate chamber and snatched the mace.

Report of a committee set up to investigate Omo-Agege was never debated and adopted on the floor of the Senate. Omo-Agege secured a court order, which forbade the National Assembly from indicting him. Fourteen months later, he was elected Deputy President of the Senate.

Multiple sources told Sunday Sun that lawmakers from the North are opposed to the use of electronic voting,  specifically electronic transmission of results. One of the sources said that governors from the region are also opposed to the move and have mounted pressure on the chairman of the committee on INEC from Kano State, Kabiru Gaya, to delete that clause from the Bill.

Some leaders from the North, who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the region was not ready to rely solely on electronic voting, allegedly being pushed by Southern stakeholders.

A senator told our correspondent that the North was far behind the South in terms of formal education, adding that if electronic voting is introduced and results transmitted electronically, over half of the voting populace in the region will be denied the right to vote.

He said that the South can settle for electronic voting and transmission of results, but warned that the North will frustrate the move in the National Assembly.

However, stakeholders from the South are questioning the relevance of senators like Ike Ekweremadu, a former deputy President of the Senate; Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, among others, as members of INEC committee in the Upper Legislative Chamber.

According to the earlier proposed Amendment, INEC will be legally empowered to adopt electronic voting or manual as the case may be, Section 52(2) will be amended. The current law stipulates that “voting at an election under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by INEC.”

In the proposed amendment, the National Assembly said that “the Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”

In the proposed amendment, it states: “INEC can transmit the results of the election from the polling unit to the first level of collation of results to which the polling unit belongs in the constituency where the election is held.”

In total, there are 50 proposed amendments. Another key amendment is Section 65. The current Section states that “after results are recorded and announced, the presiding officer shall deliver election materials and the recorded results to persons prescribed by the Commission. This must be done under security and in the company of the candidates or their polling agents.”

The proposed amendment “mandates the Commission to compile, maintain and update a national electronic register on election results as a separate database. The national electronic register will contain the information of results from every polling unit in every election conducted.” – The Sun.

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