The Senate and Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2021 – Thisday

Electronic transmission of results holds great promise for integrity and transparency of elections. It will be unwise for the Senate not to correct itself

Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) restated its preparedness for the deployment of online transmission of election results ahead of the 2023 general election. Debunking the ‘fears’ being raised by the Senate based on a dubious report from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), INEC reaffirmed that the technological tool would usher in a transparent electioneering process in Nigeria. According to the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, the political and ethnic undertones in the debate on the electoral reform bill were unnecessary and counterproductive. He added that the decision for the electronic transmission of results was an outcome of over 10 years of research and study.

We wholeheartedly endorse the position of INEC and join other stakeholders in calling on the Senate not to impede the preparations of the commission ahead of the 2023 general election. With electronic transmission of results, as we have had cause to argue in the past, INEC is not trying to re-invent the wheel. It is something that had been tried by the commission and the outcome was incredible: it increased the integrity of the electoral process. Besides, our banking and telecommunications systems are about the most advanced in the adoption and application of IT solutions on the African continent. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) rely on automated process for both registration and release of results. The former even conducts its examination electronically throughout the country.

However, in July this year, both chambers of the National Assembly passed the Electoral Amendment Bill under controversial circumstances. While the House of Representatives has retraced its steps on the issue, the Senate is insisting on retaining the provision that subjects INEC’s constitutional power to the approval of the National Assembly and the NCC. This is despite the fact that INEC has debunked the NCC report that a greater percentage of Nigeria is not covered by the Global Satellite Mobile telecommunications system. On the contrary, according to INEC, 93 per cent of Nigeria is fully covered while the remaining seven per cent would be adequately taken care off. All this aside the fact that the constitution prescribes no role for the NCC in the electoral process.

Since the House of Representatives, in compliance with the Constitution, has asked INEC to proceed with its mandate, the Senate cannot be said to be acting in good faith. It is more ironical that the House of Representatives which invited the NCC ignored their jaundiced counsel and granted INEC the discretion to transmit results electronically while the Senate which did not invite it decided to subject INEC’s powers to NCC and the National Assembly approval. Meanwhile, at his meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in December 2019, Yakubu argued that the use of technology in results collation and transmission was “long overdue, doable, achievable and inevitable.” That position has repeatedly been reaffirmed by INEC’s National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, including during his interaction with National Assembly members. “We have uploaded results from very remote areas, even from areas where you have to use human carriers to access,” he said. “So, we have made our own position clear, that we have the capacity, and we have the will to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process.”

Indeed, a reliable technology-enabled system could help minimise disputes over electoral fraud and rigging of results and thereby obviate the need for long-drawn litigation that has hampered democratic choice. The relative success of last year’s governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States was credited to the use 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.

In line with extant legislative practice and procedure, a conference committee should be constituted by the presiding officers of both chambers to harmonise the positions before transferring to the President for assent. Since electoral reforms will be meaningless if they are not driven by technology which enhances integrity and transparency, we hope their decision will be guided only by the national interest.

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