The recent hullabaloo over electronic transmission of election results is another false belief in the power of laws as the solution to Nigeria’s challenges.
Where did we get this assumption that we can legislate ourselves out our problems from?
For years, we have blamed the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) for corruption in the oil and gas section. Now that the PIB has been passed, we wait. We were told that by having the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the people in the creeks will get some reprieve. How laughable has that been? The NDDC stinks to the high heavens.
Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo established two anti-corruption agencies, the ICPC and EFCC. But what do we have today? A more corrupt society.
We even packaged a retired general as the messiah in 2015; one who claimed to be an anti-corruption champion and expert on security. Six years after, Nigeria is not safer, neither is it corruption-free.
This brings us to the recent brouhaha over section 52(3) of the Electoral Amendment bill just passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly. The joint committee of the Senate and the House had worked on the bill and produced a report. The public hearing into the bill was done in December 2020. Subsequently, the report was ready as far back as February 2021.
In the House, the Chairman of the Committee on Electoral Matters had listed the report for submission in February. However, it was suspended because of the APC membership registration and revalidation exercise.
That was when the apprehension over the bill started.
Media reports started filtering in on conspiracy by the lawmakers to jettison key recommendations in the bill, notably electronic voting. Some weeks ago, a couple of media organisations even did “exclusive reports” on the report; stating certain clauses that were inputted.
Anyone who is familiar with the National Assembly would have cited the error by the media.
The document being circulated was not in any way the report on the bill. But as always, the media needed to set agenda and sell their newspapers or generate clicks or both.
Civil Society Organizations who had collected grants and those hoping to collect grants jumped on the bandwagon and started protesting. Boom! The lawmakers also jumped on it, therefore neglecting other parts of the bill for the single section 52(3).
But how important is electronic transmission of electronic results?
The answer is simple, very important and ordinarily, it should not be that complicated.
This brings us to the next question, is it feasible or necessary? To answer the question of feasibility, the answer is no. On the necessity, the answer again is no.
Before you stop reading, it is critical that you continue.
For context, what did the joint committee recommend?
“The commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
This recommendation by the committee makes more sense. In simple terms, transmit those results electronically where there is a good network. This means that the nation’s electoral umpire INEC can collaborate with relevant agencies and companies to map out the areas with good network reception.
Whatever is being transmitted must be consistent with what was declared at the polling units, ward collation centres; as well as the LG collation centre to the states and national.
The danger in replacing “may” with “shall” is that it takes every other option out of the table. Places without network facilities automatically lose their voting rights. Opposing candidates will have to invest in network jammer in areas outside their stronghold.
Some will argue, why not provide network infrastructure across the country. The answer is, the government can’t afford it and telecoms have no incentives in doing that. There is currently an attempt to achieve this through the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to roll out fibre-optic cables in the various regions. However, most of these licensed companies have yet to commence work.
Furthermore, attempts by the government to bridge the connectivity gap through the use of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), has not yielded the right fruit. The USPF, which has the mandate to facilitate the achievement of national policy goals for universal access and universal service to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural, un-served and under-served areas in Nigeria, needs to be investigated.
Over 75 billion is budgeted annually for USPF. Yet, there is hardly anything to show for it.
If we need electronic transmission of results, the first thing is massive investment in network infrastructure in the rural areas. If the argument is that of distrusting INEC personnel, will the system be without human interface? Will INEC staff to be at the backend of the electronic transmission? Even digital footprints can be manipulated.
Therefore, allowing INEC to decide when to use e-transmission is smart. After all, the commission introduced the card reader technology and used it for a couple of elections without an act backing it up. Decision on transmission should for now be at policy level and let us observe it.
Nigeria will exist beyond 2023 and other elections in the future. Hence, it will be foolish to make a law with no foresight.
If the National Assembly should pass that bill with electronic transmission as mandatory condition; the President will not sign that bill. In fact, no President will sign such because that will be the pitfall of the 2023 election and others.
This is not a matter of doom prophecy, rather an uncomfortable truth. There are places in the Federal Capital Territory without network. Yes, the same FCT Abuja. INEC should try the combination of electronic transmission and manual in the coming Anambra election. Also, the option should be considered for the Ekiti and Osun elections. The outcome of the trial will play a big part in the next amendment of the Electoral Act.
What of hacking and cyber-attack, some have failed to ask? Even the almighty US has witnessed numerous attacks on their elections and selected infrastructure. Indeed, we cannot choose not to move forward because of the fear of the unknown. However, in a nation where elections are usually a do or die affair, caution is wisdom.
Meanwhile, the young people also jumped in on the electronic transmission saga when they should have been concerned about election financing. Where will the young people get N5bn to run for president? How will electronic transmission of results stop vote buying? Will it end violence?
Enough of the distractions please.