ELECTRONIC TRANSFER OF ELECTION RESULTS: THE GREATEST NEWS IN NIGERIAN POLITY IN A LONG TIME.

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Introduction:
Elections seem to be the test of popularity of governments and or persons vying for elective positions in democratic settings. Alas! This is not the case in Africa, nay Nigeria, as I can count on the tip of my fingers countries that can conduct free, fair and transparent elections in Africa. It is either the electoral body is compromised or the agents of political parties are compromised either by vote sharing or vote buying. This is the sad reality in Nigeria.


In 2011, the Professor Attahiru Jega led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) took a bold and decisive step in trying to make the result of elections free, fair, reliable and transparent with the introduction of the card reader. This novel idea made the usual inflation of election results impossible as INEC regulations made it compulsory that the card reader was a necessity to vote. The only exemption was where the card reader was defective and or could not read the fingerprints of eligible voters. There must be an incident form issued before such a person can be allowed to vote manually. The progress recorded with the introduction of the card reader was however scuttled by another challenge to free, fair, transparent and credible election by the collation of election results. Sometime it took up to 2 days to collate Gubernatorial election results and 3 days in the case of a Presidential election.


The endless and needless wait for election results owing to manual collation seem to have come to an end with the recent introduction of electronic transmission of results as proposed in the amendment in the Electoral Bill (Amendment) currently before the National Assembly. This is a bold and independent (a true reflection of the name of the National Election body – Independent) step of INEC in holding unto its policy on e-transmission of election result despite the initial opposition by some members of the House of Representatives (green chambers) and members of the Senate (red chambers). I had thought the dispute between the legislature and the INEC would first be tested at the Federal High Court. However, the Senators who were vociferous in the opposition of e-transmission of election results made a volte face and approved and or endorsed the proposal of the election body.
This rather optimistic great news has been beclouded by other perilous events ravaging the country: free fall of the Naira to other currencies; hunger in the land (an example is a 12.5kg of gas now sells for N7, 000 depending on where you live in Nigeria); continuous insecurity, maiming and killing of innocent citizens, kidnapping and the anniversary of the EndSARS protest.


Why electronic transfer of election results:
Election is less rancorous in many developed countries of the world due to one thing: free, fair, credible and transparent process. In Africa, elections are not transparent either because the incumbent wants to do a ‘sit-tight, or he wants to impose his candidates (puppets) on the people. In doing this, the incumbent appoints persons who do not have the independence to conduct transparent elections either because of their timidity and or are compromised by the incumbent who makes it impossible for the election umpire to succeed.
In Nigeria’s election history, three (3) NECON/NEC/INEC Chairmen have been phenomenal. The first is Professor Humphrey Nwosu who was appointed Chairman of the National Election Commission by President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in 1988. He was in office until 1993 when the results of the presidential election won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was annulled by the Babangida junta. Unconfirmed report had it that the then NECON Chairman was adamant in completing the collation of result until a gun was put to his head courtesy of the President’s men.
The second is Professor Attahiru Jega. Until his appointment as the Chairman of INEC by the then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Prof. Jega was a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), an academic and a former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, Kano State. He had gained national prominence as ASUU President and was able to lead the Association against the repressive government of then President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
One of the innovations introduced by the Professor Jega led INEC was the use of card readers in elections in Nigeria. This device has been used in the conduct of the 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections with tremendous improvements in elections process and transparency in Nigeria. In actual fact, the card reader has also mitigated litigations on election as disputes were drastically reduced thereby reducing post-election violence and expenses. In spite of the development recorded, there is yet an evil that persisted in the name of manual collation of election results. This continues to be a challenge to INEC and the nation at large.
The 3rd is Professor Yakubu Mahmoud who is the current Chairman of INEC. He was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Before his appointment, Professor Yakubu was the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigeria’s Public Universities. He is also a former Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). I was not impressed with the performance of INEC under Professor Yakubu Mahmoud. It looked like the gains and innovations introduced by the former INEC Chairman, Prof. Jega had been eroded until recently when the debate on electronic transmission of election results hit the wavelength with the INEC Chair and its Director of Publicity, our own Mr. Festus Okoye, Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC aired their views and confidence that electronic transmission will do the magic.

The INEC Chairman did not waiver on the stance of the Commission on electronic transmission despite stiff opposition from the National Assembly. Not even the vote of no confidence passed on INEC due to the brief received from the National Communications Commission (NCC) could alter INEC’s position. The Senate Spokesperson, Senator Bashiru Ajibola (Osun Central, Osun State) was vehement and emphatic in stating the Senate’s opposition to e-transmission of election results by the Commission. Matters however came to a head on Tuesday, the 15th day of October, 2021 when the Senate amended again Section 52 of the Electoral Act (Amended) Bill from what was contained in the initial bill as follows; “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable” to “The Commission may consider electronic transmission provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly”

Many Nigerians including members of the National Assembly have hailed the amendments. Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi State) in his view stated as follows; “It will deepen democracy and make electoral process transparent”. It is this transparent process referred to by Senator Adamu Aliero that I want to examine critically. Nigerian elites and non-elites alike are disinterested in voting in periodic elections in Nigeria because there are no reliable checks and balances that makes sure the intentions of the voters reflected in election results as same are manipulated by party members in connivance and/or collusion with dubious INEC officials as soon as the results are collated from the polling units for onward delivery to the Ward/Local Government/State collation centers. Collation of results at these centers are open to manipulation owing to human interactions with the results, such that by the time results move from ward to state collation centers, they may have doubled or tripled. The same way the election result may be compromised between the State and the Federal Capital Territory for Presidential election.


Let me share a personal experience in election manipulation in Local Government Elections during the Local Government Election in 2011. This incident could have been eradicated had there been an electronic transmission of election results. Mr. ‘A’ had won an election into one of the Wards as he was announced as the Councilor-elect at the ward collation center and was given copies of the candidates’ election results from the various polling units that make up the ward. He went home rejoicing and waiting for inauguration. The Police in Divisional Headquarters also got a copy of the collated result in the ward. Subsequently, the result was announced, a leader in the ward summoned the ‘winner’, the SIEC representative, the Police and all the people involved to the LG Secretariat. The party who won did not honour the invitation and neither did the Police. This did not deter the leader from generating another election results in collaboration with SIEC. During trial, the candidate who was declared ‘winner’ of the election tendered the result issued to him and the Police tendered its copy and it corroborated the copy tendered by the winner. However, the Honourable Tribunal though admitted the copy from the winner but refused to rely on same but rather on the copy tendered by SIEC. The point being that, had the result from the polling units been transmitted electronically, it would have been pretty difficult for anyone (including SIEC) to alter and/or change the results.


It is also important to say that the debate over an amendment of our Electoral Act to reflect electronic transmission of election result is long overdue and ought to have been dealt with by the 8th Assembly under Senator Bukola Saraki wherein an amendment to the Electoral Act was passed and same was forwarded to the Presidency in 2019 but the Bill was not assented to by the President on the excuse that the amendments were passed too close to the 2019 general elections. I believe the President ought to have prompted the National Assembly to pass the amendment earlier than now. But unlike the Electoral Act, the 2022 budget in being considered with the speed of light by the same National Assembly. The manner in which the Senate voted against the e-transmission of election results according to party line also goes to show a party that is afraid of e-transmission of results.


According to Mr. Obinne Obiefuna-Oguejiofor, a Lecturer in Law, Department of Jurisprudence and Legal Theory, University of Nigeria in his article published in Afe Babalola University, Journal of Sustainable Development Law & Policy Vol. 9: 2: 2018 “As preparations get underway in Nigeria for the 2019 general elections, stakeholders in the country have been clamouring for the adoption of e-election. This article, while appreciating and, indeed, supporting the clamour for e-election in Nigeria over the traditional means of voting, seeks to highlight the peculiar vulnerabilities associated with it. These vulnerabilities include the compromise of e-voting devices by viruses or other malicious software and possible malfunctioning of the electronic voting machine. Nigeria should be prepared to face any challenges that may emerge as it transits from manual to electronic voting. Where the necessary apparatus is established to accommodate e-elections in Nigeria, the technological leap can serve as a bulwark against the incessant occasions of electoral violence. With e-voting, Nigeria could lead the way in demonstrating a method of voting that overcomes major hurdles facing young democracies in Africa, namely, selection instead of election, institutionalized corruption, vote selling and accompanying public mistrust of election results. The eradication of fraudulent election through e-voting is not only a victory for Nigeria and its 196 million citizens, it reaches beyond its borders. As Africa’s largest economy, this success will resonate and have profound significance for other African nations.

The ills in our country that may be eliminated by a free, fair, credible and transparent election collation process or processes cannot be overemphasized considering the losses we have incurred from about three notorious elections in the last few years in our dear country. The states whose election atrocities led to several loss of lives are Kogi State, Kano State and Osun State. The Osun State gubernatorial elections in 2020 that brought in Governor Gboyega Oyetola was like war as the first election was allegedly won by Senator Ademola Adeleke (the dancing Senator) with about 21,000 votes before INEC declared the election inconclusive and ordered a rerun. The rerun election was characterized by gross violence, destruction of voting materials, prevention of voters from accessing polling units in areas like Ife North, Ife South, Osogbo and Orolu local government. Had the election results from the polling units been transmitted electronically, there would not be any rerun election leading to several loss of lives and properties amongst other resources. Even passersby were not spared in the violence that ensued during the said rerun.


The situation was the same and even worse in Kano State during the 2019 Gubernatorial election for the 2nd term of Governor Umar Ganduje. The main election was allegedly won by Engr. Abba Kabir Yusuf of the Peoples’ Democratic Party with votes in excess of 26,000 until INEC declared the election inconclusive and ordered a rerun election. The final results gave the APC victory with 1, 033, 695 votes while PDP had 1, 024, 713. Before INEC ordered the rerun, Vanguard Newspaper of 11th March, 2019 reported the incident leading to the order for a rerun as follows: “Kano governorship election Presiding Officer Prof. B.B. Shehu together with the Resident Electoral Commissioner Prof. Riskuwa Shehu announced the decision after it was reported that the State Deputy Governor, Nasir Yusuf Gawuna, Commissioner for Local Government, Sule Garo and Chairman of Nasarawa Local Government, Lamin Sani, allegedly attacked the venue of the results collation center with suspected thugs and attempted to destroy the results”. The only reason the mentioned members of the APC to wit, Nasir Yusuf Gawuna, Commissioner for Local Government, Sule Garo and Chairman of Nasarawa Local Government, Lamin Sani allegedly attacked the collation center was because they knew there was no other result other than the manual collation. Had the election results from the various polling units been electronically transmitted to the INEC server, the attackers would not have taken such a step. The more reason I had expected our political elite to be the vanguard of electronic transmission of results rather than being the ones shamelessly opposing same on the flimsy excuse that there is no network in their village. The obvious and only reason for the opposition to e-transmission of election results is to continue to attack collation centers across the country or that INEC should continue manual collation so they can continue to take advantage of the ineffective and defective process and corrupt INEC officials.


In Imo West Senatorial district election in 2019, the current senator representing the Senatorial District, Senator Rochas Okorocha was alleged by the INEC Returning Officer to have forced the district’s election result under duress. The allegation was not established in Court and the Senator is comfortably enjoying the seat unhindered. In the Gubernatorial election in Imo State again, (been in the news for the wrong reason), the current Governor may not have been elected Governor and the Supreme Court would not have been dragged into the confusion on who validly won the 2019 gubernatorial election conducted by INEC. Till date, the governor is referred by many ‘Imolites’ and Nigerians as ‘Supreme Court Governor’ because from their layman’s views the Governor scored the least of the votes validly cast by voters in the election. Had the results from the various polling units in Imo State been electronically transmitted to INEC server upon declaration of the results, the controversies would have been averted.


In buttressing the importance of electronically transmitted results in all election in Nigeria, I refer to the statement of Mr. Samson Itodo, the Director, YIAGA Africa in the wake of the back and forth on suitability or otherwise of electronic transmission of results as follows; “Since August, 2020 INEC has conducted elections in 20 states and 26 constituencies and in all these elections, INEC deployed electronic transmission of result. So this practice is not alien to the Nigerian electoral process”. I will like to commend the position taken by YIAGA Africa on electronic transmission of results. I also commend Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of INEC, who has been vociferous in his support of electronic transmission of election result in every fora where he has had the opportunity to speak on his core area. I must commend the former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for supporting electronic transmission of election result. I commend the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for making a ‘U-turn” having considered better and superior argument in favour of electronic transmission of election result.
Lastly, let me dedicate this paragraph to the leadership of INEC for proposing the amended section of the Electoral Bill undergoing passage in the National Assembly. Professor Yakubu Mahmoud has etched his name in the positive history of our dear country and like America has their angel Presidents, he has joined the angel Chairmen of Nigeria’s Election umpires. Let me also commend my leader in the NBA, Mr. Festus Okoye, the former Chairman of the NBA, Kaduna and current Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC for his unflinching stance on e-voting.

Conclusion:

In concluding this piece, my position is that embracing electronic transmission of election result (in both local and national elections) is the boom that the country is waiting for to be recognized as championing transparency in elections. I observed that the last Local Government election in Lagos was characterized by low voter turnout. The reason for this is not farfetched; many voters in Nigeria have lost interest in elections because the improvement brought about by card reader had been retarded owing to the complexities of manual transmission of election results. In 2020, Americans went to the poll to elect their President. About 150 million Americans voted in the election, accounting for about 50 percent of the population. This to a large extent was made possible by electronic transmission of election results at every local center to the state centers up to the national collation center. The highest number of voters Nigeria has recorded was in the region of 30 million (about 15% of the about 200 Million Nigerians). I am of the view that the number of voters will increase with the introduction of electronic transmission of election results. I also highly recommend that INEC should sanction the likes of Kano State Deputy Governor, Nasir Yusuf Gawuna, Commissioner for Local Government, Sule Garo and Chairman of Nasarawa Local Government, Lamin Sani, who allegedly attacked the venue of the results collation with suspected thugs and attempted to destroy the results where found culpable.


ADEBOLA O. LEMA ESQ is the Managing Partner of Fountain Court Partners, a Lagos Law Firm. adebolamaclema@yahoo.com

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