By Olusesan Laoye
The recent local government elections in Lagos and Ogun states have again fresh concern over the integrity of elections in the country, and further heightened the controversies surrounding the debate concerning electronic voting and transmission of the results. This comes in the heel of INEC’s insistence on its capacity to transmit results electronically nationwide and disavowal of NCC, National Communications Commission, claim that the electoral cannot transmit results because the nation is only 54 percent covered, a position used by the senate to amend Section 52 of the Act.
As far as some members of the APC were concerned, the conduct of the election with complaints of mal-functioning of card readers in many polling units which prevented some people, especially notable ones, like the leader of the party Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Speaker Femi Gbajamiala, Minister of Works and former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and also former governor of the State, Akinwunmi Ambode in Lagos and the likes of Chief Olusegun Osoba, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Otunba Gbenga Daniel, all three former governors of Ogun State from casting their votes, may haven credence and justification for the passage of the amended electoral bill by the two houses of the National Assembly.
Both the upper and the lower chambers of the National Assembly, had passed the bill in turbulent and controversial manner, which arose between the APC in majority and the minority led by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), without hindrance and much ado about other sections of the bill but section 52(3) which gave Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the express powers to transmit the result of the elections electronically where and when practicable and which was amended, has been a source of concern to the nation. The amended part ceded that power of electronic transmission to the National Communications Commission (NCC) has not gone down well with the people.
But the local government elections held in both Lagos and Ogun while the heat and controversies were still going with the experience of the card readers not functioning during the election, have let the members of the National Assembly, especially those in the APC, to say that they were justified, going by the statement of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila that the incident has shown that Nigeria is not yet ready for electronic voting.
The speaker was told that the card reader was not functioning due to net work problem. According to him, “I came to vote but the card reader was not working because of network. It is like where are not there yet as I have to fill an incident form.”
Notwithstanding the legislators comment and the manner both houses passed the bill, which now arrogate the powers of INEC to NCC and the rejection of the bill by the opposition who walked out, the passage, according to political observers and opponents, still need much to be desired and it has raised suspicion as it was believed that the APC has an ulterior motive by using its numerical strength to allow the bill to scale through.
What heightened the suspicion was that during the debate before the final passage, the two houses were accused of not putting INEC vested with the power as an Independent arbiter to conduct elections in Nigeria into consideration. The body was not consulted but sidelined, while the legislators only invited the NCC to give its own side. While the people and other lawmakers wanted the National Assembly to legally empower INEC to transmit result, APC lawmakers voted against it.
The amendment now says that INEC would now seek clearance from NCC and the National Assembly before deploying electronic transmission of election result in any part of the country.
This clause got INEC angry and the officials had to cry out that they were not consulted before the legislators arrived at the conclusion that it had no means of transmitting election results electronically. At the heat of the debate it was suggested that both INEC and NCC be invited but only NCC came to convince the two chambers that INEC has no capacity to do e- transmission of result.
According to Adeleke Adewolu, who represented the NCC, before the National Assembly, only half of the polling units in Nigeria have the needed network facilities. Also the Commissioner Technical Services, in NCC, Ubale Maska, said that the survey they conducted in 2018 shows that about 53 percent of 109,000 polling units out of 119,000 had 3G network, others with 2G while some don’t have any coverage.
But it was discovered that the presentation and the picture painted by NCC misled the National Assembly in passing the bill. The Electoral body had insisted that if it was called along with NCC, it could have proved them that the commission has the required capacity to transmit result electronically. It faulted the argument presented by NCC representative Adewolu.
The INEC argued that the real document of NCC in their possession now at the public domain shows 2G network coverage of over 89.9 percent and 3G coverage of 74 percent and 4G about 37 percent with less than 10 percent connections, leading to mobile internet penetration of about 32percent which is far more than what NCC presented to the National Assembly.
According to INEC National Commissionerand Chairman Information and voter education committee, Festus Okoye, the commission has the capacity to transmit result. He said that the joint committee consisting of telecommunications stakeholders had revised the system and concluded that e- transmission of election result is practicable.
He further pointed out that the commission has the full capacity to send results from the polling units to the registration area collation centres, the various states, Federal and Senatorial districts’ collation centres. He said that in 2018 INEC demanded technological driven commission and both have been working to deliver free, fair and credible elections.
He also argued that since they have been assured by two network providers MTN and Airtel that the same assistance they rendered to JAMB to conduct exams throughout Nigeria could be extended to INEC, they were surprised why NCC made a U -turn that the commission has no capacity and enough network coverage now, to cover the whole country.
The Senate President Ahmed Lawan had said that those trying to blackmail the National Assembly on the issue are mischievous. He pointed out that those who said Nigerians should be vigilant because the APC tried to doctor the Electoral Act to aid anti democratic forces are unpatriotic.
What actually baffled Nigerians was the statement of the Ekiti State governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who doubles as chairman of governors forum, which condemned the National Assembly and NCC to determine the use of electronic transmission of result and not INEC which has the constitutional power to do so.
A constitutional lawyer Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) was of the opinion that neither the National Assembly nor the NCC could dictate to INEC, considering section 78 of the constitution that gives INEC the power over the procedure of elections. The action of the National Assembly, according to him, violates the constitution.
Also the Social Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP) has indicated that the bill passed by the National Assembly was illegal because it undermines the ability of INEC to conduct transparent election.
Meanwhile, the position of the opposition both at the national level and the National Assembly that the APC did not put the interest of Nigerians into consideration before passing the bill still stands.
The Minority leader in the House of Representatives Hon. Ndudi Elumelu said they walked out because they believed that the APC has an ulterior motive towards the bill.
“We argued what is the interest of the APC in going against digitalized voting process? The bill brings the nation backwards again as the manual computation of result is susceptible to manipulation, fraudulent, wrong computations of results, violence and attack on Electoral officers.”
Also the PDP National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said the attitude of the APC lawmakers in passing the bill despite the controversy and not contacting INEC was indication that APC has determined to rig the coming 2023 general elections.
In his own reaction, former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashisdi Ladoja has condemned the National Assembly for passing the bill without the impute of INEC. He, therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign the bill as it could create great Electoral problems for Nigeria once the Independence of INEC is removed and functions passed on to a body which has no business with election process.