We object to the overreaching and unconscionable efforts of the National Assembly to whittle down the powers of INEC, particularly its constitutionally conferred rights to determine the process of elections in Nigeria.
It will suffice to state that the National Assembly was reported to have passed an amendment to the Electoral Act, particularly the section that deals with the electronic transmission of election results, limiting the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), which is constitutionally employed to conduct elections in the country.
With the amendment, INEC’s intent to transmit election results electronically will now depend on the express permission of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly itself.
The controversial provision reads “voting at an election under this Bill shall be by procedures determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means.”
This development attracted severe criticism from many Nigerians who accused the National Assembly of subverting the proposed amendment and trying to perpetuate rigging in future elections.
The group further called on the NCC, especially the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd (NIGCOMSAT), Telephone companies (Telcos), and other stakeholders to ensure access to IT services is provided, especially in rural, unserved, and under-served areas of the country before the 2023 general elections.
We find it very strange for the Senate to push the responsibility of electronic transmission of results to the NCC, despite what the constitution says about the powers of the INEC to determine the electoral process including the pattern of voting and mode of transmission of results.
For the avoidance of doubt, Section 78 of the constitution says
“The Registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission”
The third schedule, part 1, F, Section 15 of the document further says,
“INEC has the power to organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, and to the membership of the senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the Federation.”
We believe the electronic transmission of election results will help to check rigging at polling units and collation centers. Transferring election results electronically is also a universal norm in this century. We have seen smaller and poorer countries conduct the electronic transmission of results, even with their limited infrastructure Nigeria should not be an exception.
We find it very difficult to believe that our lawmakers would oppose the electronic transmission of results when daily Nigerians are using electronic transfer of money and in the admission of students to various higher institutions in the country.
Electronic transmission is as simple as sending a text message, WhatsApp message, or using any other platform recommended by INEC and we feel the National Assembly should have a rethink on the matter before presenting the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
The constitution provides that INEC operations shall not be subject to the direction of anybody or authority.
This, therefore, renders the action of the NASS nugatory. By inviting the NCC and shunning INEC, it appeared the House was acting out a devious and utterly treacherous script intended to add to the current sorry state of the electoral process.
Even if the telecommunications network is weak or non-existent in a particular unit, moving further away from such unit until you access a place for a better network will still not vitiate the authenticity of election results already tallied at the polling units. The electronic copy only complements the physical copy, which must have been signed by all agents relevant to an election.
As a backup copy, the electronic copy of an election result helps to strengthen the electoral process and reduce incidents of ballot-snatching and the primitive manipulation of the physical copy.
We believe that ordinarily, there should not be any controversy on this subject as INEC, which is the only body mandated by the constitution to organize, undertake and supervise all elections, has categorically stated that it can achieve the electronic transmission of results. We posit that INEC does not need a Bill of the National Assembly to transmit results of elections electronically. And, we would expect it to challenge the powers of the National Assembly to subject its independence to the NASS’ whims and caprices.