The recent decision of the Senate to give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to decide the mode of transmission of election results is the right step towards restoring fully the independence of the electoral umpire. The upper chamber of the National Assembly had, in Clause 51 (3) of its version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed in July 2021, stipulated that INEC might consider electronic transmission of results, provided that the national coverage was adjudged to be adequate and secured by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.
Many Nigerians, including the media and the civil society organisations, had condemned the initial position of the Senate. They insisted on electronic transmission of election results. Even the diplomatic community also met with the leadership of the National Assembly and appealed to the lawmakers to do everything possible to deepen democracy in Nigeria.
INEC had also rejected the Senate position then and insisted on e-transmission of election results. Despite the fact that the available national infrastructure, including mobile network coverage was adequate, the electoral umpire assured that it had the capacity and technical know-how to transmit election results electronically across the country.
Since 2011, INEC had piloted e-transmission of election results for off-cycle and by-elections. For instance, it electronically published the images of polling unit results through what it calls INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in the last Edo and Ondo governorship elections as well as some senatorial and federal constituency by-elections.
Three years ago, the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and the NCC had certified that the e-transmission of election results was possible. INEC says the capacity is even more reliable today than it was then. According to the electoral commission, it does not even require the approval of the National Assembly or the attestation of the NCC to transmit election results electronically as that will be unconstitutional.
No doubt, manual transmission of election results is outdated. It encourages rigging and it is cumbersome and expensive. Between the polling booths and the collation centres, party thugs usually snatch and destroy ballot boxes, giving room for falsification of election results. This is partly why our elections are hotly contested in the courts because there is usually no confidence in the electoral outcome.
Consequently, most Nigerians develop apathy towards elections. INEC said the turnout of registered voters across the country in the last two electoral cycles was between 30 and 35 per cent. Some recent by-elections recorded as low as 8.3 per cent voter turnout in constituencies of over 1.2 million registered voters.
With the electronic transmission of election results, however, outright rigging and electoral violence will be drastically curbed. It will not only reduce incidents of interference and manipulation of election results, it will also restore confidence and credibility in our electoral system. It will make polls more transparent and acceptable and lessen the do-or-die approach to our brand of politics.
We commend the Senate for buying into the public opinion. In making laws for the country, they should always factor in the wishes and input of the people. They are in the Senate to represent their constituencies and must abide by what the people who sent them want. It is victory for democracy.
Besides, INEC must be free and truly independent if it must conduct free and fair elections. The ball is now in its court to give Nigerians the best. The e-transmission of results is a litmus test for the commission and it cannot afford to fail. We have another off-season election coming up in Anambra State on November 6, 2021. INEC should do well to transmit the result of that election electronically to further cement its argument and confidence on e-transmission of results.
It is worthy to note that the euphoria trailing this action of the National Assembly makes it look like everything will become perfect once we adopt e-transmission of election results. There could be hiccups if INEC does not put its house in order. The electoral umpire must make sure that the technology that will be used for election result transmission functions optimally. There should be no room for the type of errors we recorded with card readers in some previous elections.
We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to give the amended bill expedited assent once it comes to his table. There should be no room for excuses, like what happened in 2018 when he refused to sign the bill into law the three times it was presented to him, citing different reasons. That stalled the transmission of the 2019 election results electronically and cast serious doubts about the outcome of the elections. The onus now lies on the President to bequeath a credible electoral process to Nigerians as he earlier promised. We must, as former President Goodluck Jonathan recently said, review Nigeria’s electoral laws to restore the integrity of the ballot.