THE fallout of the September 4 local council elections in Kaduna State may have justified the fear of politicians in the All Progressives Congress (APC) who oppose the inclusion of a provision for electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria’s Electoral Act.
Technological innovations, including electronic transmission of results, was adopted in the polls conducted by the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM).
An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) – a computerized box that allows voters to select and click on the logo of the political party they are casting their votes for – was deployed for the elections.
Though the APC – the ruling party in Kaduna State – won in 15 local government areas, governor Nasir El-Rufai lost to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in his Unguwan Sarkin 001 polling unit in Kaduna North Local Government Area.
The results of the chairmanship election in Unguwan Sarkin Ward 007, Kaduna North Local Government Area, as announced by the presiding officer Mohammed Sani, show that the PDP got 1,235 votes while the APC got 948 votes. In the councillorship position, the PDP garnered 1,405 votes, while the APC got 804 votes.
It was an interesting development that has further vindicated Nigerians insisting that electronic transmission of results would strengthen the credibility and integrity of the country’s electoral process.
But the outcome is also likely to stiffen resistance to electronic transmission of election results among some political office holders and aspirants who fear that free and fair elections would not favour their political ambitions.
Despite the clamour by many Nigerians for the electronic transmission, the Senate had on July 15 passed the Electoral Act amendment bill with a controversial Section 52(3), which stated that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), with National Assembly approval, would determine whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could transmit results electronically or not.
Initially, Section 52(3), in the report submitted by the Senate Committee on INEC, had read: “The commission (INEC) may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
But Aliyu Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) moved a motion, seconded by Aliyu Ndume (APC, Borno South), that INEC should only consider electronic transmission if the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the NCC and approved by the National Assembly.
The debate was subjected to public voting to resolve the stalemate after some senators disagreed with Abdullahi’s motion.
But the controversial motion was adopted after 52 senators – comprising 50 from the APC and two from the PDP – voted to give NCC and the National Assembly the powers to determine whether INEC can transmit election results electronically or not.
As a result, Section 52(3) in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed by the Senate read: “INEC may consider electronic collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
There were reports that the leadership of the APC, concerned over the party’s chances of success in the forthcoming 2023 general elections, had instructed its members in the National Assembly to reject moves, supported by the majority of Nigerians, to have a provision for electronic transmission of election results included in the Electoral Act.
Despite assurances given by INEC and telecommunications operators that Nigeria has the capacity to implement electronic transmission of election results, leaders of the APC have insisted that the network coverage in the country was not adequate for the transmission of election results through electronic means.
Several APC senators, including Senate Chief Whip, former governor of Abia State Orji Uzor Kalu, claimed that they voted against electronic transmission because there was no telecommunications network in their constituencies.
“Because there is no network coverage in my village, I vote NO,” Kalu had said as he voted. But the former governor’s constituents had come out to say that the senator, who had his conviction on corruption charges overturned by the Supreme Court, lied in his claim that there was no network in his hometown.
The Electoral Act amendment bill passed by the House of Representatives on July 16 gave INEC the sole discretion to determine whether or not to transmit election results through electronic means.
The two bills passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives are to be harmonised, after which a harmonised bill of the National Assembly would be sent to the president to sign into law.
* CSOs commend El-Rufai, insist on electronic transmission
Some civil society organisations have commended Kaduna State governor EL-Rufai for allowing electronic transmission of results in the state’s council polls.
Under EL-Rufai’s watch, the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission Act No. 10 of 2012 was amended in 2018 to introduce electronic voting in Section 16(3). The development enabled the state electoral commission to use technological innovations to conduct elections in 2018 and again in 2021.
Speaking with The ICIR, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Rafsanjani said EL-Rufai has demonstrated that electronic transmission of results guarantees a credible outcome in elections.
“We are happy that El-Rufai tested this method (electronic transmission) in the local government polls, and this shows that if electronic transmission is allowed, it will always reflect the true outcome of elections. It also shows that if we truly want to eliminate malpractices and irregularities in the collation of election results, the way to go is electronic transmission,” Rafsanjani said.
* Politicians who wish to rig elections oppose electronic transmission
Rafsanjani further noted that while ‘forces of progress’ would keep insisting on electronic transmission of election results, those who would like to rig elections would also continue to oppose the move to include a provision for transmission of election results through electronic means in the Electoral Act.
He said, “What will happen is that the forces of progress will continue to push for the use of technology, including electronic transmission, in Nigerian elections while those who don’t want transparency and credibility in the electoral process will continue to oppose the application of technology in elections.
“Those who don’t want Nigeria and the electoral process to be free from manipulation of election results and electoral violence are the ones that oppose electronic transmission, but those who want free and fair elections are for electronic transmission. We will continue to insist that INEC should be given the powers to transmit electronic results through electronic means.”
Also speaking with The ICIR, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan reacted to suggestions that El-Rufai’s loss in his polling unit would further discourage Nigerian politicians from embracing electronic transmission.
“People are not always comfortable with innovation, so it will not be a surprise, but that will not stop us from introducing innovations. There is nothing bad with electronic transmission of election results, and with every technology, there will be checks accompanying it,” Hassan said.
The CDD director said CSOs are still working to ensure that electronic transmission of election results is included in the final amendments to the Electoral Act.
“We will continue to engage in knowledge-based advocacy and at the same time engage with the lawmakers to ensure that the right thing is done.”
* EL-Rufai suggests fear is responsible for opposition to electronic transmission
Meanwhile, speaking on Channels Television on September 8, El-Rufai noted that ‘fear’ might have informed the rejection of electronic transmission in the Senate by mostly APC lawmakers when the matter was put to vote on July 15.
“The reason why you saw the voting along partisan lines is that incumbents want to protect what they have; if you are the incumbent, you would want to protect what you have. This is the system you know, and this is the system that is likely to return you to the office.
“People that do not understand technology are genuine concerns about it; what you do not know you fear, this is understandable,” he said.
The governor distanced himself from the loss recorded by the APC in his polling unit, arguing that the blame lies with the candidates on the party’s ballot in the election – the local government chairman and the councillor.
“People were laughing that I lost my polling unit, but you know, it is democracy that won,” El-Rufai stressed.
The governor said he was ready to embark on an advocacy campaign to push for a provision for electronic transmission in the Electoral Act.
“I will personally take this up with Mr. President, the President of the Senate and with Mr. Speaker of the House and try to get more advocacy; I think what we need to understand is that this system is nearly foolproof.”
It was reported that the APC leadership took a position against electronic transmission of election results and rallied its lawmakers, including senators, to reject moves to adopt electronic transmission of election results in 2023. El-Rufai said he was not aware that the party took such a position.
According to him, his belief in electronic voting was informed that every responsible government should ensure that people vote in a free and fair election where their choices will matter.