MEMBERS of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Senate and the House of Representatives have missed an important opportunity to win the hearts of Nigerians.
On Thursday, 52 senators of the ruling party placed electronic transfer of results at the behest of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly – a move seen by lawyers as unconstitutional.
After a rowdy session at the House of Representatives the same day, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila informed the public that members would re-convene the following day to take a final decision on the issue.
On Friday, however, the House maintained that electronic transmission of results would be allowed ‘where practicable.’
Thus, they failed to pander to the will of Nigerians to have an electronic transmission of election results without external interference.
Before then, Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, who presided over the sitting, had skipped clause 52 while examining the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, saying that it would be revisited when all other clauses had been debated.
Minority Leader Ndudi Elumelu later asked that clause 52 be considered as Wase promised, but the deputy speaker maintained that it could only happen when a motion of rescission on the motion was moved.
The deputy speaker later closed the door for motion of rescission, prompting the PDP House members to walk out of the proceedings.
Surprisingly, the INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, who had earlier been invited to brief the House, was asked not to come, according to Elumelu.
Also, Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission Umar Garba Danbatta did not appear before the House despite an earlier invitation.
Executive Commissioner in charge of Technical Services at the NCC Ubale Maska, who represented the NCC, noted that Nigeria did not have the capacity to cover the 119,000 polling units across the country due to low broadband.
Maska said 40 per cent of the stations were with 2G while about 10 per cent were without any network at all, noting that only 3G and above could transmit results.
However, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) Gbenga Adebayo told The ICIR that telecoms operators in Nigeria had the capacity to transmit election results electronically in all parts of the country.
“Yes, with what we have today, the telecommunications sector can support INEC and the country in whatever they want to do. Telecoms services are available in all the local governments of the country, so that is not a problem at all.
“With what we have, the industry can support the electoral commission and the government in this regard. The NCC is fully prepared to guarantee electronic transmission of results. In terms of capacity, we have more than enough capacity to ensure electronic transmission of results across the country.”
Also speaking with The ICIR, the immediate past president of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Olusola Teniola noted that some of the members of the National Assembly, who were opposing the inclusion of electronic transmission of results in the Electoral Act, were giving excuses with unfounded concerns over the reliability of the telecoms sector.
Nigerians reason that the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exam (UTME), bank transactions, and National Identification Number (NIN), among many others, are done online, even in rural areas, faulting the APC legislators’ argument that the country has no capacity to transmit votes electronically.
“The question is: why did electronic transfer of results succeed in the recent Edo and Ondo elections but will not work during the general election?” Head of Voters’ Forum Frank Umeh asked.
The controversial clause
The original copy of Section 52(3) of the Act had read that “The Independent National Electoral Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
This leaves electronic transfer of results in the hands of the electoral body. But the Senate modified the clause to read:
“The commission may consider electronic transmission provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
The provisions of Section 52(3), as adopted by the Senate, implies that the NCC – the telecommunications sector regulator – would have to convince the National Assembly before the lawmakers could approve electronic transmission of results in future elections in Nigeria.
By further implication, it also means that should the provision come into law, it is the National Assembly, not Nigerians, that would determine if election results could be transmitted electronically.
Going by the APC’s majority in the federal legislature and the party’s opposition to the move to include electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act, it is highly unlikely that the National Assembly would approve the arrangement.
Lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Mahmud said the priviso of Section 52(3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, “Before INEC can transmit electronically, NCC must adjudge national coverage is adequate and secure, and National Assembly must approve,” was in conflict with Section 78 of the 1999 Constitution, which provided that “the registration of voters and conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of INEC.”
Is APC afraid of its poor performance?
In 2015, the APC promised to fix insecurity, improve economy and reduce corruption in Nigeria. But the party has failed to deliver on the three promises.
Terrorism, kidnapping and secessionists-driven attacks have risen since 2015. Students and pupils are kidnapped from schools and held for weeks and months by terrorists who are branded ‘bandits.’
Fulani herders have killed and maimed farmers and sacked villages, but there is no pronouncement by President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani.
Buhari’s former Minister of Sports Solomon Dalung said in January 2021:“In the north, if you are a Muslim and you want to travel, you must pray, fast for days before embarking on the journey. If you are Christian and you want to travel, you must fast and pray for days before you travel.”
“Even if the journey is successful, you will still go to the hospital because of high blood pressure arising from fear during the journey. We have never experienced this kind of situation. Imagine in the north, before you go to your farm, you will have to pay gunmen to allow you farm. If you want to harvest your farm produced, you will still have to pay gunmen before they allow you to harvest.
“So how can there be farming in the North? We have never experienced this kind of situation. It is our APC government, but this government has not address the needs of Nigerians. It is our government, but if we are not doing the correct thing, it is our responsibility to speak out because we spoke against some people in the past and we need to speak to ourselves too.”
On economy, Nigeria became poverty capital of the world in 2017 – two years after Buhari came to power.
About 87 million Nigerians lived in extreme poverty in 2017, said World Poverty Clock.
According to the World Poverty Clock, the number rose in 2019. Nigeria had a total population of 205.32 million in 2019, with 105.097 million living in extreme poverty, representing 51 per cent of the population.
This means the number of extremely poor people rose from 87 million to 105 million in two years.
The economy has slumped into recession twice under the APC-led government.
Unemployment rate in the country was 33 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 as against less than 8 per cent in 2015 when APC-led government took over. Inflation is over 17 per cent and the exchange rate is officially N410-N415 per dollar as against N199/$ in 2015.
On corruption, Nigeria slumped to 149 (out of 180) on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), scoring 25 points out of 100.
The ranking places Nigeria as West Africa’s most corrupt country after Guinea-Bissau.
In 2014, Nigeria ranked 136 out of 176, scoring 27 out of 100 points.
Many Nigerians say that the senators, Reps members and the APC as a party, having performed poorly in the last six years, are afraid of losing the 2023 elections.
Dismissing concerns over INEC’s capacity to effectively transmit election results through electronic means, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice Eze Onyekpere said that those arguing against the inclusion of the provision in the Electoral Act intended to manipulate votes during elections.
“The APC (All Progressives Congress) knows they are unpopular and that is why they are not supporting electronic transmission of results,” he said in an interview with The ICIR.
Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at Kennesaw State University Farooq Kperogi said the ruling class were not in support of electronic transmission of election results because they had “already machinated a conspiracy to rig the next election with plausible deniability.”
“The fourth reason APC politicians dread electronic storage and transmission of votes is that it would frustrate their plot to destroy forensic evidence of their electoral fraud,” he said.
“That was how they got away with naked electoral fraud in 2019. Notice that more than two years after the 2019 elections, INEC has not made available to the public the raw data of the election—like Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC did in 2015.”
A Twitter user @tobennaOGB said, “We are gradually getting there with the deliberate loophole they have created in the law.”
“Remember, 2015 card reader compliance was 50+%,while 2019 dropped abysmally to to 19+%,” the Twitter user further said.
PDP not innocent
Some Nigeria say the absence of many PDP senators on an important day when electoral bill was considered was inexcusable.
Though senators from the party would not have outnumbered those of APC if they had been all available, many are not happy that the opposition party is not checkmating the ruling party as the former did pre-2015.
According to Umeh, earlier quoted, PDP had an opportunity of effecting electronic transmission of results during the time of Justice Uwais Electoral Reforms but failed to do so.
“You know, Jonathan tried to reform the election, but he failed in this area. So, APC is mimicking PDP, which also conducted some of the worst elections. Unfortunately for the APC, they are worse and they are operating at a time when voters know much more.”