THE integrity of the results collation process is fundamental to the overall success and credibility of elections. If conducted in a transparent and well-regulated manner, it will produce credible election results.
But, as the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) observed in the report ‘COUNTING THE VOTES’ – a postmortem analysis of ward-level collation during Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election – collation of results had been a much-exploited weakness in the Nigerian election process since the country’s return to democratic civilian rule in 1999.
Relying on documentary evidence from 8,809 election observers accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the CDD report concluded: “In the 2019 elections, civil society observers all across Nigeria saw a collation process that was chaotic, vulnerable to manipulation and, in some locations, violently disrupted and unnecessarily opaque.”
Collation is the process through which polling unit-level results are aggregated and tabulated, starting from the ward level, through the local government and state levels to the federal level, depending on the scope of the election. But as the CDD report noted, historically, in Nigerian elections, the exercise had been marred by irregularities such as intimidation of collation officers by politicians, security agents and thugs, as well as misconduct by INEC staff and logistical shortfalls.
According to CDD, the effect of the collation problems on the electoral process included: less transparent elections, more inconclusive results and growing concerns about INEC’s integrity.
- Electronic transmission of results to the rescue?
In its recommendations, the CDD report canvassed further amendment of the Electoral Act (2010) to allow for the introduction of electronic transmission of results. The report noted that electronic transmission would “reduce error in the calculation process and improve the pace of collation.”
Electronic transmission of results was widely adopted by stakeholders during public hearings that were held as part of the current moves to amend the Electoral Act by the National Assembly.
Also, INEC had adopted the electronic transmission of results in some recent elections, particularly in the September 2020 Edo State governorship polls, a development that was commended by stakeholders. The commission had, in the past, expressed readiness to adopt electronic voting, including the transmission of results by electronic means and its Chairman Mahmud Yakubu had urged the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to make provision for electronic collation and transmission of election results.
The fresh amendments to the Electoral Act originally made provisions for electronic transmission of results but just as the Senate was set to to pass the bill, a strange Section 50(2), which completely outlawed transmission of votes by electronic means, appeared in the draft legislation.
Section 50(2), which was hitherto not part of the amendment bill, stated: “Voting at an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedures determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means.”
Many Nigerians have expressed outrage over the development and there are indications that the National Assembly will reverse itself and reintroduce electronic transmission of results in the bill before it gets to the president for assent.
Be that as it may, stakeholders, including civil society organisations that are involved in election monitoring, have insisted in separate interviews with The ICIR that electronic transmission of results would improve the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process.
CDD Director Idayat Hassan, who has monitored elections in several countries, highlighted how electronic transmission of results would affect elections in Nigeria.
Hassan was part of the CDD team that prepared the report on the 2019 presidential elections and she told The ICIR that “electronic transmission will address defects in the manual collation of results.”
Noting that the report on the 2019 presidential poll provided compelling evidence on the need for electronic transmission of results in Nigeria, Hassan added that electronic transmission would ‘cure the logistical nightmare’ often encountered in manual collation of results.
“In every election, we have cases where collation officers are ready but there are no vehicles. Sometimes, they are in need of generating set or they will not even know where to collate and these challenges muddle up the entire collation system.”
Snatching of ballot materials and interference by politicians, security agents and thugs are common features of elections in Nigeria. Hassan said these challenges would be eliminated by electronic transmission of results.
“It will eliminate interference by security agents, politicians and even thugs in the collation process. There will not be reason to kidnap electoral officials and snatch ballot materials,” she said.
The capacity of returning officers to influence the outcome of elections – wilfully or by coercion – would be diminished if voting results were to be transmitted through electronic means.
“In Nigerian elections, you can win during voting but lose during collation. Electronic transmission will take away the power of the returning officers to influence the election process.
“Sometimes returning officers also get intimidated. We have cases where returning officers are intimidated to declare false results in favour of particular parties or candidates – we saw such cases in Taraba and Imo in the last elections,” Hassan observed, noting that it would not be easy for returning officers to connive with politicians to rig elections.
Hassan further explained that electronic transmission of results would eliminate human error in the collating process. “In the 2019 election there were cases of arithmetical error by collating officers,” she said, adding that it would also save time because results of voting would be uploaded in real time, unlike what was obtainable in manual transmission where collation officers sometimes transited over very long distances to submit voting results at INEC collating centres.
Reacting to concerns that the capacity to effectively implement electronic transmission of results might not be available in Nigeria at the moment, Hassan pointed out that there would also be a paper format that would serve as backup in the electronic transmission arrangement.
Stressing that there were checks and balance systems used to complement electronic transmission of results, Hassan insisted that the provision should be included in the Electoral Act even if INEC was not ready at the moment, to avoid having to continually amend the electoral laws before every election.
“We can’t continue to amend the Electoral Act on every occasion. If INEC feels we are not cyber-secure enough to do it now, it should not stop the provision being in the Electoral Act. We will just have to keep it pending when the capacity is there.”
Also making a case for electronic transmission of results, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice Eze Onyekpere said it would eliminate the need for collation centres.
“Results will be transmitted from where voting took place and everybody will witness it and there will be no manipulation. There will not be any need for collation centres.”
Dismissing concerns over INEC’s capacity to effectively transmit election results through electronic means, Onyekpere suggested 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 added in an interview with The ICIR.
In the same vein, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Rafsanjani told The ICIR that electronic transmission of results would go a long way in addressing violence during elections.
“With electronic transmission, there will not be any case of results missing on the way or snatching of ballot boxes,” he said, noting that “any politician that does not want that to happen is planning to rig election.”
But Rafsanjani expressed doubts over the sincerity of the National Assembly in the Electoral Act Amendment process.
He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold assent to the bill if the National Assembly did not include the provision for electronic transmission.
Also speaking with The ICIR, Executive Director of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) Ibrahim Zikirullahi observed that the introduction of technology had helped to improve the electoral process. According to him, electronic transmission of results would lead to further improvement.
Zikirullahi described the move to ditch the provision for electronic transmission in the amendment of the Electoral Act as a “sinister agenda that will not augur well for the integrity of the electoral process.” He bemoaned the lack of transparency, clarity and popular participation in the amendment process.
- Electronic transmission is a double-edged sword that should be handled with caution
Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Olanrewaju Suraju said Nigerians should exercise caution over the desire to introduce electronic transmission of results in the Electoral Act. Suraju told The ICIR in an interview that electronic transmission of results was a double-edged sword.
“It is actually a double-edged sword that needs to be handled in a very critical and professional manner. Nigeria is such a peculiar country and as a result we should not give room for things that could lead to misinterpretation or misapplication,” he said, adding that Nigerians had the potential to abuse almost everything or to corrupt them.
“So in a situation where we don’t have an electronic or internet system that is free from interference or hijack, we will need to be very circumspect in what we adopt or what we embrace.”
Noting that what was required was for the amended Electoral Act to empower INEC to introduce electronic transmission, he said, “When we say electronic transmission, it has to be very clear on how results are transmitted from the polling unit to the collation centre, from the local government centre to the state and national centres. We must be sure to populate INEC with people of integrity with impeccable character that are not overtly attached to political parties.”
Speaking further on the matter, Suraju said the amendment should consider the implication of electronically transmitted results in election cases.
“We have to understand the potential of misuse or abuse of the electronic transmission system, especially in Nigeria where disputes associated with elections are postponed until you go to court. There should also be provisions to give INEC power on what to do when infiltration or abuse of the electronic transmission is identified,” he said, adding that the amendment must not allow situations where politicians would abuse the electronic transmission system and ask the opposition to go to court.
- Electronic transmission not guarantee for credible elections… INEC
INEC told The ICIR that it had the capacity to effectively implement electronic transmission of election results. But the commission added that electronic transmission was not a guarantee for credible elections.
Spokesman for INEC Chairman Rotimi Oyekanmi, in response to enquiries from The ICIR, said, “Electronic transmission of results alone cannot automatically guarantee credible elections. It will simply form a part of the chain of events that would eventually culminate in free and fair elections. The conduct of an election, especially a general election, involves a whole range of huge, complex processes and procedures, all of which must pass the integrity test. Now, even if electronic transmission is allowed, it will be subject to judicial review, like what happened in Kenya. Besides, the paper trail must form part of the finalization process.”
But Oyekanmi, in the same vein, assured that “INEC has the capacity to conduct elections and transmit the results through electronic means.”