I wonder why the APC senators mostly stood against the clause that sought to operationalize the electronic transmission of election results.
I thought APC as a party was supposed to embody the ideals of political progressivism and was not created and sold to the people as a mere alternative political party with almost the same modus operandi as the others. I thought it was supposed to be a positive paradigm shifter and a status quo disrupter. But they have proven us wrong.
Debates over this issue took a very heated dimension on the floors of both chambers of the National Assembly, and I wonder why. I understand there are certain concerns around issues like the devices to be used in the transmission of the results; how the results would be authenticated digitally before transmission; how the relevant stakeholders(e.g. party agents, observers) would be able to access the original results as transmitted; how accountability and transparency will be entrenched especially regarding public access to results and of course the issue of internet connectivity and inadequate digital infrastructure.
But if we are really determined, are there no answers and solutions to all these questions and concerns? Where is the APC’s commitment to innovation and “change”?
This is how I visualize the entire process in the simplest terms:
Firstly, on registration of party agents (and independent observers, both local and international) for each polling unit by INEC. The commission would take all necessary details, including biometrics and create a profile for each of them on the INEC system. As such, all agents and observers would have access to their profiles on an app developed specifically for the elections. Of course, rigorous training of agents would be done to this effect. All political parties would also have accounts on the platform(perhaps to be operated by the Chairmen of the Parties).
Secondly, after the elections, the transmission of results can only be done after validation and authentication by all party agents registered(and official observers) in the polling units. This can be done in many ways. One way is by barcode scanning. This way, the agents’(and observers’) mobile application would allow the scanning of the barcodes of the digital results as compiled so that immediately the barcode is scanned, the agents would be sent the result sheet on their mobile app as tabulated for verification(just as we use our XENDER app). On verification, the agents would accept or decline(in cases that warrant such). If accepted, the agents would still, after accepting their devices, go further to verify their acceptance with a biometric scan(thumbprint) on the device of INEC. Only then will the result be transmitted.
Thirdly, immediately after transmission, INEC will send originally certified and legally admissible copies of the verified and authenticated result to the accounts(profiles) of the party agents and the central party account(profile). The result will also be immediately published on the elections website and projected at the polling unit for public consumption.
On connectivity, INEC might choose to use the networks of the local service providers operating in Nigeria or partner with reputable international service providers. I prefer the latter because of the argument that almost 50% of the polling units we have do not have internet coverage. The government might partner with companies like SpaceX that provide satellite internet services with the capacity of delivering 150mbps internet speed to any place on the planet via satellite. All that is needed is a small kit at every polling station. There are also many other companies the country can partner with to optimize the device with satellite internet functionality that will guarantee internet connectivity almost anywhere in the world with appreciable speed, for example, companies like Thuraya, Iridium, Inmarsat etc. Of course, under the supervision and protection of the nation’s digital firewall. In this case, all polling units would have the digital infrastructure necessary for this purpose.
Are these things possible, or they are just too fictional and unrealistic?
If they are possible, then what is all this noise around e-transmission of election results? Or are we just not yet ready for such a revolutionary change towards more transparency and accountability in our election processes?
Why is APC hell-bent on amplifying a limitation that they have done nothing to improve as justification for their scepticism towards e-transmission of the election result? Why are they not talking solutions and alternative routes towards achieving e-transmission just as they did vehemently when the PDP postponed elections in 2015 because of the insecurity in the North East? I wonder how they would have reacted if they were still in the opposition, but given their reaction to the issue of card readers while they were, I strongly believe they would have supported e-transmission.
Some of them argue that even the United States, by virtue of the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2019, use conventional ballot papers for voting. And I ask, is electronic voting the same thing as the electronic transmission of results? Have they ever wondered how they get live election result updates on channels like CBN, ABC, FOX etc.? Don’t they know of the National Election Pool in the US and Edison Research which provide real-time election results?
Some are sceptical because such a network is susceptible to cyber intrusion. And I ask why the pessimism? Can we not trust the same cybersecurity infrastructure that protects our national security data(in DIA, NIA, DSS etc.) to offer befitting protection to a network that will be used just for electronic transmission of election results?
So many questions for the APC!
And here is the subtlety, the initial clause in section 52(3), as presented, already had the practicability condition; “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.” So this was the original clause.
Then it was amended to this by both chambers of NASS; “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.”
In the amendment, the National Assembly subtly gave itself the exclusive power for approval subject to the NCC assessment and network coverage report. This is in absolute contravention with section 78 and Third Schedule Part 1, F, S.15 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Per these extant provisions, the constitution has given exclusive rights and powers to INEC in the matters of the conduct, supervision, undertaking and organization of elections in Nigeria. Hence, the unconstitutionality of subjecting INEC’s powers to the approval of the NCC and the NASS.
We are ashamed by the actions of the APC towards this issue because we believed that any initiative that holds the potential of improving transparency in election proceedings in this country ought to be unconditionally supported, especially by the APC. But, sadly, that is not the case.
Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political and public affairs analyst. He writes from Zaria and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.