Many Nigerians are confused and perhaps, the nation’s electoral process has been thrown into uncertainty following last Wednesday’s ruling by the presidential election petition court that the electronic transmission of results is not mandatory provision of the Electoral Act as amended in 2022.
The ruling has generated debates across the country in recent days among Nigerians and stakeholders.
Experts say the ruling raises questions about the use of technology in future elections, especially the November off-season gubernatorial elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa States.
However, there are those who have questioned the sincerity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in applying the biometric voter accreditation system (BVAS) and the INEC result election viewer portal (IReV) in the 2023 presidential election.
They said it was obvious the commission knew the loopholes in the Electoral Act about the electronic transmission of election results and simply exploited it.
In the final ruling, the five-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani upheld the victory of Bola Tinubu in the 2023 presidential election.
The main opposition candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) had filed a petition accusing INEC of technically manipulating election results and failing to conduct the election in accordance with the Electoral Act, among other accusations.
“By the provision of Section 52 and Section 65 of the Electoral Act, INEC is at liberty to prescribe the manner in which results can be transmitted. INEC cannot be compelled to electronically transmit results,” the tribunal had held in its ruling.
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The opposition parties had hoped that introducing the BVAS and IReV by the electoral umpire would be game-changers.
The Electoral Act mandates INEC to electronically transmit results from the polling units to the collation systems to eliminate events of ballot destruction or theft from significantly affecting the results.
In the run-off to the 2023 general election, INEC had consistently promised Nigerians that election results would be transmitted electronically, insisting that the process has come to stay.
The commission even assured that the electronic transmission of results would add credibility and transparency to the process when citizens follow polling unit-level results on the INEC Result Viewing IReV portal and real-time on Election Day.
“We wish to reassure Nigerians that the electronic transmission of results has come to stay. It adds to the credibility and transparency of the process when citizens follow polling unit-level results on the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal in real time on Election Day.
“There will be no change or deviation in subsequent elections, “Festus Okoye, former INEC’s commissioner for information and voter education, had said.
However, on Election Day across Nigeria, the reverse was the case. It was only the Senatorial and House of Representatives election results that were uploaded to INEC IRev.
Results of the presidential poll could not be uploaded to IReV and transmitted electronically across polling units in the country as voters and Nigerians watched in disbelief.
Some INEC ad hoc staff at some polling units said they did not have access to the password of the IReV portal to enable them to upload the presidential poll results.
BVAS and IReV failed to meet expectations. Only 45% of Nigeria’s election results were available on IReV three days after the elections closed.
Several people had accused the commission of deliberately failing to upload results to the IReV in order to manipulate the election results in favour of some candidates.
The commission cited “technical glitches” for the delays.
The explanation of INEC did not go down well with a lot of Nigerians, candidates and stakeholders who expectedly questioned the credibility of subsequent results of the 2023 elections released by the commission.
However, based on Wednesday’s ruling by the presidential election petition court, observers are saying that INEC’s promise to transmit the 2023 election results electronically was a deceit to regain the confidence of voters, knowing that the commission’s image had waned significantly among the public in recent times.
“That ruling on INEC at liberty to transmit election results came to me as a surprise, I had thought with the amendment to the Electoral Act, we were on the right track with electronic transmission of results in the 2023 polls.
“But it appears INEC knew what they were doing, knowing that was the only thing Nigerians wanted to hear at that time.
“They knew if taken to court it would be in their favour, “Femi Oki, public affairs analyst said.
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Similarly, Jhon Otuwa, a political analyst, lamented that the commission allowed itself to be manipulated by politicians and called for urgent reforms in INEC.
Otuwa identified INEC as a threat to democracy in Nigeria and good governance if its operation is not guided by the enabling law.
According to him, “I think Nigerians were deceived by the commission, I want to agree, or why would you promise us something and turn around to do something else?
“It was deliberate planned work and they knew the position of the law better.
“We need urgent reforms in INEC, there must be clear guidelines and laws on how election results are transmitted and not left for INEC to decide”.
Prior to the general election, there was general enthusiasm among Nigerians, especially first-time voters about the 2023 poll, especially when INEC assured that the results would be transmitted electronically.
Young Nigerians, most especially, were hopeful that they could make the needed change at the ballot this time around and that their votes would count, unlike in the past.
However, the European Union Observation Mission (EU EOM), says the conduct of the polls by INEC fell short of expectations.
Harry Andrews, the chief observer of the mission, said Nigerians had a great appetite for democracy but were disappointed by INEC and the political elites.
Andrews said the development led to voter apathy, noting that Election Day was also disrupted by multiple incidents of thuggery and intimidation of voters.
“Throughout the mission, we saw that Nigerians have a great appetite for democracy and are keen to engage in various civic activities,” Andrews had said.
Though the Electoral Act allows INEC to transmit election results electronically, it also gives the commission the power to transmit the election results in any manner it deems fit.
Section 60 of the Act states that “the presiding officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the commission as the case may be.”
Many Nigerians were confident that electronic transmission of elections would ensure transparency in the electoral process and ensure credible leaders emerge.
Many stakeholders are still wondering why the commission would spend so much money to import technologies, which was not needed and would not be used to improve the electoral process.
Experts say the presidential election petition court would only create more confusion in the system and make Nigerians lose confidence in the electoral process further.
They said there is a need to revise the Electoral Act to mandate the deployment of the technologies or else politicians would work with corrupt INEC officials to manipulate the system.
“The opposition candidates are going to the Supreme Court to appeal, but to me, the ruling on INEC is a setback to our electoral process if allowed to stay.
“When we were thinking we had moved one foot forward, and you are taking us back, but that means the National Assembly has to do the needed amendment to the Electoral Act and it is up to them”, Cornelius Abakwe said.