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2023: Credible elections in sight as Senate backs reforms

…Atiku, Okorie, Yabagi, Adebayo, others optimistic

Nigerians on Tuesday were in a celebratory mood following the Senate’s approval of electronic transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2023 general elections.

They expressed the optimism that the development would lead to credible elections in the country, henceforth.

The upper legislative chamber did not only okay the deployment of the technology in result transmission, it also mandated political parties to adopt the use of direct primaries in selection of candidates for elections.

The twin-decision Tuesday is seen to have lifted heavy impediments that had clogged Nigeria’s electoral process for many years.

Over the years, it has been noted that the major fraud in the nation’s electoral process take place during collation of results; whereby thumb-printed ballots are moved from one place to another, giving opportunity for manipulations.

Moreover, the directive to parties to adopt direct primaries is expected to check imposition of candidates and excessive manipulation of delegates during primary elections.

Direct election is a system of choosing candidates in which the voters directly cast ballots for the person they desire to see elected. This is opposed to representative participation (indirect system) where voters elect a body which in turn elects the candidate.

With the deployment of technology to electronically transmit results as the ballot is being cast by voters, the manipulations that usually attend to manual counting is expected to reduce.

Read Also: At last, Senate backs INEC on electronic transmission of results

The effusive reaction by Nigerians to the Senate’s volte face has expression in the belief that going forward, the integrity of the ballot, which had over the years been corrupted, making it difficult for votes to count in Nigeria, would now assume its pride of place.

At the plenary on Tuesday, the Senate took the decision, following the amendment of Clause 52(2) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill at the Committee of the Whole chaired by Ahmad Lawan, the Senate president.

The amendment reads: “Subject to section 63 of this Bill, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission, which may include electronic voting.”

Clause 87(1) of the Electoral Amendment Bill, which was also passed as recommended, states: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

In July, during consideration of report on 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, submitted by its committee on INEC, the Senate had amended Clause 52(3) as recommended.

While the clause as presented by the committee in the report says INEC can transmit election results electronically, where and when practicable, the Senate passed the amended version which says: “INEC can transmit election results electronically subject to confirmation of Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) of adequacy and security of national network.

While considering the amendment of the Electoral Act in July, the House of Representatives passed Clause 52, allowing INEC the discretion to decide whether to transmit election results electronically, but the Senate said the clause was amended to allow the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to decide on where and when electronic voting and electronic transmission of results should take place.

Reacting to the resolution Tuesday, a former vice president of Nigeria and presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar said: “By this outcome, I am convinced that public institutions in Nigeria will continue to play their roles as guardians of public policy.”

According to him, “The harmonisation of positions between the two institutions was an indication that Nigeria’s democracy was growing and getting stronger.”

Lanre Isa-Onilu, a former APC national publicity secretary from Kwara, North-Central, said the lawmakers had done what was expected of them.

“Since they have done what was expected from them. The National Assembly can’t legislate on everything, it is to provide a legal framework on challenges facing INEC, rather than hold INEC down in a certain direction. If that was done it would have boxed the commission to a corner,” he said.

“This development would help to see that credible elections are conducted in Nigeria. I am happy for the development from the Senate,” Isa-Onilu said.

Monday Ubani, chairman, NBA SPIDEL, described the development as a step forward for the country.

According to Ubani, “It would minimise human interference in elections in Nigeria and restore voters’ confidence. Though it may not stop electoral fraud because politicians are the ones causing the problems because of what they get from the system, it would go a long way to sanitise the system. I think they have realised their error; we should commend them this time around.”

Chekwas Okorie, a former leader of the United Progressives Party (UPP), who joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) last year, said: “Is the way to go with the issues we have now with conducting elections in Nigeria. Nigerians would be the final benefits of this new development and the benefits would be immense. You would see that unpopular candidates who often manipulate the system in their favour would be checked and confidence would be restored to the electoral process.”

According to him, “This is something I have canvassed since 2012; with this, votes would count. Anything that does not come within the approved result would not be valid except the original results. The development would also gradually restore voter confidence in the system. We have voter apathy in the country now, part of the problem is that people don’t believe their votes would count based on experience in the past.”

“I hope they can start with the Anambra gubernatorial election. But we need to begin to carry out voter education on what this means for our democracy.”

Mark Adebayo, co-national spokesperson, Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), lauded the decision, saying that “The fundamental implication is that it would infuse public confidence in the electoral processes. Electronic transmission of results is a popular demand by Nigerians. The fact that the Senate earlier attempted to assume a role in our electoral processes by attempting to compromise INEC’s independence and sole authority on electoral matters was seen as an unacceptable abnormality by the generality of Nigerians and was vehemently resisted. INEC says it can transmit electronically, why should the Senate use analgesics for another person’s headache?”

Sanni Yabagi, national chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), said: “It is a victory for democracy in Nigeria; we have joined the list of nations progressing and the future of their country secured.

“It would lay the foundation for credible leadership that would be responsible to the people. Now, it is up to us as Nigerians to reject the politics of money; not allowing money to influence where you vote.”

INEC had at various fora insisted it had the capacity to deploy the technology contrary to the story that was being told by the Senate.

Last Sunday, Tunde Bakare, serving overseer of The Citadel Global Community Church, while speaking on the state of the nation in Lagos, wondered why the National Assembly refused to okay electronic transmission of results by INEC.

“In this highly connected 21st century, we have absolutely no excuse to condone the retrogressive resolution passed by the National Assembly with the collusion of the Nigerian Communications Commission; we have absolutely no excuse to reject the electronic transmission of election results,” he said.

Bakare wondered: “Who, if I may ask, is afraid of free, fair and credible elections? Who is afraid of efficiently conducted elections? Who is afraid of the voice of the millennials and the youth of this nation?”

Reacting to the development, yesterday, INEC said it has developed adequate structures and processes to successfully undertake electronic transmission of results.

“We believe that the technology and national infrastructure in the country at the moment are adequate to support it.

However, let’s not forget that the subsisting law stipulating manual collation of results has neither been repealed nor changed at this point. The amendments being undertaken at the moment would still have to be transmitted to Mr. President for his assent, said Rotimi Oyekanmi, chief press secretary to Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman.

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