Electronic transmission of votes: ‘Our husband has gone mad again’

THAT timeless playwright, Professor Ola Rotimi wrote a humorous play by that title I borrowed. The play has as its theme the often bewildering political struggles in Nigeria. In it, he gave Lejoka-Brown a character that resembles what we have upon us as leaders today. One of the synopsis of the play says that “Lejoka-Brown is obviously not as educated as his wife, Lizzy, but that his political prowess puts them in the same level.” One of the easiest ways to crash a civilisation is what the synopsis described, and that is what we have witnessed for so long in Nigeria. This was replicated on Thursday at the Nigerian National Assembly when members embarked on the consideration of the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010.

We are in a country ruled by people that depress the mind and baffle intellect. The way Nigeria is currently being governed befuddles… We are caught in a political situation in which our leaders wilfully make simple tasks very difficult to achieve. These leaders carefully lay snares; create obvious barriers through intractable problems against the development country. That, to me is the summary of what the National Assembly has done by frontally and shamelessly rejecting a proposal to electronically transmit election results in the country.

On Thursday, the Senate blatantly rejected, through the votes of senators, a provision in to transmit results electronically through “A Bill for an Act to repeal the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and enact the Electoral Act 2021, to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections; and for related matters (HB. 981)” The otherwise heart-warming bill was believed to be a step forward in our quest for electoral sanity until the rumours that some of the provisions of the bill had been tampered with by the leadership of the Senate. Of course Senator Lawan denied this and also told us off in a language unbecoming of a leader. Thereafter, they brought the bill to the open for the drama, the intriguing mess and the dumbfounding tomfoolery.

That bill, when it got to the House of Representatives caused the same amount, if not more uproar. The lawmakers were so sharply divided that they spent a considerable amount of time roaring around the house in anger – either for or against the provision of Section 52(3) of the bill. In the end, “the commission may consider electronic transmission of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigeria Communications Commission” was the amendment that sailed through in the bill. This is against the provision by the committee which proposes via the INEC committee led by Kabiru Gaya that “the commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”

The senate cleverly threw the warts and all back at Nigerians through some of their representatives that said “let there be electronic transmission of election results” Some of those who knew that the provision was unwholesome but who still wanted to stay in their party’s good books, simply stayed away from the chambers. They might be at some other official assignments, we have heard that before. The three senators from Ogun State were absent at the sitting. Two of the three senators from Oyo State were not available just as two of the three from Lagos State voted along party lines. Their reason: Nigerian Communications Commission said there was only 43 per cent network coverage of the country.

With what the senate has passed and which we know the president would sign into law soon, our rigging machine has been oiled and made ready. The Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) knew that it had only 43 per cent network coverage of the country when it gave tens of millions of Nigerians just about 14 days to link their national identification number (NIN) with their mobile telephone lines. This same NCC has been silent and unobtrusive when Nigerians struggled to get bank verification numbers (BVN) and sundry identity collations by various bodies. Then, the National Assembly, dominated by APC members will now have to align with the NCC to decide whether we are to have election results transmitted electronically or not. These are indeed interesting times.

Only last week, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, in justifying our debilitating borrowing said that Nigeria was poor and would have to resort to borrowing as a bower for our currently scorching fiscal inadequacies. So, now, we borrow money everyday and from every possible orifice. We are piling debts in the midst of widespread hunger kept aloft by hyper-inflation and the deadly activities of Fulani herdsmen. Yet, it is a common belief among experts that one of the means through which the country could save enormous amounts of money is by electronic voting. One expert recently held that through electronic voting, the budget of INEC could be cut by more than half “even in an election year.” Yet our political leaders do nothing fi sabilli Llah….!

Even if the huge cost of elections in Nigeria isn’t part of the worrisome degeneration in Nigeria, is the transmission of results anything more than what was done in the last governorship election in Edo State? If results are sent by the common SMS to a designated place by way of information, as has been done since we began to use mobile phones, does that not pass for electronic transmission of results? I thought this would simply amplify the credibility of elections and underscore their transparency. Should this have even been an issue at all? If the senate was indeed patriotic, it is supposed to be looking for means to cut costs and embrace best practices. But alas, we are paving the road to rigging elections and further cheating the country.

If the Electoral Act 2010 was left as it was, it would have been more worthy than the discombobulating amendment that has exposed our National Assembly as a tool for election manipulation. Senators Sabi Abdullahi and Ali Ndume argued that the blanket recommendation by the Gaya Committee for electronic transmission of results in all parts of the country would deprive some Nigerians resident in areas with weak or without network coverage from participating in the electoral process. We need to know the percentage of such people vis a vis the 43 per cent the NCC told us. According to Abdullahi and Ndume, in order to ensure fairness and inclusiveness for the electorates, particularly in rural areas, an all inclusive provision must be accommodated in the Electoral Act to protect their participation and votes during elections. With those words, the machinery of Nigeria has been entrenched in the hands of those who have arrogated everything about the country to themselves, like some gods.

By the way, Ola Rotimi also wrote “When the Criminals Become Judges”. The title of that play he wrote following a potential life-threatening experience, which forced him into exile in 1995, speaks for itself.

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