Nigeria: The Electoral Act Amendment Bill

INEC office signpost (file photo).
15 July 2021

Electronic transmission of results will enhance the integrity of our elections

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said last week that the National Assembly is working towards passing the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill in the next two weeks. He urged those who may be uncomfortable with certain clauses in the bill to take their complaints to their representatives, for consideration before passage. We urge civil society groups and other stakeholders to liaise with the National Assembly to ensure the removal of already-identified clauses that can impugn the integrity of the electoral process and undermine our democracy.

Indeed, there are widespread reports on social and traditional media that the Senator Kabiru Gaya-led report may have been doctored, particularly in the proposed amendment to Section 50 (2) of the Electoral Act which now reads: "Voting at an election under the bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means." Some members of the technical committee that helped in producing the report have disowned the insertion. That has triggered swift protests across board. The Southern Governors' Forum rejected the removal of electronic transmission of results from the bill.

Since the weakest link in Nigerian elections has always been the collation of results, many stakeholders have for years urged the National Assembly to accelerate a reform to the Electoral Act to legalise electronic transmission of results. What the INEC results viewing portal deployed for the Edo State gubernatorial election last year demonstrated how public access to polling unit results increases the integrity of the electoral process and encourages acceptability of outcomes. Ordinarily, we should build on that. But some members of the National Assembly think differently.

From 1999 to date, many attempts have been made to sanitise the electoral process. Elections in Nigerian have for long been marred by fraud and violence. Ballot stuffing, manipulation of manually written results, snatching of ballot boxes and compromise of election officials to falsify results and indeed outright killings, are the norm. The immediate past INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, put it succinctly when said the electoral process in Nigeria is laced with an incredible level of electoral malpractices with "acute deficiency in electoral integrity."

To change the narrative, conscious efforts are being made to ensure that violence and cheating in elections are minimised. The precedent of the electoral system of various advanced democracies shows clearly that credible elections are made possible by the adoption of the best technologies. Indeed, the last general election in 2019 ought to have been conducted with a brand-new electoral law but for President Buhari who declined assent in December 2018 on the basis that it was too close to the election, a reason many put down to, at best, contrived. Now that the president will not be on the ballot ever again, it is his responsibility to leave a legacy of transparent elections. Besides, there are certain disturbing provisions in the draft which prescribe limits to how much candidates can spend on their elections. The figures being proposed will further alienate the masses of ordinary Nigerians from participation in politics that now looks like a cult of the wealthy.

Overall, we believe the time has come for Nigeria to join the rest of the world in adopting the process of e-transmission of election results. With the deployment of technology, genuine votes of the electorate will not only be counted under a transparent process, they would also begin to count. Nigeria cannot afford to lag in deploying technology in elections, especially when many of our citizens have lost confidence in the extant electoral voting method because of its susceptibility to manipulation.

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