Electoral Act: Most members from the ruling APC in the Senate votes against E-transmission of results
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and a plethora of national and international standards recognise the right to vote and to be voted for as one of the greatest pillars of democracy. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a right which makes the will of the people the basis of the authority of government, and this is to be expressed in genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and to be held by secret vote or equivalent free voting procedure. But Nigeria purports to run a democracy where the votes do not count, and governmental authority is not expressly based on the will of the people.
It is against the backdrop of the above that one reviews the recent controversies and somersault in the National Assembly in the amendment of the Electoral Act which provides the main legal framework for the conduct of elections. The major issue or controversy is about the electronic transmission of results. In every proposal for a new law or the amendment of an existing law, there is always a mischief in the old law, policy or practice which needs to be fixed. In so many election petitions arising from previous elections, there had been controversies when the results declared at polling stations did not tally with the numbers declared at collation centres. This implies that between the polling booths and the collation centres, something went wrong. Most of the collation is done in the dead of the night when decent men and women without security escort are in their homes sleeping and resting from a hard day’s work. It is between the polling stations and the collation centres that the “election principalities and powers” cause grievous harm and cut the link between the voters and the declared winners. Therefore, in many cases, the will of the people is no longer the basis of the authority of government.
It is based on this mischief that the proposal to electronically transmit results from the polling centre to the collation centres arose. It is simply a means of deploying the benefits of scientific progress to solve an electoral challenge. The expectation was that the legislature would have embraced this solution with open arms. But not in Nigeria. The subterfuge and argument against electronic transmission of results were that telephone and internet service were not available across the whole of Nigeria. Wait a minute, it is the same country where smartcard readers and SIM cards have functioned in remote villages. It is the same Nigeria where our poverty reduction managers told us they were using SMS to send information and receive acknowledgement for the money they were distributing to the poor. It is from the extreme fringes of forests and deserts that bandits and kidnappers have been making phone calls demanding and negotiating for ransom. But when it comes to election, the SMS and electronic transmission system will collapse! This attempt to sabotage free and fair elections came to Nigerians as a rumour which the National Assembly denied. Not for long because the enemies of democracy showed their true colours within a couple of days.
Happily, INEC has come out clearly to state that it has the capacity and the will and has even done preliminary testing of transmitting election results real time from all corners of Nigeria. But NASS did not ask or consult INEC on this. Shamelessly, most of the members from the ruling All Progressives Congress in the Senate voted to sabotage the march of civilisation and lined up on the wrong side of history. Even Senator Kabiru Gaya, the Chairman of the Senate Independent National Electoral Commission panel, voted against his committee’s recommendation on electronic transmission of results. This is the height of the lack of principles and commitment to democratic norms. Apart from the party basis of the voting, the vote to a great extent also fell into Nigeria’s North-South divide which shows that the faultline is still very active. The nay voters took a solemn decision to hold Nigerians under the bondage of oppression and to continually subvert our preferences and choices on who should lead us. They voted for Nigeria to continue an 18th century barbaric practice of election rigging and manipulation of votes in the 21st century. They voted against electronic transmission of results because they knew that most of them would not return to the Senate in a free and fair election. They seek in advance to rig the 2023 elections. The implication is that the nay voters are happy with the status quo. They want a repeat and a deeper dive into the experience of the last six years – the continuation of massacres, aggravated kidnapping, the dominance of the Fulani agenda, two recessions, the skyrocketing price of food and galloping inflation, the continued depreciation of the naira, all time high unemployment, etc.
The Senate seeks to subject INEC to the whims and caprices of the National Communications Commission. How can an independent electoral commission in the discharge of its duties be under obligation to seek clearance and authority from an NCC that has nothing in its mandate to do with elections? The constitution states in Section 78 that “the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission”. Again, by the Third Schedule Part of the Constitution, Section 15, INEC “shall have power to – (a) organise, undertake, and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation”. The exact words used in the constitution to describe INEC’s powers in relation elections are “direction” and “supervision” which means management, control, determination of course, etc. Any attempt to subject INEC to the NCC will be unconstitutional and ultra vires the powers of NASS when this is done without amending the relevant sections conferring power on INEC.
There is a claim in certain quarters on the nature of the vote in the NASS as an exercise of the freedom and democratic right of the legislators to vote according to their conscience and the wish of their constituents. What happened is very far from this. First, there is no right to oppress others and deny others of their fundamental right to have their votes count. Secondly, there is no democratic exercise that denies the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the Nigerian family which is exactly what these wayward legislators have done. Thirdly, there is no right under the guise of democracy for a tiny intellectually backward minority to impose themselves on the suffering majority. The suffering majority is not in the Senate or in the House but on the streets and they can take no more from a self-serving elite.
In the final analysis, this a clarion call on Nigerians to rescue their democracy, to refuse to be intimidated and cowed by any oppressor, to stand firm on our demands; to refuse to allow anyone who claims he is distinguished or honourable to pull a wool over our eyes. On electronic transmission of results, we stand.
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