The attention of the Centre for Social and Economic Rights (CSER) has been drawn to a statement credited to the National Commissioner for information and voter education, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mr. Festus Okoye in response to the National Assembly rejection of amendment of the Electoral Act to accommodate Electronic transmission of election results, where he reiterated the electoral umpire preparedness to deploy electronic transmission of results after having tested the process in remote areas during the 2020 Edo state gubernatorial election.
According to Okoye on a national television station as reported in a national daily, “ So we have made our own position very clear, that we have the capacity and we have the will to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process.”
This statement by Mr. Festus Okoye as a representative of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is very unfortunate due to the fact that it has aided and abetted in politicizing a critical national discourse for which he has little or no knowledge technically and ought to have been circumspect and allowed the experts to educate him and Nigerians. To come out and hastily make a blanket statement on electronic transmission of election results nationwide in 36 states and the federal capital territory for future elections on the basis of transmission of results in remote areas in only Edo state in 2020 of which we are going to demand proof as the days go by, is rather unfortunate and depressing.
For a fact, if INEC is transmitting election results electronically, we know for sure that INEC as at this moment, despite the assertion of Mr. Okoye, does not have the technological system in place for election results in the whole of Nigeria, except if he can come out with verifiable facts to corroborate his claim and we hope he will come out to do that in the days ahead.
From the conversation around electronic transmission of election results at the National Assembly and in other fora, it has been established that the telecommunication coverage of the country by the GSM service providers according to the regulatory body Nigeria Communication Commision (NCC) is just about 50% and the coverage is not even equal, where some areas have 2G network, others have 3G and 4G network and the least that can provide a link for transmission of election results is a 3G network according to the experts.
As we speak, even the areas that have 4G networks have a huge problem of telecommunication connectivity, which explains why even in urban areas like Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna, Kano etc. GSM users, organizations, government agencies, institutions and even Point of Sale (POS) terminal operators still contend with the issue of connectivity.
For example, it’s a fact that there is virtually no Nigerian who has not had the traumatic experience of poor or zero network resulting in SMS not delivering for hours and days after being sent or not even delivering at all despite the confirmation of sent on the sender’s phone. POS terminal operators have had and still have running battles with their customers on the issue of money transfer for payments or to banks accounts which was sent and confirmed delivered on the system, but which the receipent never received and consequently resulted in the matter going to the police station for resolution or even resulted in physical fight and the attendant disruption of public peace and severance of relationships.
At times, when you deposit or transfer money into and from bank accounts within the financial institutions physically or online, you don’t receive alert for hours and days, only through persistent calls from the would be receipent of non delivery, would you realize that the transaction was aborted and the transfer cancelled with the money returned and in some cases, you have to go to the bank for resolution of such a transaction.
As a Nigerian, we have had instances where even in your location, one is left stranded because the network suddenly went down and one cannot make quality calls or send messages for hours and even for some days, only for you later to receive an apology SMS from the service providers for the inconveniences caused by system breakdown or disruption.
A stark reality of our state of national affairs today is that our society suffers from trust deficit. Imagine a situation in which election has been concluded in a location and results that have been transmitted electronically say from 4.30pm, is now delivered and acknowledged at 7pm same day or even beyond because of technical hitches, poor or lack of coverage or natural factors?
Definitely, the swan song from the party that lost the election and it supporters would be that the result has been manipulated, even when they know that is not the case and instead of being responsible to acknowledge the technological deficiency, they would continue with their cries of mischief just to gain public sympathy and undermine the process for political capital.
If Mr. Festus Okoye statement that INEC has the capacity to transmit election results electronically is to be taken as the gospel truth, then persons and financial institutions won’t be at the receiving end of financial fraud by criminals who continue to perpetuate their criminality by exploiting the loopholes in the man-made telecommunication system globally for which the service providers themselves have no absolute control.
As it stands, INEC does not have its own telecomunication connectivity to transmit elections results from whichever area within Nigeria that Mr. Okoye is talking about confidently without substance, INEC is going to rely a third party, the GSM service providers for a platform for which there is no part of the 36 states and the federal capital territory of Nigeria that does not suffer from zero, poor, unreliable, susceptible to weather fluctuations and even manipulations by evil minded persons and groups which have resulted in untoward consequences on humanity.
Nelson Ekujumi,, Executive Secretary, CENTRE FOR SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS (CSER), said the attempt to politicize this serious area of our engagement by persons and groups is very unfortunate and sad. The only difference between electronic transmission of results and the manual transmission is the issue of time.
The time limitations of the manual transmission that ought to be a source of concern is by far better than the electronic transmission of election results which is also susceptible to manipulations with the reality on ground.
For example, we presently operate a manual transmission of results in which election results are publicly announced at the polling stations and party agents and security agencies sign the results sheets and receive copies and it is pasted publicly at the polling station before the onward transmission.
Even when this process is carried out transparently and creditably in the full glare of the stakeholders, we have had and will continue to have situations where a party agent because after the final sorting and counting of ballot papers according to votes scored by parties, recognizing that his party has been defeated, refuse to sign the results sheets or disappear from signing just to undermine the credibility of the process and he and other party faithfuls and supporters continue to sing the song mischievous cries that they have been robbed at the polls without proof, whereas it is not true. Can you compare the scenario above with an electronic transmission of results which would be executed by only the electoral umpire? Definitely, this is nothing but an invitation to anarchy knowing that the mindset of the average human being for mischief and wolf cries is legendary.
Also, in the case of electoral disputes, how can an aggrieved candidate and party pursue it’s case at the courts with facts if for example, the primary source of data used in transferring the election result is stolen, missing or damaged?
This electronic transmission of result has the tendency to undermine the conflict resolution mechanism of our electoral system which is against the tenets of fairness and justice even in election matters.
Today, , because of the advancement we have made in our electoral system, at election time, even with the manual transmission of results, the voters are kings as the political party justle with one another to curry their votes through financial and other forms of inducement before election that we derisively referred to as “Di ibo, ko se obe” meaning “Vote and cook soup” at one of the staggered gubernatorial elections only recently in which we waged a war and are still on it against vote buying.
With this electronic transmission of election results campaign being waged at all front, one suspect that the king role of the voters would be displaced with that of hackers as politicians are capable of doing anything to get to power at all cost. Also, what guarantee can the GSM services providers initiate to protect the system against vandalism and disruption of telecommunication system in areas which agents of party A believe is the stronghold of party B to prevent electronic transmission of results?
To those who are fraudulently mouthing and confusing the uninformed that electronic transmission of election result would eliminate manipulation and ballot snatching, this is very untrue. Electronic transmission of results can only happen after the conclusion of election in which ballot papers thumbprinted by voters at the polls have been sorted and counted, if ballot box containing ballot papers is snatched and or damaged, what would be counted and transmitted as election results electronically?
We must at this juncture, express our disappointment with honourable legislators who made the right and realistic decision of voting against electronic transmission of election results for now, but have according to reports, been coming out to deny doing such as a result of the relentless campaign of blackmail and calumny against their patriotic and nationalistic decision to save Nigeria from descending into intended chaos by the insistence on this amendment from some unfortunately concerned and mischievous quarters, whether we have the infrastructure on ground or not to operate it, but have adopted the slogan of just do it for whatever it means.
Critical public decision are very bitter and painstaking decision that must be fought and defended with facts no matter whose ox is gored.
The progress made so far in our electoral system has caused untold pain and inconvenience to beneficiaries of the old system, today, we have a PVC and card reader system in place to check manipulation of voting by proxy, even though we are not there yet, the electronic transmission of results is fraught with landmines of hackers, zero and poor telecommunication connectivity of which the country suffers from unreliable and porous service which can be exploited to undermine our election and national security.
To the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), election results is a national security information which for the sake of national security should not be transmitted through a third party which the GSM service providers platform represents and because of the inherent dangers it portends in the short and long term, don’t plunge Nigeria into chaos by trying to be politically correct, it is dangerous to our collective humanity.