•Facts •Fiction •Myth
By Jide Ajani
If there is anything, or a combination of things, that is fanning the embers of doubt about the credibility of the 2019 general elections, it is to be located in the response of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the petition of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Perhaps, whether owing to a lack of understanding of the letters and the spirit of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, or a lack of understanding of the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, “to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure (which) shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president,” or a cognitively distant syndrome that appears to be very pervasive now, or deliberate mischief, or a combination of all of the above, the recent brouhaha about the authenticity, appropriateness or otherwise of some social media content, wherein officials of INEC were explaining the intendment of its decision to use ICT to ensure the fidelity of the 2019 general elections, signpost the very reason why Nigeria remains both undeveloped and underdeveloped (depending on which you choose to apply).
A recent voter education video recorded before the 2019 general elections, which has been trending on the social media, explaining the use of e-collating officers, has created doubts about the status of the Commission’s IT Server used during the elections. This does not, in any way, validate or debunk the claims made as part of Atiku’s petition before the Presidential Election Tribunal. What the videos merely do is to create a recapitulation of what was said before the elections as a basis to either defend INEC or crucify it as an Election Management Body.
In one of the videos, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said INEC “…will deploy a new platform for electronic collation and transmission of results.”
In another video, INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, for Akwa Ibom and Ekiti States, Mike Igini and Agbaje, gave hints of an existence of a server, explaining the potency of same to guarantee free, fair and credible elections. In fact, in another video, the INEC Chairman gave details of how and why the platform may not be fully used, citing problems of ICT non-convergence.
Unfortunately, responses from APC, particularly Festus Keyamo, its presidential election committee spokesman, are only providing more fuel for those opposed to the election of President Muhammadu Buhari. This, too, does not mean Keyamo is wrong on his score that only the Supreme Court, and not social media videos, would determine the success or failure of Atiku’s petition.
Inquiries made within INEC, to unearth why the Commission was denying the status of its IT Server and the election results compiled by it, revealed some distinction between the purport of the videos and the actual claims made by the PDP regarding results purportedly obtained from the server. According to sources in INEC, they have never retreated from the fact that the Commission made plans and procured facilities for electronic transmission.
In fact, information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that this has been ongoing since 2011 and the Commission had put everything in place prior to the elections to kick-start the use of electronic transmission of election result.
However, all the procurements made and the hardware that were used had been done with the hope that the enabling law will be signed in the form of the new Amended 2019 Electoral Act, but when assent for the Act was not obtained, the Commission had to downgrade the full implementation of the electronic transmission back to pilot status.
What this then meant was that it resulted in asymmetrical use of the electronic transmission in some areas more than others, hence the Commission realized that any data emanating therefrom could not be wholly relied on, which was why it relied more on the hard data compiled directly in the old format for compiling the final results of the 2019 general elections.
Taking this explanation by sources within the Commission, it can be evinced that the INEC is not denying the existence of data from its IT server but is only trying to clarify that the data that the PDP may be referring to, in their reference and supporting with the trending videos, refers to the on-going pilot the Commission hopes to use fully in future elections when the enabling law is assented to.
However, there is the decision of the Supreme Court regarding some governorship elections of 2015, that the Card Reader is alien to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, because electronic identification process was not included. By the same token, the refusal to give assent to the amended Electoral Act, wherein details of the processes of electronic transmission of result had been captured, poured cold water on all the efforts to have it used in the 2019 elections. Unfortunately, the emphasis on politics continues to trump the need for a solid jurisprudence that would enthrone a culture of civility in a growing democracy like Nigeria’s.
Section 52(2) of the Electoral Act, that was signed into law some few days before the 2015 general elections, an amendment which, in more ways than one, paved the way for an APC victory, but which is now being junked by the selfsame APC, specifically, states:”Voting at an election under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission.” What this provision does is to remove the prohibitive clause(s) earlier placed on the path of INEC in ensuring that its electoral guidelines are given effectuation, specifically, in the area of ICT.
Now, the question to ask is, did those Supreme Court justices who gave judgment regarding some elections held in 2015 not know about this clause?
Contrary to the hoopla generated when President Muhammadu Buhari did not sign the amended Electoral Act into law, the absence of a new Electoral Act couldn’t have been basis for Nigerians not to have free, fair and credible elections in 2019.
Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, guarantees INEC the latitude to do as it wishes in the area of regulating its activities.
Under paragraph 15 of the Third Schedule, the power to “organise, undertake and supervise” conduct of elections into certain offices is listed in the Constitution.
Section 160 of the same 1999 Constitution goes ahead to state categorically that “… any of the bodies may with the approval of the president, by rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its function; provided that in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president”.
Those who granted INEC this unfettered powers to determine how best to regulate its affairs regarding elections appeared to have done so with a view to ensuring that the Commission is able to conduct elections that would be free, fair, credible and devoid of interference.
The truth that needs to be told now, according to sources from INEC Chairman’s office, is that when the negativity, occasioned by President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act, cast a pall on the entire process, the Commission needed to explain that its processes were still unique and secure enough to guarantee free, fair and credible 2019 polls.
The question that INEC is tongue-tied to fully explain to Nigerians now is: Why did the Commission go to town to promise electronic transfer of results, particularly when its election manual captured the training of e-collation officers – mind you, at the ward collation centres, INEC had two officers, one for manual recording and the other for electronic transmission of result? Only INEC can answer truthfully what happened.
On President Buhari’s part, nothing would hurt his reputation and electoral victory if he engages a Blue Ocean Strategy to admit – as did late President Muar Musa Yar’Adua – that an election result process that was televised live, where figures didn’t add up in some instances, is not the best for Nigeria. He can also swing into action by signing the amended Electoral Act. Furthermore, he can prevail on some loquacious party members, who continue to pour cold water on his manifest humility, to stop fanning the embers of division and hate, but help the process of healing the nation by avoiding comments that only continue to divide, rather than unite Nigerians.