By Okoh Aihe
While our lawmakers were voting for a journey to the past, penultimate week, by turning their back on modern technology in the conduct of elections, two significant things happened one after the other. Richard Branson went to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galatico’s SpaceShip Two on July 11, 2021. Nine days later, on July 20, the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, was on his way up there on a journey the world has tagged the race of the billionaires.
In between, the National Assembly took a vote on the Electoral Amendment Bill and voted against the transmission of election results by electronic means. It was a major disappointment for some non –government organisations, NGOs, and some Nigerians who had prayed for the National Assembly to disappoint them by doing something that is good by voting yes, just this once, to redeem some of their very deplorable image. It has been fire literally and the nation is aghast with anger. In July 2021, the lawmakers said some parts of the country are so underdeveloped in terms of telecom infrastructure rollout; that it was not possible to execute any electronic transmission of election results. And a particular one boasted irritably that he uses Thuraya phone in his village. And that Thuraya cannot transmit data?
But let’s return to the billionaires. Those ambitious guys with lots of bucks to throw around –Jeff Bezos ($209.2bn) and Richard Branson ($4.7bn) who are spinning the next frontier of business into reality by organising space tourism where a rider could pay as much as $250, 000 for a seat, if you decide to go with Virgin Galatico.
So, why am I linking the serious matter of space to the burlesque at the National Assembly? Just to say that the world is moving on. People are planning everyday and whether we decide to remain on the same spot in this part of the world and continue to quarrel with providence for doing us wrong, life must go on and people must still go to the edge of space to behold the beauty and fragility of the earth from up there. But that is life. You will have those who fly high and those who fly very low, struggling for the base concerns of life. Our politicians make the world hold us in ridicule.
Anyway, in trying to unshroud the entire process, the National Assembly invited the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, regulator of the telecommunications industry, and the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, who is in charge of election matters in the country. As it turned only the NCC went to the Assembly as INEC said it never really got any official invitation.
NCC has made its submission which outraged a number of people, but INEC has responded indirectly through several media appearances of its officials to the effect that it had the capacity to go the way of technology in conducting elections,having received assurances from service providers. While NCC vacillated and tilted towards impossibility, the data on ground and previous statements from the Commission put a lie to such submission. The Commission’s position has been fact-checked and incredulity is preponderant.
“We were bewildered by the NCC position because these were the same compatriots that had worked with us,” said Nick Dazang, INEC’s Director of Publicity and Voter Education, on AIT KAKAAKI programme.
Dazang observed there were inconsistencies in the amended Bill. How do you do electronic voting and remove electronic transmission of results? It is counterproductive.
He admitted that there were security challenges across the country but INEC has had to face some of these challenges in the past to organise elections that were acceptable. According to his story which is so well known to most people above the age of 10 in Nigeria, there has been insurgency in the North East since 2011. In all these years elections have been conducted in the states of the region without fail.
“If we could develop a template to conduct elections there, why can’t we transmit results using technology?” he asked.
There continues to be disbelief within INEC just as it is in the larger Nigerian society. People are angry why our politicians in the National Assembly, a majority are smiling over a potentially dangerous move, trying to justify a position that is dismally selfish and only aimed at political preservation into the future.
In the sordid tragic-comic story, some stakeholders, especially the operators, have remained silent. So silent that even when they have been told that the network they have built in over two decades didn’t have the appetite for modern transmission, none of them has said anything.
When this writer reached out to some operators over the weekend, one official said: “I do not understand why NCC will give 2018 numbers. Why would they do that when the operators supply the regulator all the latest data? I don’t want to accept that NCC sounds political.”
But do you have the capacity to do it, to carry the election results through your network backbone? The source was cautious, explaining that there is no city in the country that has hundred percent coverage, just as there can hardly be any environment where there is no coverage at all. “Anywhere without a coverage may not have significant population otherwise an operator would put a base station there so as to provide services and make money.” Although everybody is expected to vote and the votes counted, the source maintained that such population may not be significant enough to affect the outcome of the elections.
Simple answer. Yes, we have the capacity and capability, but know that even in the cities there are blind spots where such electronic transmission may not be possible. The source also explained that operators were ready at any time to be informed of such environments so that they can escalate their service deployment.
The source expressed the fear that what is playing out at the National Assembly may have little to do with technology but more of the concealed agenda of the politicians who would never have moments to reflect on how low their image has plummeted.
The Nigerian politician is only concerned about tomorrow which may be too far for his aspirations. So in a fit to shore up the impossible he piles untruth on technology, so that he can continue to live in the shadow of sin. The politician wants to eat up the future so as to set the teeth of his children on edge. How very ironic. Unfortunately the younger generation are too smart for their old tricks, and will fight to redeem their future, using that same technology.