…Says, it won’t cede role to NCC, NASS
By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission INEC has again reiterated its readiness to embark on electronic transmission of election results whenever it gets a legal backing, saying Nigeria is ripe for the deployment of such technology.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who stated this in a 25-page “Position Paper No. 1 of 2021” released Saturday in Abuja, said Nigeria has adequate Information Communication Technology ICT infrastructure for e-transmission.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission INEC believes that it has developed adequate structures and processes to successfully transmit election results electronically. Electronic transmission of results will improve the quality of election result management and that our engagement with stakeholders shows that the Nigerian public supports it. The technology and national infrastructure to support this are
adequate. Consequently, if the choice was up to INEC, the Commission prefers to transmit election results electronically once the necessary legal framework is provided. This Position Paper will, among other things, try to elaborate on the reasons why the transmission of election results electronically is both desirable and doable”, the commission declared.
INEC added that to require it to obtain attestation from the Nigerian Communication Commission NCC and approval of the National Assembly to implement electronic transmission of election results will be in breach of the Constitution.
According to Yakubu, recent debates regarding e-transmission have not bothered to look at the desirability or otherwise of using the innovation fo elections in Nigeria.
He said; “Two guiding principles underlying the Commission’s application of technology are timeliness and relevance. These principles underscore the Commission’s belief that the time has come for Nigerian elections to transcend the cumbersome, tardy and vulnerable manual transmission and collation of election results to electronic transmission.
“Recently, in the course of the National Assembly seeking to amend or repeal and re-enact the Electoral Act 2010, a national debate has arisen over the question of electronic transmission of election results. The controversy has revolved around the readiness of INEC and the capacity of national infrastructure for transmitting election results electronically. It is worthy of note that none of the sides in this controversy appears to substantially question the desirability of electronic transmission of election results. It seems that only the preparedness of INEC and the capacity of national infrastructure are questioned.
“Since INEC’s readiness has become a cardinal issue in these debates, the Commission has decided to articulate and make public its position and thinking on this question, particularly for two reasons. First, many Nigerians have called on the Commission to make its position public. Second, we hope that by doing so, some of the partisan fervour that has tainted the discussions may recede and make common grounds and consensus possible in order to chart a more progressive way forward.
“This Position Paper is borne out of this thinking. Among other things, it distils the Commission’s position and thinking on the question of electronic transmission of election results in an easily readable form. The positions canvassed in this paper are informed by a decade of the Commission’s technical field experience, piloting and engagement with critical stakeholders, particularly the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) on electronic transmission of election results.
“Surely, a decade is not a short time for the Commission to determine whether it is ready. Our position is not meant to support or undermine any side in the ongoing debates. Our understanding is that as a responsible corporate citizen, particularly one whose constitutional responsibilities are at stake, INEC should lend its voice to such a momentous issue of public concern. As such, INEC’s intervention in these debates, particularly through this Position Paper, should not be misconstrued as denuding the powers of any other agency or authority to perform its functions or to hold views on the issues in question that are contrary to those of the Commission.
In that spirit, and on behalf of the Commission, I strongly commend this Position Paper No. 1 of 2021 to all stakeholders who are interested in knowing the Commission’s thinking and position on the electronic transmission of election results”.
INEC contended that recent debates in Nigeria over the provision of Clause 52 (3) of the Electoral Bill 2021 regarding the electronic transmission of election results appear to be generating a lot of heat but throwing very little light on the cardinal issues.
He said they have been marked by entrenched partisan positions, incomplete information, unsubstantiated fears, groundless conspiracy theories and profound misconceptions.
“This is particularly the case regarding the level of understanding of the position, requirements and preparedness of INEC on the question. It is curious that the perspectives of the Election Management Body on this very important issue of election management remain either completely absent in the debates or at best misconceived. This is a major missing link in the debates and this Position Paper seeks to address it. adequate”, INEC stated.
The electoral umpire added that the answer to the question of the desirability of electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria today may be summed up in three words – trust, efficiency and safety.
INEC said it has for instance used the IReV online publishing of Polling Unit results to test the capacity of the national infrastructure to support the future electronic transmission of results.
According to the Commission, results were transferred in real-time from all parts of the country covering different types of elections from densely populated urban areas to rural locations, forest areas to the savannah region, islands to the mainland, creeks to mountains and even areas affected by insecurity such as insurgency and banditry.
“The Commission has been able to successfully transfer images of polling unit level results to IReV from Oworonsoki in Kosofe LGA of Lagos State, Ariaria Market in Aba North LGA of Abia State to far-flung locations such as Dugge in Rijau LGA of Niger State, Mahin in Ilaje LGA of Ondo State, Kwalkwalawa in Bakura LGA of Zamfara State, Dumadumin Toka in Kafin Hausa LGA of Jigawa State, Foropa in Southern Ijaw LGA of Bayelsa State, Iguobazuwa in Ovia South-West LGA of Edo State, Briyel in Bayo LGA of Borno State, Bundot in Dass LGA of Bauchi State and Okwelle in Onuimo LGA of Imo State. Since August 2020, the Commission has conducted elections and transmitted election results from 20 States and the FCT, covering 27 constituencies spread across 84 LGAs, 925 Wards and 14,296 polling units involving 9,884,910 registered voters.
Adequate ICT Infrastructure
“The conclusion that the Commission draws from these diverse pilots conducted since 2011 is that the country is ready for electronic transmission of results. The national ICT infrastructure is also adequate for the purpose of electronic transmission of results. This is underscored by all the discussions we held with the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), over the ten-year period of these pilots, but especially between 2018 and 2019.
“The Joint Committee (of INEC and NCC) also found that mobile networks adequately covered 93% of INEC Polling Units with the capacity to cover the outstanding 7%. The Committee went on to allocate Polling Units to the four major mobile network operators – Airtel, Glo, 9Mobile and MTN – for the purpose of transmitting election results.
“A total cost implication of Three Hundred and Ninety-Five Million, One hundred and Twenty-Three Thousand Naira (N395,123,000) was worked out for the services covering the cost of SIM, system configuration and integration, system support and data bundle with one-year validity.
“In addition, the Joint Committee made other technical recommendations, including the allocation of one terabyte (1TB) of data bucket per 10,000 SIMs per annum by the network operators and configuration of one Access Point Name (APN) and Virtual Private Network (VPN) “by all operators towards INEC platform to enhance security”. Such detailed work and recommendations involving the major MNOs and the NCC as the regulator of telecommunications in Nigeria, profoundly convinced INEC that electronic transmission of election results was possible for the 2019 General Election.
“However, INEC expected to receive a clear legal mandate for electronic transmission of election results with the Electoral Act amendment that was ongoing at the time in order to commence implementation. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
“Based on the foregoing, INEC is convinced that the nation has the infrastructure to implement the electronic transmission of election results. The MNOs have the capacity to do so and network coverage across the country is adequate and secure. This position is substantiated by the 2018 position of the people who should know namely, the MNOs, who informed the Joint Committee that they had provided such services to other customers, including the NCC which regulates telecommunications in Nigeria.
“This is particularly so because the Joint Technical Committee submitted its report three years ago. With the massive developments that constantly take place in the telephony and data transmission sector, the capacity would have further improved since then. In other words, the capacity is even more reliable today than it was three years ago when the MNOs and the NCC certified that electronic transmission of election results was possible. The contrary positions are probably built on some misconceptions which must be addressed”.
SCR technology different from e-transmission
INEC added that the recent trend among some politicians is to suggest that the challenges experienced with the Smart Card Readers SCR during elections indicate that the commission is not ready for electronic transmission of results.
“This is unfortunate. The SCR, as it is presently deployed for elections, is not used for result transmission, it is not permanently connected to the data network and it does not require a permanent electricity supply to function once its battery is properly and fully charged. Therefore, there is no connection between any imagined issues with the SCR and the electronic transmission of election results. It seems that this orchestrated attack on the SCR which began in 2014 is a diversionary euphemism for partisan discomfort with the transparency that careful application of technology to our electoral process can bring”, INEC stated.
INEC won’t abdicate constitutional duty for NCC
INEC said it will not abdicate its constitutional duty of superintending the electoral and political process, explaining that it has always created partnerships with diverse agencies of government, private sector and civic groups in its determination to establish a virile and world-class electoral process for Nigeria.
“To this end, INEC works with security agencies, the judiciary, Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation (OSGOF), the National Population Commission (NPC), the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), civil society organisations, trade unions, the media and other stakeholders whenever the need arises.
“INEC’s longstanding partnership with NCC and MNOs should be seen in this regard. However, constitutionally it is the role of INEC alone to register voters, register and regulates political parties and conduct elections. Any process that facilitates the denudation of the constitutional responsibilities of INEC to conduct elections or subjects those constitutional responsibilities to the approval of an agency of government will only undermine the electoral process.
“Consequently, while INEC needs the partnership of NCC to transmit election results electronically, it does not require its approval. In fact, Section 160 of the Constitution empowers INEC to “impose duties” on other federal government agencies in the discharge of its functions viz:
“Subject to subsection (2) of this section, 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 functions, 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.
“Put simply, to require INEC to obtain attestation from NCC and approval of the National Assembly to implement electronic transmission of election results will be in breach of the Constitution.
“What is critical for the Commission is a legal framework that enables rather than constrains innovation for transparent and credible elections. It should remain the responsibility of the Commission to organise, undertake and supervise elections as enshrined in Sec. 15, Part I of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
“Finally, electronic transmission of election results and balloting are, for the Commission, one more step towards completing the four phases of electronic voting. The others are biometric register and electronic accreditation of voters, which have already been implemented by the Commission”, INEC added.