With just about 80 days to the 2023 general election, especially the Presidential and National Assembly polls, doubts are being expressed as to the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the exercise, particularly as it concerns the electronic transmission of results.
These doubts are even coming mostly from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which controls the central government and enacted the 2022 Electoral Act that provides for the deployment of technologies for the next year’s polls.
In the midst of all these, Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman remains resolute by assuring Nigerians that there is no going back on the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) for the conduct of the 2023 general election.
It first started with Abdullahi Adamu, the national chairman of APC, who expressed worry over the electronic transmission of election results from polling units in 2023.
Adamu, who expressed the concern when a Commonwealth delegation for the 2023 elections to Nigeria visited him in Abuja, insisted that INEC must assure the ruling party of its 100percent for the process.
He said: “Our concern is how ready are we to deploy some of these technologies as regards transmission because we are taking a major step in transmitting election results in real time.
“To transmit results, every part of the nation Nigeria, I’m not sure that the network covers it. I know that even in parts of Abuja there is no network and we have from now till February when in substantial parts of the country there is no electricity.
“INEC must assure us 100 percent that as at when due in transmitting results they are ready because they spoke about recharging batteries but we had in previous elections when it says it can’t recharge.”
Suleiman Argungu, the APC national organising secretary, had also corroborated his chairman when he doubted the workability of electronic transmission due to network issues.
Argungu said: “As a rider to what the national chairman just said about INEC transmitting results directly during the coming election, apart from the issue of electricity that is unstable, a lot of the villages and communities bordering other countries for instance my state, Kebbi, that is bordering two nations.
“During the previous elections the network of Nigeria for all the networks, Glo, MTN, Airtel you can’t get them. If you want to get them you have to use the number of the other countries to reach them. So, during election I don’t see how transmission of result will work. I see it coming.”
Also, on Monday, Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate for the 2023 polls who spoke at Chatham House in London, said INEC was yet to assure his party that the electronic transmission of results was reliable.
Tinubu said: “We are still building confidence in our democratic and voting system. INEC is yet to assure us during this election that electronic transmission, the technology being used for accreditation and the total vote count is reliable, dependable and assuring in our democratic process before we introduce a complicated element of ballot counting.”
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But the INEC chairman had on the same day that APC chairman raised the alarm described as fake, reports that the commission was planning to jettison the use of IReV for the real-time upload of polling unit results at the elections.
Yakubu also spoke with the Commonwealth Pre-Election Assessment Mission in Abuja where he insisted that there was no going back on the deployment of innovations.
He reassured Nigerians and the international community of the commission’s commitment to safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and delivering the best election ever in the history of Nigeria.
Yakubu said: “Let me seize this opportunity to respond to a story emanating from a section of the media that the commission has decided to jettison the uploading of the polling unit results real time on Election Day. It should please be disregarded as fake news.
“The Commission will upload polling unit results and citizens will have real-time access as we upload from polling units. This innovation was introduced by the commission and it cannot turn around to undermine itself, this technology has come to stay. We are serving the citizens, how can we deny citizens access to the results of a process conducted by them at the level of polling units?
“We have a brand-new law in Nigeria called the Electoral Act 2022, it is IT friendly, and perhaps the most progressive of legislation as far as elections in Nigeria are concerned.
“The law has enabled the commission to deploy technology in elections we have been deploying some of these devices in the off-season elections in preparation for the general election.
“I want to assure you and reassure you that the 2023 general election is going to be our best ever. We are committed that the votes cast by Nigerians will determine the outcome of elections, nothing more, nothing less.”
Only last week, the INEC chairman at a meeting with the African Union (AU) Special Pre-Electoral Political Mission said the umpire body was in a better position to conduct the 2023 general election than it was on the eve of the 2019 polls.
He said this was possible because, learning from the experience of the 2019 general election, INEC made a case for the amendment to the Electoral Act which allowed it more time from the nomination of candidates by political parties to the election and deployment of technology.
Yakubu said the law also requires the executive to make funds required for the election at least one year to the election, so in terms of disbursement of funds, INEC is in a more comfortable position than it were before the last election.
He also disclosed that with about three months to the election, 50percent of the non-sensitive materials have already been deployed to the locations for the election.
The chairman said: “As against the 60 days we had under the old law, now parties are required to nominate their candidates 180 days before Election Day.
“So this will enable us to determine which political parties are fielding candidates for which constituency and to proceed with the procurement processes as well as the production of both the sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the election.
“We have done very well indeed. I am very comfortable to say that at this point with about three months to the election, we have 50percent of the non-sensitive materials already deployed to locations, so we are making very good progress indeed.”
Not too long ago, Festus Okoye, INEC national commissioner and chairman of information and voter education committee disclosed that two- thirds of the BVAS that are required for the conduct of next year’s elections are already in Nigeria and before the end of December, all the machines will be in the country.
Okoye said: “We have classified the BVAS as sensitive materials. We have engaged with the various security agencies, the Army, police, the fire service and DSS and they are providing security for the BVAS because the BVAS are in the custody of the commission.
“So we have adopted a hybrid approach. The BVAS will remain with the commission why the ballot papers will remain with the Central Bank. That was the agreement we had with all the political parties, CSOs, the security agencies and the media.”
Also, as Tinubu raised issues with INEC’s readiness for the election in London on Monday, the commission’s chairman told the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) in Abuja on the same day that the electoral body’s “preparations are approaching concluding stages.”
He said:”We are conducting the 2023 General Election with a new Electoral Act and several innovations in voter accreditation and result management. We are confident in our processes but we will not be complacent. Responsibilities within our control are handled diligently,” he said.
Yakubu however, said there were a few areas of concern, the main one being the prevailing insecurity in the country, adding that: “In less than two weeks, three of our Local Government offices were attacked across the country, bringing the total number of such attacks to seven in the last four months.
“While we want to reassure Nigerians that we will recover from these attacks, and the election will proceed as scheduled, we would like to appeal to all citizens to see the commission’s facilities as national asset. It is our collective responsibility to join hands in protecting them. The attacks must stop and the perpetrators swiftly apprehended and prosecuted.”
Reacting to a question posed by BusinessDay in an exclusive interview recently, as to how optimistic he was that the INEC would deliver free, fair and credible election, Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said: “I can only hope. At least, INEC has for the first time kept guaranteeing that this will be an electronically-backed election and that we can actually join the electronic platform once the results are uploaded from the polling unit. If that is going to happen, then it will eliminate rigging. But the big question, would it happen? I’m happy the telcos are saying that the networks can carry the transmissions. If that is the case, then we’re going to have something like Abiola’s time when Professor Humphrey Nwosu, even without transmission, he had a way to post the results as they came. So, that was why IBB was able to annul it when he saw that MKO was ahead.
“I hope that INEC is able to justify the confidence we have to place in them that the election should be free from rigging so that we can get the best person; because, once it’s free from rigging, it means our votes count but if it is not free from rigging, then it means, if miscreants were at the polling unit, then they can just write the results.
“We want to eliminate any human factor, let it all be electronic. So we come, we do the BVAS, we do all of that, we go forward, we vote, and as the vote is ended, people are standing there, it’s uploaded, we can all see it. So, that’s great,
but will it happen is the million dollar question.”