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Politics of Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Source: guardian.ng

Stakeholders insist INEC embraces Kaduna council election template

Governor Nasir El Rufai Governor Nasir El Rufai

The September 4 2021 local government election in Kaduna State, conducted under Governor Nasir El Rufai of All Progressives Congress (APC), using Electronic Voting System (EVS), despite its shortcomings, has become a reference point for the National Assembly, whose majority voted against the inclusion of Electronic Transmission of Votes and by implications the EVS, in the making of a new Electoral Amendment Act.
   
Against expectations of Nigerians, who were anxious to see the introduction of modern electronic voting method, the position of the lawmakers in both chambers, came as a rude shock. But more frustrating is the lack of forcefulness on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whose responsibility stakeholders say is to decide what method to use, by virtue of the power vested in it by the enabling laws. 
   
Expectations are now heightened and people are questioning why INEC is not test-running the EVS in the upcoming governorship election in Anambra State. They say if Kaduna is able to conduct council elections electronically, INEC should go ahead and test-run the EVS in Anambra ahead of the 2023 general polls.
While some accused the ruling party of been scared of losing should the EVS be adopted in subsequent elections and especially the 2023 general elections, others insist it is INEC’s responsibility to take advantage of enabling laws to differ from the ruling party and the National Assembly.

A cross-section of Nigerians, including socio-cultural groups, told The Guardian that the ruling party and other selfish politicians are against modern voting system. They also lampooned INEC for not calling the bluff of politicians.
   
Governor El Rufai had said the success recorded in the electronic voting in Kaduna council polls, was a demonstration that the EVS is possible across the country.

EXPRESSING his party’s position on the matter, Chairman, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Olu Agunloye said it is not very clear if the ruling party is actually uncomfortable with the Electronic Voting System, EVS since Governor El Rufai is part a member of APC and had used the same method twice in Kaduna State; first in 2018 and again in 2021. 
 
The erstwhile Minister of Defence said it could be argued that the National Assembly collectively, is uncomfortable with EVS and perhaps legislators from some particular geo-political zones, are especially unconformable.    
 
He also said some elements in both legislative arms are opposed to EVS for ‘reasons beyond what they disclosed in public’. SDP said what is certain and emphatic is that corruption is uncomfortable with electronic voting system and because corruption is hydra headed, wherever it shows traces, there will be opposition to EVS.
 
On the argument that INEC is not taking full cognisance of its independence, SDP said, “ It will be unfair to say that the Commission, under Professor Yakubu is not taking advantage of its constitutional right or is dancing to the tune of the ruling party, at least, as far as Electronic Voting System is concerned, this INEC has completely bought into the idea and has taken full advantage of modern technology to drive electoral reforms engendered to assure integrity and fairness in the voting system in Nigeria. 
“As an expert myself in large scale computerisation systems, I have watched with keen interest how INEC, over the last 19 years has leveraged technology to strive to deliver on its mandate of free, fair and credible elections; and within the last three years, especially we can say that the Yakubu’s INEC has prepared itself for credible elections with multi-functional devices for enrolment of new voters as well as review and update of details of existing voters.
   
“The Commission has now introduced voter accreditation and authentication using bimodal biometric recognition, a combined face recognition and fingerprints recognition system, election results upload, and is prepared for outright electronic voting.”
 
SDP added that INEC alone cannot deliver free, fair and credible elections as it is only one of the four critical factors required for this. “The other three are the ruling government, security forces and lastly the politicians or political class.”
 
The party said APC, which is the ruling government sets the tone and pace for credible elections as exemplified by the position and body language of the ruling party or Mr. President or governor; the security forces deployed to oversee election and assure peace and determine how much of the process will be free or secure or safe and can be corrupted at site; while the third is the political class which usually sees election process as ‘do or die’ or matter of life and death, and is especially propelled by corrupt and selfish motives. 
 
“Unfortunately, the ruling government has been found to influence the other three including INEC because it does not practise the rule of law or have appetite for doing things correctly,” says SDP
 
The party added that the issue of EVS lies in rule of law and not whether a particular political party introduced it. According to SDP, “It is not exactly a matter that technology-driven innovations and reforms were started by PDP and slowed down by APC. It is that we are faced with degrees to which the ruling parties believe in the rule of law or are ready to adhere to the rule of law. However, INEC may be said to have fared better under its current management.”
 
He continued: “Of the four elements, government, INEC, security forces and politicians, which determine how elections are made or marred, the politicians remain the most vicious, unpatriotic and unrepentant. They occupy the government, infiltrate INEC and Security Forces to influence or intimidate them and take laws into their hands. They hire and use thugs, militants, herdsmen,
Boko Haram and ‘unknown soldiers’ to harass, steal and destroy. Imagine just at the last local government election in Kaduna State on 4 September 2021, thirteen (13) Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) were vandalised, and forty-two (42) EVMs were snatched away or stolen. These atrocities, which were geared to undermine the Kaduna election process were certainly not perpetuated by the ruling Kaduna State Government, or by the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission or by the Security Forces invited to ensure safety but by politicians or the political class.
On the likely implications if Nigeria fails to use electronic voting for the next general elections, SDP said, “There are indeed many preconditions beyond electronic voting before the next general election, which is expected to be in February/March 2023. As for electoral process, INEC has already announced and demonstrated that it has fully incorporated advanced technology towards delivering its mandate for free, fair and credible elections and is ready to deploy EVMs where and when the circumstance ari
ses.”

Preconditions or “Circumstances” here will also require buy-in of the Legislative arms for appropriate laws, endorsement of the Executive Arm for funds and NCC giving its nod and infrastructural support. Precondition will require the ruling government leaning on rule of law, lending support for creating level playing ground, providing widespread security and being bound by principles of social justice. 

IN another comment, the apex socio-cultural and political organisation in the north, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it is fully in support of ECS but on condition that no part of the country or ethnic group would be disenfranchised. 
 
The group said it is surprised INEC is not making use of the powers vested in it. Spokesman of the forum, Emmanuel Yawe in a telephone conversation with The Guardian said, “INEC is supposed to be independent and the ACF wishes it is really independent in action as in the name. We wouldn’t know if it is true that the ruling party is trying to manipulate the Commission and if it is indeed true, then it is unfortunate. The Commission should be allowed to be independent and perform its duties as prescribed by the constitution.”
 
Yawe added that ACF is not opposed to electronic voting. “We prefer it because the country should follow the whole world in moving ahead and not retrogressing and we see electronic voting as a step ahead.
 
“What is worrying us is if the system will disenfranchise some parts of the country. We don’t want any part of the country or whatever ethnic, religion or background to be disenfranchised because once a substantial part of the country is disenfranchised, then it is no longer democracy. 
  
“The ACF as a body prefers the electronic system and we are fully in support of it.” A civil rights activist and presidential candidate in 2019 election, Dr. Tanko Yusuf said the issue of electronic voting has to do with education of the people. “While I agree that Nigeria needs to test-run the issue of electronic voting, we also need to put it in practice just like what we saw Governor El Rufai did in Kaduna State. 
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“Putting electronic voting in practice is already a kind of acceptable norm now in Kaduna, that they are going to be using electronic voting in all of their future elections and the people are already getting accustomed to it. I see no reason why it will be difficult for INEC to put it to test.” He added that the claims made by some lawmakers, as regards their constituencies that have no network coverage is not tenable.

“I base my argument on the fact that we only need to educate the people very well.” Tanko said INEC should insist on using electronic voting provided it will educate the people. He also said he was happy with the way Professor Yakubu held his ground on the transmission of election results. “If he succeeds in getting that done, which we have already seen how it worked in the last Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections, we can also put it to practise in our next electioneering. 
 
“If we achieved that it means we have already sensitised the people from the grassroots. They would have known the modus operandi of how it works and there won’t be any hullabaloo or raising of eyebrows that the thing does not work because already it has been tested and it is working perfectly for the people.”
 
On his part, the Spokesman of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Abel Oshevire said electronic voting and transmission of results is the way to go. 
 
“That is the antidote to election rigging and the solution to free and fair elections in the country. Why is the APC government afraid of electronic voting and transmission of results? The simple answer is that they know for sure that in a free and fair elections, they don’t stand any chance of winning at both the federal and state levels. That is the truth.
 
“ But unfortunately for them, whether they like it or not, their time is up and in 2023, Nigerians will truly decide who governs them at all levels. No amount of rigging or manipulation will alter the will of Nigerians in 2023,” he said.
   
Harping on the need for present leaders to have the political will, spokesman of Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Isuwa Dogo said if Nigeria is serious and the ruling party is honest we can use electronic voting for coming elections.  
 
He said INEC itself has said it wants electronic voting and in that case I don’t see why the National Assembly should object to it or the APC government rejecting it?
   
“If that is the case then the ruling party has an ulterior motive because it can be done. And the agency that is supposed to do it said it can be done, so why should we be denied? In the first place INEC doesn’t even need anybody’s permission and that is why it is an independent electoral commission. Remember, it was just NEC before but now it’s independent, so the National Assembly has no power to stop INEC from doing what it wants to do.”
 
Dogo said elections can be conducted electronically, transmitted and even announced. “That’s the right thing to do but not doing it is an invitation to chaos now or in the future. I will suggest and very strongly too that INEC should do electronic voting and electronically transmit whatever is done now and in the future at all level of governments.”
 
Just as Dogo warned that rejecting the modern method of voting is an invitation to chaos, National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralphs Nwosu accused the two major political parties, APC and PDP of being the brain behind the rejection of electronic voting while he said INEC’s acclaimed independence is merely on paper and not indeed. 
 
According to Nwosu, “The two major parties are scared of their shadows and they have seized our democracy just like we are almost in a stage where everybody, intellectuals and the masses have been captured. They have captured the state and they are abusing democracy. They now don’t want any form of transparency and the things that are associated with credibility in our elections. Ordinarily you will think that every leader, including Mr. President who promised to reform the electoral system should buy into electronic voting but they are not interested because they are afraid of their own shadows.”
 
THE ADC national chairman said Nigerians should erase the thinking that INEC is an independent body under the present democratic setting. According to him, “as long as the President appoints men and women, who are clearly APC party members as commissioners in the Commission, INEC may become independent by the time the people are able to achieve a no party syndrome. Then a new culture of our democracy will begin.”
 
A chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Goody Nwazurike said the politics APC is playing over electronic voting could best be described as a situation of ‘Trust Deficit’
   
According to him,  “The government of the day is actually wallowing in trust deficit, if it goes right it suspects and if it goes left it suspects. First and foremost, if I have an account ain Kano and I want to send money to my son in Lagos, I will use my phone, electronic transfer. If my wife is in Lagos and wants to send money to her uncle in Imo State, she is not going to carry the money but uses her phone through what we called electronic transfer.

POS everywhere today and it is the newest business in town. You will hardly see people standing in banks to cash money, they use the POS. In every part of the country people use POS or other means of electronic transfer. So what is wrong in Nigeria using the electronic voting system? When Professor Maurice Iwu was INEC chairman, he championed the need to adopt electronic voting system but those who constituted the leadership of APC today were the ones who opposed it then. 

BUT Spokesman to INEC Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi said there is need to carefully distinguish between those who genuinely desire an improvement in the electoral system, and those whose primary interest is simply the business opportunity they are waiting to grab, if electronic voting is finally legalised.
Rotimi said it is necessary Nigerians should be wary of comments emanating from such capitalists. While explaining that INEC’s activities are governed by law, he said: “The subsisting law is the 1999 Constitution, from which the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) derives its legitimacy. In this subsisting body of laws, voting in an election through electronic means is still illegal. It will remain so until a new law is passed.

“There is an amendment process going on in respect of the Electoral Act. We don’t yet know what the final product will look like. We all desire a change and the Commission has been working with the two committees of the National Assembly to bring about this change that we all desire. But it is only when the amendment process is concluded, and the President gives assent, that we can say, categorically, whether or not electronic voting will be adopted for the 2023 general election.”

Oyekanmi added that the Commission is willing and ready for electronic voting and collation of results and that it has professional staff and overall capacity to do it.

“Once the law clears the way, INEC will hit the ground running. It is not true that the Commission has concluded plans not to use electronic voting. It’s a mere rumour that should be disregarded. However, if we don’t have a new law that expressly legalises the use of electronic voting and collation of results, the Commission will have no option than to conduct the 2023 General election manually, according to the dictates of the current law,” he said.