The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed optimism that the use of smart card reader machine and electronic collation of results would be legally possible in the 2023 general election.
INEC’s position is coming as both the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN, and the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, have pledged to ensure early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 as well as the Election Offences Commission Bill into law.
INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, who represented the chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at a stakeholders’ forum on electoral reforms in Abuja yesterday, said the commission was irrevocably committed to the enhancement of the power of the smart card reader as the dominant procedure for verification, accreditation and proving over voting in the electoral process.
The INEC boss said the commission would seek the incorporation of the smart card reader in section 49 of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended).
“The individuals holding the permanent voters’ cards must be the ones voting and not the cards. The smart card reader is now part of our national asset and the commission will not allow any individual or groups to undermine it. Rather, the commission will guard it jealously and make for its robust usage,” he said.
Yakubu added that the commission would drive the process for the introduction of new technologies in the electoral process.
According to him, electronic voting system is dynamic and the appropriate time for the introduction of each aspect must be clearly thought out taking into consideration “the appropriate technology, the state of infrastructure in the different parts of the country, environmental issues, cyber security matters, procurement challenges, the level of literacy in the country and other sundry matters.”
“We believe that electronic collation of results (e-collation) and transmission are possible and achievable in the 2023 election,” he said.
He also responded to the worries expressed by Omo-Agege over the frequent issuance and withdrawal of certificate of returns by INEC while obeying court rulings on pre-election matters, saying that the commission’s hands were tied by the law.
He said INEC would continue to obey court orders in such instances unless there was an amendment to the Act to the contrary.
While declaring the event open, Omo-Agege acknowledged that some aspects of the electoral law were deficient and required retooling to bring about the desired improvement in the conduct of elections.
He said part of the problems associated with the elections in the country was because some of the guidelines being implemented by INEC were not backed by extant laws and as such were being flouted by politicians.
Omo-Agege said: “It is for these reasons and much more that we are coming up with very clear provisions amending the principal Act to give unambiguous effect to electoral guidelines, regulations and manuals duly issued by the commission in strict compliance with section 160 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
He also faulted the use of university professors as returning officers in elections, saying that they have not exhibited the required honesty and integrity in the electoral process.
He said the National Assembly was proposing the enactment of a law to impose a jail term of 20 years on ad hoc staff involved in malpractices during elections, which include university lecturers.
He also said there was need to propose further sanctions against INEC staff that allow themselves to be used to perpetrate electoral malpractice.
According to him, with the law in place, non-compliance with the guidelines, regulations and manuals would carry clear consequences for people who think violating electoral due process is a rewarding exercise.
He listed other proposed amendments to include provisions focusing on resolving issues surrounding INEC’s introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters and ensuring that the Act clearly forbids members of political parties from taking up employment in INEC.
The amendments also include “mandating INEC to publish the voters’ register for public scrutiny at every registration area and on its website at least seven (7) days before a general election; mandating INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement of a new candidate; granting agents of political parties the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of an election; granting political parties that nominated candidates for an election a right (exercisable within a specified timeframe) to inspect its identity/logo appearing on samples of relevant electoral materials proposed to avoid incessant cancellation of elections due to ‘exclusion’ of parties from election due to printers’ errors or deliberate mischief of not including the logos of some parties on electoral materials; defining ‘over voting’ to include situations where ‘total votes cast’ also exceed ‘total number of accredited voters.”
Omo-Agege said the aim of the additional reforms was to ensure greater clarity and transparency in the process of reaching the final announcement of election results, starting with sorting of ballots, counting of votes and declaration of the election outcome.
He added that there would be amendment to Section 87 on nomination of candidates by political parties for elections by prescribing maximum fees payable by aspirants and restricting nomination criteria strictly to relevant provisions of the constitution.
Malami, who also made presentation at the event, said the federal government was committed to ensuring an early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill.
Malami who was represented by his Special Assistant on Ethics and Justice, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku, said the government had set up the Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee in 2016 to review the laws governing the electoral process and also took steps to actualise recommendations proffered by the committee, beginning with the Federal Executive Council’s approval of the committee’s recommendations and subsequent transmission to the legislature.
Malami, however, said the amendments recommended by the committee failed short of the expectations of majority of Nigerians, and thus, was not passed into law.
“This administration is already working with the 9th National Assembly with a view to ensuring an early passage of the amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill into law. The executive is committed to working harmoniously with the National Assembly through continuous engagement and systematic coordination in the passage of bills,” he explained.