Last Tuesday, the upper chamber of the National Assembly gave Nigerians what would perhaps end up as one of the greatest achievements of the 9th National Assembly. This is more so given the fact that there has never been any dispute as to the real cause of the nation’s comatose state other than the failure of governance. Nigeria is a nation that cannot be ignored or glossed over in the comity of nations. We have all that is required to rise to the level of playing in the big leagues of the first world countries; we have the human and natural resources to be the first among equals. Sadly, we have continued to head in the opposite directions as the rest of the world heads in the right direction.
We have become the butt of the joke of many. In Africa, many make mockery of Nigerians and treat us like we are refugees. Outside Africa, to present the green passport of Nigeria is to invite opprobrium to oneself.
Diversity and plurality for nations like Brazil, the U.S., India, and China is seen as strength but in our dear Nigeria, they are drawbacks and burdens from which we are yet to extricate ourselves. Nigerians are proud and have faith in the nation but poor leadership and lack of direction have left us flustered, disorientated and divisive. While the lazy ruling class has made profit setting us apart by playing up our ethnic differences and religious bigotry; the unwary citizenry has continued to play the fool by mortgaging the future of the nation acquiescing to their trickery.
While it is true that the citizenry plays practically no role in deciding their leaders because of the faulted or designed-to-achieve predetermined outcome electoral processes, it is also true that the ruling class will not be prepared to let go of a crooked process from which they are the main beneficiaries without a fight.
Since the turn of this fourth republic in 1999, elections had been mere circus shows from which the outcomes are determined even before the ballot is cast. For what is clearly a charade, we have lost several lives both on the side of the umpire (INEC), the electorate and politicians. Elections elsewhere are fun and to be enjoyed, but in Nigeria, it is a war and like all wars, they leave in their trail sorrows, tears and blood.
The only reason the politicians have fought hard to maintain the status quo is because politics is a profession from which unquantifiable gain is made and easily the most thriving industry in the country. What accrues to a councillor in any local government would make a professor of many years green with envy.
We are daily marching towards automating our processes and working to keep abreast with the rest of the world in adopting technologies to ease our lives and improve our living conditions. The banking industry is in a seeming frenzy to outdo one another in adopting technologies, the ministries, department and agencies are improving on use of technology; the nation’s examination bodies are adopting technologies, even churches now use point of sale devices to collect levies. But the single and most important area where this is most needed, the electoral process, from which the life of the nation depends, our politicians insist must remain manual to give room for human manipulation and fraud.
On Tuesday, the Senate shocked me. They surprised me not because I was oblivious of the fact that what they did was what they ought to do, but because they have overtime made us believe that their only objective in the house is to please themselves by pushing that which benefits them alone. Perhaps, they have come to the realisation that their ignoble insistence on sticking with the past in an age where bricks and mortar are giving way for massive deployment of technology and digitisation of processes, their earlier stance would have done insufferable damage to whatever is left of their reputation.
In July this year, during consideration of a report on 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 submitted by its Committee on INEC, the Senate had amended Clause 52(3) as recommended. The clause as presented by the committee in the report stressed that INEC can transmit election results electronically where and when practicable.
However, the Senate had passed the amended version which says “INEC can transmit election results electronically subject to confirmation of Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, of adequacy and security of national network.”
The House of Representatives on its part had adopted the clause as originally recommended by the committees of both chambers on INEC.
The Clause 52(2) that replaced the former one read: “Subject to Section 63 of this bill, voting at an election and transmission of results under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by INEC.”
Similarly, the Senate in approving direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions also effected amendment on Section 87 of the bill to read: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the commission.”
The new position was against the earlier one taken in July as contained in Section 87(1) which reads: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold direct or indirect primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which may be monitored by the Commission.”
In altering Section 87 of the bill the senate clearly overreached itself by trying to determine for the parties what is best for them. However, the volte-face of the senate on the electoral transmission of poll results makes up for that error.
Recall that in justifying the Senate decision for rejecting electronic transmission of result in July, Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President, had explained that the Senate voted the way it did during the consideration of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, in defence of about half of the Nigerian voters whose votes may not be counted with immediate deployment or application of electronic transmission of election results.
Lawan, who was speaking while on a constituency visit to his Yobe North Senatorial District said, “I’m happy that we have been able to pass the amendment even though some people are complaining of what we have passed in the Senate and probably what the House of Representatives has also passed.
“…What I mean here is that you have Senators from the northern part of Nigeria who voted for electronic transmission. Maybe that is their belief or their environment is ready for electronic transmission. And you have Senators from the southern part of Nigeria who voted against the immediate deployment of electronic transmission but they support that the electronic transmission of results should be allowed after certain conditions are met and the conditions are simple: The National Communication Commission (NCC) had provided the technical information that only NCC could give – that only about 50 percent of the Nigerian environment, the polling units, in the country could possibly have their results electronically transmitted.
“So what happens to the other 50 percent? So we believe that all of us in the Senate were aiming at the same target but chose to go through different routes and that is why in my concluded remarks in the Senate after the debate and voting, I said there was no victor, no vanquished because we all meant well.”
The Senate president and his colleagues were smart by half. They pretended to bother about voters being disenfranchised and they are not worried about the increasing rate of voter apathy among Nigerians, especially the youth.
Prior to the 2019 polls, INEC had disclosed that over 84 million persons registered to vote in the upcoming polls. Eventually, only 34.75 per cent of registered voters actually voted. The percentage represents 28,614,190 people who cast their votes during the elections. Where was the other over 60 per cent of registered voters? Does it not bother our tongue-in-cheek legislators why these voters stayed away. Has it not bothered them that an electoral process that brought President Muhammadu Buhari, for example, with a total number of votes of a little over 15 million votes and Atiku Abubakar with a little over 11 million is not impressive and may not be reflective of the wishes of the people, even when we know that those figures were doctored and manipulated by both parties?
Our legislators must know that laws are not often made to satisfy immediate gains but that such pieces of legislation must be enduring and with the interest of the future of our generations unborn in mind. Bad leadership has remained the bane of this nation and nothing can be more worrisome than the realisation that with all of these failures of governance, the electorate cannot determine the fate of many of these journeymen and dubious characters who wouldn’t give a hoot if the nation burns so long as they have their personal desires satisfied.
Until there is belief and trust in the process many Nigerians, especially the Millennials and generation Z, would rather play football, watch videos than waste their time since they know their votes do not make any difference. That is why Big Brother Naija or any reality show would attract more attention than waste time going for a local government election where you know the ruling party in the state would eventually win all the seats.
To be sure, there is no foolproof system against electoral manipulation but we must never be shy to adopt technologies and innovation that would help in restoring confidence in the process as they evolve; to do otherwise would clearly cast a doubt on the integrity of the process.
Kudos to those Nigerians, often derisively referred to as the wailers, for lending their voices to what is a good cause. Kudos also to the Senate for finally siding with the majority of the people, this singular act may as well be the defining moments of the 9th National Assembly because for as long as we fail to fix the leadership puzzle, for so long shall we continue to grope in the dark.