WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
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The petition filed by Atiku Abubakar of the PDP in the just-concluded presidential elections is fraught with inconsistencies which bring to mind question of its veracity and the mindfulness of the counsellors in charge of the petition. It ought to have been envisaged that the substance of the petition is unrealistic and another bout of propaganda from the stables of Atiku Abubakar.
Earlier, it was obvious that Atiku and his party were on a campaign of slander and distortion of truth aimed at altering the perspectives of the populace on events thereby creating sympathy for Atiku and his party. There were countless attempts but efforts at rebuffing them were well effective that exposing the insincerity of the PDP and its presidential candidate is one of the reasons for their eventual defeat at the polls.
Just when we thought it was all over and about settling down to enjoy the splendour of the next level, Atiku released another bombshell of intrigues. So in our characteristic manner, we will explore the terrain of tenable facts and feasible realities to set some records straight, puncture the lies and free many Nigerians from believing the falacies.
In the build-up to the 2019 general elections, we had, at a time, exposed plans by the PDP and its presidential flag bearer to hack the INEC server and create a serious integrity issue for both the INEC and the APC-led administration. We had detailed the involvement of the lobbying firm engaged by Atiku and their Russian hackers connection in the same plan.
We had simultaneously raised concerns on the persistence of PDP on the call for INEC to adopt electronic voting and transmission of collated results. The call came about the time of the president’s returning the ambiguous and contradictory electoral amendment bill which would have birth the era of highest fraud through electronic voting in Nigeria. The refusal of the assent was on the grounds that the timing was too close to the election which in accordance with the ECOWAS Protocols and the introduction of the new law will create confusion in the system.
Obvious of the fact that non-acceptance of the electronic voting and transmission of results will punch a hole in their rigging plan, PDP continuously mounted pressure on INEC to adopt the new system to no avail. The position and powers of INEC regarding collation of election results and transfer of same is moderated by the electoral law. The Electoral Act, 2010 ( as amended) was very clear on its submission that election results must be manually transmitted from all polling stations via ward and state collation centres to the national collation centre in the case of presidential election.
Section 27 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended stipulates that:
The Results of all the elections shall be announced by-
(a) the Presiding Officer at the Polling unit;
(b) the Ward Collation Officer at the Ward Collation Centre;
(c) the Local Government or Area Council Collation Officer at the Local Government / Area Council Collation Centre;
(d) the State Collation Officer at the State Collation Centre; and
The Returning Officer shall announce the result and declare the winner of the election at-
(a) Ward Collation Centre in the case of Councillorship election in the Federal Capital Territory;
(b) Area Council Collation Centre in the case of Chairmanship and Vice Chairmanship election in the Federal Capital Territory;
(c) State Constituency Collation Centre in the case of State House of Assembly election;
(d) Federal Constituency Collation Centre in the case of election to the House of Representatives;
(e) Senatorial District Collation Centre in the case of election to the Senate;
(f) State Collation Centre in the case of election of a Governor of a State;
(g) National Collation Centre in the case of election of the President; and
(h) the Chief Electoral Commissioner who shall be the Returning Officer at the Presidential election.
Section 73 of the Act states that “Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Commission shall issue and publish, in the Gazette, guidelines for the elections which shall make provisions, among other things, for the step by step recording of the polls in the electoral forms as may be prescribed beginning from the polling unit to the last collation centre for the ward or constituency where the result of the election shall be declared”
Section 74 goes ahead to state that “Every Result Form completed at the Ward, Local Government, State and National levels in accordance with the provision of this Act or any guidelines issued by the Commission shall be stamped, signed and countersigned by the relevant officers and polling agents at those levels and copies given to the police officers and the polling agents, where available.”
Section 63 and 65 prescribe the method of counting and collation of election results. Section 63 states that:
The Presiding Officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the Commission as the case may be.
The form shall be signed and stamped by the Presiding Officer and counter signed by the candidates or their polling agents where available at the polling unit.
The Presiding Officer shall give to the Polling Agents and the police officer where available a copy each of the completed forms after it has been duly signed as provided in subsection (2) of this section.
The Presiding Officer shall count and announce the result at the polling unit.
Section 65 states that “After the recording of the result of the election, the Presiding Officer shall announce the result and deliver same and election materials under security to such persons as may be prescribed by the Commission.”
The Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu made a very important clarification about the essence of the back end server and transmission of election results electronically during a discussion with Channels Television political journalist, Seun Okinbaloye, before the presidential election was conducted. His remarks were:
Well, for everything that we do, there has to be a back end but if you are talking about back end in terms of the places where results are transmitted, I want to make this important clarification, we’ll transmit results in 2019 as prescribed by the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which is essentially manual. It involves the collation and transmission of results physically from one stage to another, and there are prescribed forms. But we are going to pilot the electronic transmission: collation and transmission of results but will not be used for the purpose of making declaration of winners in the election.
… As for the reason why we are not transmitting results electronically, recall that we had some discussions with the Nigerian Communications Commission and through the Communications Commission we hand some meetings with the Telecom Service Providers –the Telcos– and we have identified blind spots in Nigeria that are not covered by any of the networks. How do you effectively transmit results from those blind spots?
The INEC also had a meeting with Nigerian Communication Satellite in order to see if the issue of the blind spots could be addressed before the election but the meetings were not fruitfully concluded before the general election. How did Atiku, the PDP and his counsellors come up the results from a back end server which was not critically manned for any error source? More so, how did Atiku and the PDP come up with results for blind spots around the country at the back end server?
The records are available of how the National Assembly had approved fund for the purchase of the card reader machines in the Appropriation Act of 2014, and the then ruling party wanted to use its control of the federal legislature to discredit the electronic device. Hence, the immediate-past chairman of the INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was summoned to the Senate to justify the introduction of the card reader for voter accreditation. In taking up the challenge, Prof. Jega demonstrated the use of card readers and its capacity to eliminate electoral fraud perpetrated at the accreditation stage of election. At the end of the exercise the Senate was compelled to endorse the use of card reader for the 2015 general elections. Thereafter, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015 which sought to further strengthen the use of card reader was unanimously passed by both chambers of the National Assembly. The bill was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan on March 20, 2015.
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The issue of card readers was subsequently raised after the elections of 2015 when the apex court chose to classify it as e-voting and insist that the law of Nigeria does not recognize the use of E-voting. The INEC then argued that the use of card reader does not, in its entirety, qualify as E-voting as the usage is for the purpose of effective accreditation of voters and not the voting itself. The Supreme Court declared that the Card Reader should not be a substitute to the voters register ( and this has been the case )
To address the issue, in 2017, the senate passed the amendments to the Electoral Act 2010, approving the use of electronic voting in future elections but the bill was not assented to by the president and the lawmakers did not override the veto power of the president. This stand implies that as at the time of 2019 general election, it is against the law of Nigeria for INEC to employ the use of electronic voting or results transmission via same.
Disobedience to this dictates of the prevailing law would have made a mockery of the entire process. That much was the reason INEC categorically stated before the polls that aside from the legally allowed usage of card readers and the introduction of simultaneous voting which is in its power to implement as provided in section 76 of the 1999 constitution (as altered) and section 25 of the electoral act respectively ; all voting, collation and transmission of results would be done manually.
The concept of e-voting means that all results would be transmitted directly from points of voting to a central INEC server. If that had been the case, the long stay at the national collation centre would not be necessary as the system would simply show results real time and declare winners.
But we all spent days at the national collation centre as each state returning officer manually presented the state result, answer pertinent questions and then had the result accepted and documented. Having all witnessed this process, it is absurd for anyone most especially informed individuals in the class of Atiku Abubakar and his party to still believe they could manage to puncture the credibility of the presidential election with the story of server result claim.
It became more absurd when Atiku Abubakar came up with a presidential election result purportedly from INEC back end server. The said result was laughable as it turns out to be a product of illiterate mind with so many inexplicable errors and impossibilities like the scenario of the result ignoring all other political parties that participated in the election and awarded all the votes to only two candidates and the case of recording zero void votes in the entire nation.
Few days ago we heard the report of the readiness of eleven adhoc returning officers from Yobe and Borno states to testify before the tribunal that they were instructed by INEC to transmit result electronically. The simple question is that there are 119,973 polling units during the 2019 presidential election and each polling unit had a returning officer; at the state level there are a total of 37 returning officers that report to the INEC chairman being the national returning officer, how many others of the remaining 119,961 also collated and transmitted result electronically? If they had transmitted their results from the field then what was the need for the ceremony at the national collation centre? How many returning officers from Rivers State and Enugu State did transmit their election results electronically? Yet the governor of Rivers State comments on the credibility of the concluded election.
The observer team of YIAGA, immediately after the election submitted their full report on the conduct of the presidential election of February 23: the report did not in any way state that any of its observers saw some polling officers “attempting” to transmit results electronically. Though the report of the team saw no positive in the conduct of the same election that the entire international observer adjudged to be free, fair and credible, it is more surprising that the team suddenly have something to add to their report to buttress the claim of a participant in the very election; an impartial observer indeed.
Also on a final note, even if INEC has erred and transmitted election result electronically which the commission did not do, the result on the server would never have had a semblance of what Atiku projected because President Buhari won fairly and squarely.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!