The Independent National Electoral Commission’s plan to transmit election results electronically in 2023 is currently doubtful as the Federal Government has revealed that only 473 out of 774 local government areas in the country have Internet access.
By implication, 301 local government areas have no Internet access, thus transmitting election results in those areas may not be possible in 2023 even if the Electoral Act is amended.
According to the National Development Plan 2021 – 2025 launched last week by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and obtained by The PUNCH, the government projects that 697 LGAs will have Internet access by 2023. The 2023 elections are expected to hold in February.
In a tabular illustration in the development plan, the government pegged 473 as the baseline for the number of LGAs with Internet connection. This implies that the government targets providing Internet access to an additional 224 LGAs with Internet access by 2023.
When contacted, experts, who spoke to our correspondents, explained what government must do to ensure electronic transfer of election results in the 301 LGAs.
Experts list conditions, say satellite technology can cover LGAs without Internet
Experts at the Alliance for Affordable Internet listed conditions that must be met to ensure transmission of results in the 301 LGAs.
They advised the Federal Government to consider using satellite technology in the transmission of results electronically in the 2023 elections.
They also noted that there was no 3G access in over 300 LGAs in Nigeria, adding that this was part of the issues which the Nigerian Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025 was put together to address.
The National Coordinator for Alliance for Affordable Internet, who served as the immediate past President of The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Olusola Teniola, told one of our correspondents that it was possible to transmit results electronically as far as the pressing issues were addressed.
He said, “This number of LGAs that have not been covered was already captured in the Nigerian Broadband Plan of 2020 to 2025 and it is fairly straightforward.
“The issue is that there isn’t any tangible 3G access in these LGA and the idea now is to focus over the next six to nine months in ensuring that at least one of our operators will be able to provide service in those areas.
“This is in addition to satellite technology, which can cover all of those areas that do not have Internet at the moment.
“That means that on the day of the election, the transmission of results can be done via satellite on a specific time, location and based on the fact that we are just using it for the elections.
“If we are looking for continuous transmission, obviously we are looking at trying to ensure that there is infrastructure to provide continuous service.
“And that is the focus of the Nigerian Broadband Plan. It is not a solution for just one specific application but for continuous applications for those who are offline, among others. So we want to block that gap through the plan.”
He encouraged the government to work with ICT professionals in trying to provide the required services in the LGAs and expressed hope that the target of electronic transmission of results would be achieved in 2023.
INEC can use other platforms where Internet access is not available – Olurode
On his part, a former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof Lai Olurode, said lack of Internet facilities in some local government areas posed no threat to transmission of results, as INEC had liberty to use other platforms where Internet access was not available.
Olurode, who said no region of the country should be allowed to hold down others in terms of conduct of polls, noted that in places with no internet facilities, election results could be transmitted through manual platforms.
He said, “The law on electronic transmission of result has been amended by the National Assembly to give INEC the power to determine adopt electronic transmission of result as it is convenient.
“It is not compulsory that we should have e-transmission of results across the country. In fact, if anything is wrong with our election, it is the uniformity without variation.”
Also, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Ikechukwu Nnamani, said, “It is possible for them to extend Internet access to these areas within their time frame. You install satellite dishes all over the country in less than one week. It is very possible, depending on the technology.
“For the electronic transmission of result to occur, there has to be Internet access everywhere. And since the government has said they would increase access, they would.”
A telecom engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “It is very possible. It is a matter of will from the government.
“The government itself cannot do it, it has to rely on the Mobile Network Operators, and there is a criterion for deploying to any location. Which has to do with return on investment. The cost of deploying a telecom infrastructure to an environment where very few people make calls is high.
“But the government through the Nigerian Communications Commission has made provisions for the Universal Service Provision Fund funds to subsidies for these investments. There is also the technology. There is a new technology that you can deploy to these local government within the shortest possible time, rural telephony. And they can have access to those places.
“The licences that the NCC has issued to most of the MNOs allow them to deploy internet services via satellite infrastructure to these locations. But everyone wants to make money, no one wants to go to areas where they cannot make money. The government is supposed to push for this but it hasn’t.”
However, INEC had argued that it could devise means of transmitting results in areas with no Internet access.
In a chat with The PUNCH on Tuesday, INEC’s National Commissioner for Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, said the commission was capable of transmitting results electronically.
Okoye said, “The commission has been consistent, robust and clear on its position relating to electronic transmission of election results. We uploaded the results of Edo, Ondo and Anambra governorship elections to our result viewing portal.
“We uploaded the results of several senatorial, House of Representatives and state assembly elections. We uploaded results from polling units in riverine areas. We uploaded results from polling units in conflict areas. We uploaded results from polling units in mountainous areas and valleys.
“The new law will only remove impediments and obstacles to the electronic collation of results.”
In a document released in November by INEC titled, ‘Position Paper No. 1/2021. Electronic Transmission of Election Results’, INEC further claimed that 2G technology was enough to transmit results electronically.
The commission noted that while 3G and 4G would be faster, 2G could also do it even though it would be slower.
An ICT expert and Senior Partner of e86 Limited, Olugbenga Odeyemi, said that the lack of Internet access in a few local governments should not hamper the transmission of election results electronically.
He further said that there would always be room for growth and the government can start with what it has with plans to expand to other local government areas.
“We have over 700 local governments. If about 100 are not able to transmit, I don’t think we should stop other local governments from transmitting electronically. Even in developed countries, we find that there are other means of voting like voting through ATM-like machines, and it is not everywhere. It is only in big cities.
“What that means is that we have to start from wherever we can. That is the idea of technology. There is always room for growth. So, if over 500 local governments can transmit results electronically, we can begin with that and grow to a point where we have all local governments transmitting. I don’t think we should hold back because a few local governments don’t have internet access,” he said.
Odeyemi also said that certain issues impede the provision of internet access, and the government needs to make efforts to address these challenges and ensure everyone has internet access in the country.
He said, “If we look at why these communities don’t have Internet access in 2021, there are different issues. Some are because of government failures and some because of those communities. One of the issues is probably the lack of power supply in those communities. If telecom providers will have to invest in those communities, there will have to invest so much and not get back much in return because of the area.
“What we should all do is to join hands together and move such communities forward. Having internet access should be a basic amenity.”
Also speaking with The PUNCH, the Founder, YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, said Nigeria had over 50 per cent Internet connectivity. He, however, said there was a need for Nigeria to invest in infrastructure
Itodo argued that there were other means of result transmission such as SMS and USSD.
He said, “But my point is, you don’t need the Internet to transmit results. There are different systems for results transmission. You can use SMS or USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) to transmit election results. There are over 100 million subscribers in this country. So, it’s not just the Internet. You don’t need Internet connectivity to transmit results.
“It just depends on the system that you have. And sometimes, you can also use 2G or 3G to transmit some amount of data. In any case, we know there are dark spots. In those dark spots, if you need to transmit results to any of those places, you can leave there to where you have connectivity before you upload or transmit them.
“That’s what is obtainable and that’s good practice in different parts of the world. So, yes, we understand there is this level of penetration. But Nigeria has what it takes to ensure effective deployment of technology for elections.”
The Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had on December 21 at a meeting with resident electoral commissioners said the commission would continue to deepen the use of technology in the conduct of elections, especially the electronic transmission of polls results and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System.
He explained that the uploading of Polling Unit results on the commission’s Result Viewing (IReV) portal in real-time on Election Day, has come to stay.
Besides direct primaries, another controversial provision in the Electoral Act Amendment bill, which the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), refused to sign two weeks ago, is the electronic transfer of election results, which generated different reactions before it was passed by the National Assembly.
The Senate had also in its version, empowered the Nigerian Communications Commission to determine the electronic transmission of election results.
The House did not give such powers to the NCC in its version.
The provision caused an outrage, with many calling on the Senate to follow the example of the House of Representatives which adopted the use of technology “where practicable.”
The development led to the setting up of a conference committee.
In the conference committee report, both chambers of the National Assembly empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission to determine the best mode to transmit election results