The history of the legislature in Nigeria is very chequered. From the onset when a legislative council was introduced in 1862, in Lagos under the British crown colony administration, it was basically aimed at furthering, not the interest of the people it was introduced for, but that of the crown colony administration. The subsequent legislative council from 1914 – 1960 appeared to be more of a window dressing, as these councils were clothed with little or no legislative powers at all. The legislative council was more or less a platform, to enable few African representatives ventilate their grievances on a number of issues. Consistent with the colonial policy, the legislature, therefore, had very limited powers. The story was not in any way different in subsequent years, particularly during the military rule. The truncation of the activities of the legislature by the military seriously contributed in weakening the legislative institution.
Arising from its weak foundation, the legislature, like many other institutions of the state, has been confronted with several challenges. This weakness had posed and is still posing serous challenges to the attainment of a political institution that would translate to sustainable political development of the country. The legislature is yet to be able to identify with the interest of the people who they are representing.
For instance, during the consideration recently of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill on the ability or otherwise of INEC to handle electronic transmission of votes, majority of the federal lawmakers demonstrated inadequate strength of character to identify with interest of those they claim to be representing. Among such lawmakers are those who are aspiring to become governors and president of Nigeria in the 2023 general elections. The voting pattern on the floor underscored the huge gap between personal interest and public expectation.
Since the re-introduction of democracy in the country in 1999 till date, international and local observers of elections had reported severally that collation of election results is the biggest problem in our electoral process. This was due to an apparent disparity between the number of voters observed at the polling stations and results that were eventually released. This prompted the clamour for electoral reforms. Civil society groups and opposition parties are united in their call for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results. The argument is that electronic transmission of results directly from the polling unit is a firm step towards the elimination of result collation related malpractices, including alteration of figures, snatching and diversion of ballot boxes on transit to collation centres minimizes the time it takes for final results to be declared. There is also the possibility of interrogating results electronically, in case there are doubts about the efficacy or legitimacy of these results. Moreover, electronic transmission lends itself to transparency, accountability and history. It is a win–win for all parties.
Surprisingly, despite these advantages, the clamour never yielded the desired results, as the voting at the senate showed that 52 senators voted in favour of the amendment of electoral system that lends itself to easy manipulation of the result at the collation centres while 28 senators absented when their votes mattered the most. Some of these politicians were probably never truly elected, no wonder they did not bother to identify with interest of the people they claim to be representing. It is curious why well-meaning citizens should vote against what will alter the trend of fake election results. It is even more disappointing to imagine that the plot to stop Nigeria from getting out of this unpleasant situation could come from political elites who ought to know better.
The responsibilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were succinctly and eloquently articulated in Dection78 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which gives the election umpire unambiguous powers to perform certain functions. These are that the registration of voters and the conduct of the elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of INEC. It is therefore, unconstitutional to take away this right through an electoral amendment bill that requires it to obtain assurance from the National Communication Commission (NCC) that there is adequate internet network coverage and approval of the senate before election results could be transmitted electronically. You cannot permit it on one hand to use electronic voting and the other hand not use electronic transmission of result. It is indeed counterproductive as the independence of the commission would be lost if it is subjected to the control of another agency. It should be allowed to operate freely within its area of jurisdiction. It cannot be independent and yet be in chains. The controversy is unnecessary. It would give the impression there is surreptitious agenda.
The commission recently, declared that it has the capacity to transmit election results electronically from any part of the country no matter the terrain. Electronic transmission of results was successfully deployed by INEC in Edo, Ondo, Nassarawa elections etc. The proposed amendment by the senate does not advance the cause of electoral democracy. The National Assembly should demonstrate its confidence in the ability of the commission to perform its constitutional responsibilities.
The commission should therefore, come out and boldly defend its mandate. Unless it uses all legal means to do that, it cannot claim to have ensured that electoral democracy has been deepened from its end. Our politicians should endeavour to become statesmen and look at bigger pictures of the future rather than the narrow and selfish interest of winning elections. Nigeria needs strong and enduring institutions that protect the interest of those who voted them into political offices.