Senator Godswill Akpabio, President of the 10th senate.

By Ofonime Honesty

From Friday, October 20, 2023, to Sunday, October 22, 2023, the iconic and luxurious Four Points by Sheraton, tucked in the heart of the ancient yet bubbling city of Ikot Ekpene, played host to members of Nigeria’s topmost legislature. The hospitality outfit – one of the signature projects of Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio (as he then was) – had the privilege of being a theatre where prominent political surgeons in the Nigerian polity converged to literally carry out intensive operations on the Nigerian Nation.

Nagging issues bordering on the economy, security, elections and other salient areas were dissected, and prescriptions recommended. Hoping to serialise the various topics of discourses at the summit, I hereby plead to kick-start the series with the topic of election.

About six months ago, Nigerians participated in general elections which were held throughout the federation. Fallouts of the polls include litany of court cases which have seen most politicians temporarily relocating to court rooms to either “seek redress”, or “defend their mandate.” Chief among the reasons for this is the contentious issue of realtime electronic transmission of results.

As a journalist who was duly accredited to cover the polls, I attest that many officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were unable to transmit results from polling units. Many factors including network glitches and malfunctioning of gadgets such as the BVAS Machines derailed such expectations. Many cases filed on the ground that INEC failed to electronically collate and transmit results have already been dismissed in courts. Justices hold that although the 2022 Electoral Act (as amended) mentions electronic transmission and collation, it did not however foreclose other modes.

According to them, the correct interpretation of Sections 50(2) and 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022, is that INEC is at liberty to prescribe the manner in which election results could be collated and transmitted. This position has been upheld in several cases up to the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

However, given the inherent advantages of electronic collation and transmission, the Senators, at the summit, resolved to make it mandatory from the next general elections in 2027, including the uploading of polling unit-level results and result sheets used at different levels of result collation. Such a lofty resolution is hereby endorsed by me. Transparency shall be enhanced.

The Senators also resolved to legislate and make it possible for Nigerians in Diaspora to vote, at least in the presidential elections. While harbouring some reservations about INEC’s capability to organise external elections, given its inability to address internal issues like accessing permanent voter cards, effectiveness of gadgets, corruption, and even insecurity which prevents many electorates from voting, I wish to laud the idea of Diasporans participating in the process. It could be a success if properly organised.

The burgeoning Diaspora population could have a huge say in elections back home. The Federal Government of Nigeria puts the population of her citizens living abroad at 17 million. The about 4 million Nigerians living in neighbouring Cameroon (4 million) is roughly at par with the combined home population of Guinea Bissau (2 Million) and Gambia (2 Million). To further put it into context, the estimated 17 million Nigerians abroad are par with the home population of a massive nation like Senegal (17 Million).

In terms of contributions to the economy of their home countries, Nigerians in Diaspora are at the forefront. A World Bank report published in 2021 revealed that Nigerians in Diaspora remitted $65.34bn in three years (2019-2021), to boost the economy of their home country. The report added that in the years under review, on a per-person average, Nigeria received more Diaspora remittances than India and Bangladesh – other top destinations of Diaspora remittances.

Futhermore, for emphasis, the International Monetary Fund explains that “remittances are household income from foreign economies arising mainly from the temporary or permanent movement of people to those economies,” adding that “remittances include cash and noncash items that flow through formal channels such as electronic wire, or through informal channels, such as money or goods.”

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The foregoing underlines the need for the strong numerical base and strong economic power of Nigerians in Diaspora to be utilised during electioneering. They have the numbers and economic independence to determine who becomes what when elections set in. Their education, exposure and ability to spot competent and credible candidates; and not submit to vote buying and other negative tendencies, is a good omen that has to be keyed into. This, again, was a good recommendation by the Senators. Proper legislative work can lay a foundation for Diaspora voting to be kick-started.

The 10th Senate also stipulated sanctions for failure to submit the register of party members not later than 30 days before the date of party primaries, congresses, or conventions in relation to Section 77(3) EA22, which the political parties have observed in the breach in the 2023 elections without penalty. If implemented, this would go a long way to curb the excesses of most political parties, aspirants and/or candidates.

The unbundling of INEC was also proposed, to improve efficiency of the electoral body. This actually topped the list of recommendations on elections at the summit. On this, I adopt the very revered Professor Sam Egwu’s position as mine: “for a country of this size, magnitude of demographic, and all the levels of difference you have to deal with, why can’t you have a slim organisation that devotes a substantial amount of its time to conducting the election, harvesting all national energies and engaging stakeholders to do so, while some important aspects that can derail INEC focus can be handed over to other bodies? This country needs a commission dedicated to electoral offences. We need another body, for example, that can handle party registration and all the governance of political parties. Because the strength of any democracy is a reflection of the strength of the party system.”

I, however, make bold to add that the unbundling would be ineffective if those bodies are not strengthened and made to be truly independent. To add, former INEC boss, Prof Attahiru Jega’s recent call that the President and Governors should cease appointing INEC Chairmen and Chairmen of State Electoral bodies, must be heeded, if we are to make any headway in strengthening INEC.

The 3-day Retreat which was organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, made salient prescriptions which have the efficacy of curing some of our hydra-headed electoral maladies. Such was definitely a product of experience and steep research. Kudos to the 10th Senate led by Senator Godswill Akpabio for acknowledging the need to rectify those concerns.