By Nathaniel Gana
31st January, 2018
An indication that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) might deploy electronic collation and transmission of results in the 2019 General Elections emerged on 30 January, when the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu formally asked the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for assistance to attain the goal.
In an unprecedented move, Prof. Yakubu led some Commission members and Directors to the NCC headquarters in Abuja where he declared: “The time has come to electronically collate and transmit election results.”
After a warm welcome by the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta and his team of top management staff, Prof. Yakubu reiterated INEC’s commitment to deepening the introduction and deployment of technology in elections.
He said: “the Commission introduced and deployed the biometric voter register in the 2011 General Elections and the Smart Card Reader (SCR) in the 2015 General Elections. The time has come to electronically collate and transmit election results. We are convinced that by doing so, results will be transmitted faster and more accurately from the Polling Units to the various collation and declaration centres.
“In several re-run and bye-elections conducted since the 2015 General Elections, the Commission has deployed the electronic collation and transmission platforms on a pilot basis. More recently, we conducted simultaneous electronic and manual transmission of results in some major elections. We are planning for full deployment this year in the Governorship elections in Ekiti State in July and Osun State in September. Thereafter, we intend to deploy the system in the 2019 General Elections.”
But to achieve this objective, Prof. Yakubu averred that it was imperative for the Commission to discuss with the telecommunications operators in Nigeria. While INEC possesses the hardware and had already developed the software, he affirmed, the Commission would have to rely on the operators for the transmission of both the figures and the scanned images of result sheets.
He however assured all Nigerians: “while we will transmit the raw figures from the Polling Units, scanned images of the result sheets will also be transmitted electronically in addition to the physical copies given to political party agents at each Polling Unit and each level of collation. Therefore, there will be paper trail against which the integrity of electronically-transmitted figures can be compared and verified.”
In order for INEC to finalise its preparations, Prof. Yakubu implored the NCC to facilitate a meeting between INEC and the telecommunications operators to provide the Commission with the combined network coverage map for all operators in the country, including network strength that could help INEC deploy its e-collation system successfully.
The proposed meeting, he further explained, would discuss data security in the course of transmission of results in order to safeguard the security of the process.
Another issue to be discussed, he stated, is the possibility of the NCC facilitating the provision and registration of exclusive SIM cards with special numbers for use in the Smart Card Readers.
“These numbers, he noted, “should be registered in the name of INEC, instead of the current practice of using cards sourced from the open market and registered in the personal names of our officials. This will help in the management of database and dataset of the allocated numbers. It will also help to guard against the delisting of the SIM cards when they are not active for a prolonged period of time. Doing so will also enable the encryption of information thereby providing additional security in the course of transmitting both data and image.”
The INEC Chairman added: “we would like the NCC to facilitate discussion with the operators on ways of enhancing their corporate social responsibility to Nigeria’s electoral process. An immediate area of interest to INEC is how the operators can help in voter education and publicity. Towards the 2019 General Elections, we would like the operators, in collaboration with INEC, to send bulk SMS and possibly voice messenger as well on the imperative of peaceful elections, the collection of the Permanent Voter Cards by registered voters and directional information on the location of Polling Units for easy access to voters.”
Responding, Prof. Danbatta assured the INEC Chairman that the NCC was committed to free, fair and credible elections. He said: “We will bring to bear, our wealth of experience in the area of information and communications technology expertise in ensuring that the 2019 elections meet with the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. We are about to witness what has never happened. We will be active participants. We will offer our operational experience to ensure that we obtain the desired results.”
The two organisations immediately set up a technical committee, comprising members from both sides to work out the details of the collaboration.