By Okoh Aihe
When the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan, wakes up in the future to look at the history books, his name will be written in infamy. Reason being that at a time the country was drunken with violence and looked for good leadership to take momentous decisions, members of the National Assembly which he led, had inverted reasoning as they buried their heads in obloquy and insouciant irresponsibility.
The case of the Senate President is particularly goring because he is too superficial in cogitation to understand how desperately Nigeria needs help. Days prior, before the vote on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, whose major beef was the electronic transmission of election results, Lawan complained bitterly that his phone was swamped with 900 SMS in one day. What absolute flapdoodle and indecorous psychobabble from a guy whose bills are paid by the very voters he is leading his team at the National Assembly to castrate with premeditated deceit.
They still managed to flash a smile to wish away that moment of national embarrassment oozing out on the floor of the National Assembly, explaining that the process may be revisited in the future to enrich the Act as development unfolds. They couldn’t also reason that the show of shame which some Nigerians had prayed shouldn’t happen, in order to redeem some of the Senators of their last shred of humanity, could throw the country in such a spiral that even that future they envisaged might not show up at all.
But that was not their problem. Two things were at stake: the future of the country which desired transparent elections and the political future of some of the law makers at the National Assembly. In the two chambers – House of Representative and the Senate, a majority of the law makers chose their political future, never for once thinking that they need a stable polity first before their political future. Any way no degenerate thinks of the other person except his safety. This writer is one of those who believe that quite a number of the lawmakers at the National Assembly didn’t get there through healthy means. They rigged their way in but we are too sanctimonious as a people to confront the truth and point this at their faces. So voters living in IDP camps who, ordinarily should be angry that their country has failed them, returned a perfect voting score during the last elections, more than any other part of the country where there was relative peace.
Since this is a season of abnegation of responsibilities by the political leadership of this country, the National Assembly went a step further to obfuscate any discerning concerns on the Bill by inviting the INEC chairman and the NCC Executive Vice Chairman for professional consultation. You see, their failed enterprise must be hanged on a fall guy. They have to hide behind some walls. It was all politics. The puppeteers were working towards one result: how to rig the next elections and remain in power for ever more. The INEC Chairman never showed up. Only the NCC came and nearly validated the position of the National Assembly with a submission which nearly indicated that every of our hope of progress in the telecommunications industry is all but smoke. The submission was based on 2018 electoral coverage which was to the effect that 50 per cent of the polling units had 3G coverage while 49 per cent had 2G network. The EVC represented by Engr. Ubale Maska, an Executive Commissioner, submitted that only 3G was needed for results to be transmitted electronically.
But INEC has made a riposte, saying it was ready to adopt modern technologies in the conduct of elections in Nigeria including electronic transmission of results, adding it had carried out some test run in Edo and Ondo States which went very well.
I have seen some reports roasting the NCC for making such submission and they don’t edify my spirit. What did you expect the NCC to say?
A source from the telecoms regulatory authority told this writer that the National Assembly invited the wrong parties. They should have invited the service providers who have the overall picture of the industry network deployment, the source maintained.
While explaining that INEC has the capacity to transmit election results electronically, Festus Okoye, an INEC Commissioner, was reported as saying that “the Joint Technical Committee constituted by the Commission and the Nigerian Communications Commission and made of telecommunication operators met on March 9, 2018, and the consensus was that the requirements for the electronic transfer of results proposed by INEC is practicable. The meeting, therefore, agreed that the solution that INEC wants to deploy is possible.”
Did the National Assembly call for this report before members took their votes or they simply wished that Nigerians could be cured of the past so much that they won’t ever remember what happened a couple of years ago? This writer is also aware that some years ago, the NCC through the Universal Service Provision Funds (USPF) produced the Access Gap Map which indicated service blind spots or gaps across the country. Did the National Assembly member study that Map before taking their votes?
Read the Act setting up the NCC, the Nigerian Communications Act 2003. There is nowhere in the Act where the Commission is empowered to get involved in election matters. What the National Assembly did is to overburden a supposedly independent regulatory authority which is also laboring to find a cure to its ailment. Or are they pretending not to know that the regulatory body is currently going through some troubling ailment?
Let this be a word for them. Under this administration in which they make laws, some regulatory authorities, especially the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), have been in chains, nearly ruined by the ministers who superintend them. The hold of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, on the NCC is particularly distressing. A regulator should be free from all government encumbrances but under this administration, the internal matters of the telecoms regulatory body is regulated by a minister with scant knowledge of telecom matters. In fact, the Minister has set up his office in one of the facilities of the regulator. Let the lawmakers search for any other country of the world where this has happened. Except a seedy country going to bits.
This is the other possibility they didn’t think about or simply tried to keep away from public scrutiny. Should the lawmakers succeed in their shenanigan, a telecoms rookie and a political cum religious maverick like Pantami would be the one writing election results in future. What a shame!
The law makers seem to have a phobia for technology, so they prefer to live in the past. Unfortunately technology is tracking every of their action for posterity, and future generations will condemn some of these law makers for being satanic arbitrates in the life of a nation that needed protection from a generation of failed leaders.
Okoh Aihe writes from Abuja.