The Independent National Electoral Commission’s plan to transmit election results electronically in 2023 is currently in doubt as the Federal Government has recently revealed that only 473 out of 774 local government areas in the country have access to the Internet.
This means that about 301 local government areas have no Internet access, thus transmitting election results in those areas may be impossible in 2023 even if the Electoral Act is amended.
According to the National Development Plan 2021 – 2025 launched last week by President Buhari, 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 an 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 about the current development explained what government must do to ensure electronic transfer of election results in the 301 LGAs.
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 stated that it was possible to transmit results electronically as far as the pressing issues were addressed.
In his words, “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 at 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 an 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, however, 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.
On his part, a former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof Lai Olurode, said the lack of Internet facilities in some local government areas posed no threat to the transmission of results, as INEC had the 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 the conduct of polls, noted that in places with no internet facilities, election results could be transmitted through manual platforms.
Olurode said, “The law on electronic transmission of results has been amended by the National Assembly to give INEC the power to determine to adopt electronic transmission of results as it is convenient.
“It is not compulsory that we should have an 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 results 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 anonymously spoke, 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 technology. There is a new technology that you can deploy to these local governments 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.”