The Senate on 15 July passed the long-awaited Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The upper house during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill also approved the electronic transmission of results during elections, provided that such areas are adjudged by the National Communications Commission (NCC) to be adequately covered under its national coverage and approved by the National Assembly. The Committee in its recommendation initially prescribed that “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.” This, however, was amended by the Deputy Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi (All Progressives Congress – Niger North) to read, “The Commission may consider the electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.” Senators Sabi Abdullahi and Ali Ndume (APC- Borno South) argued that the blanket recommendation by the Committee for electronic transmission of results in all parts of the country would deprive Nigerians residents in areas with weak or no network coverage from participating in the electoral process. However, lawmakers such as Enyinnaya Abaribe (Peoples Democratic Party – Abia-South), Thompson Sekibo (PDP – Rivers East) and Albert Bassey (PDP – Akwa Ibom North-East), who belong to the opposition disagreed with Abdullahi and Ndume, insisting that the previous recommendation be retained. Bassey’s counter amendment, which insisted for retention of the Committee’s recommendation as captured in Clause 52, Sub-clause 3, nevertheless suffered rejection when put to a voice vote by the Senate President. Out of a total of 80 Senators present, 52 voted for the retention of the ‘Sabi Abdullahi Amendment’, while 28 who belonged to the PDP voted for the ‘Bassey Amendment’. The other 28 Senators that make up the 108 in the upper chamber, excluding the Senate President, were absent during plenary. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives devolved into chaos on the same day over the bill. While the clause-by-clause analysis of the bill was being considered at the “committee of the whole”, Deputy Minority Leader Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu – Aninri, Awgu & Oji-River Federal Constituency) moved a motion that clause 52(3) of the bill be amended. Mr Okechukwu proposed that “transmission of election results shall be done electronically”. When the motion was put to a voice vote, the “ayes” were louder than the “nays” but Deputy Speaker Ahmed Wase (APC, Plateau – Wase Federal Constituency) ruled in favour of the “nays”. A fierce argument, however, ensued, while some lawmakers approached the cubicle where Mr Wase was seated. When relative calm returned, Mr Wase said the lawmakers approached his seat to insult him. “We have legal rights to canvas issues and lobby each other. I take exception to those who came here to insult me,” he said. As the proceeding continued, James Faleke (APC, Lagos – Ikeja Federal Constituency) moved another amendment that “election results may be transmitted both electronically and manually.” But Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers – Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency) argued that there is a substantive motion which is yet to receive any ruling. Chinda moved a motion that the house should resort to a “division” and conduct a headcount, but his motion was rejected as the lawmakers shouted to interrupt him. Despite the rejection of electronic transmission of election results by the National Assembly in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, the use of the technology will be feasible in the deepening of democracy in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission said on 17 July, saying that its joint committee made up of telecommunication stakeholders had concluded that electronic transmission was practicable. According to INEC’s Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the commission “has the capacity to transmit election results from the polling units to the Registration Area Collation Centres to the Local Government Collation Centres, the various state, federal and senatorial district collation centres, and the state and national collation centres.” INEC said it “will continue to pilot different solutions bearing in mind that technology is dynamic and can limit human interference in the electoral process. The commission wants broad powers to deploy technology and is not in favour of a particular solution being written into the law.” INEC argues that though the National Assembly has the power to make laws, such powers must not be in conflict with the provisions of the constitution.

Three weeks after he was declared wanted by Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS), Benin’s Direction Générale de la Police Républicaine on Monday night arrested Yoruba self-determination campaigner, Sunday Adeyemo, better known as Sunday Igboho. Igboho was arrested in Cotonou while trying to travel to Germany. According to local reports, Beninoise authorities disembarked Igboho at Cardinal Bernardin International Airport “and then transferred to the Cotonou Criminal Brigade.” While some reports indicated that Igboho had been released and was already on a plane to Germany, his attorney, Yomi Aliyu (SAN) said Tuesday night that the Yoruba agitator remained in Benin’s custody. Abuja was yet to react to the development as of Tuesday night, though senior lawyers and leading Yoruba groups called on Porto Novo to prevent Igboho’s extradition to Nigeria. Almost 24 hours after news of his arrest broke, the DSS is yet to confirm the authenticity or otherwise of the story. The DSS had on 1 July declared Igboho wanted for allegedly stockpiling arms, an allegation he has since denied. His two associates were shot dead in an exchange of gunfire with the security operatives while 12 suspects were arrested during the operation to arrest him at his residence in Ibadan.

Intense gunfire from bandits caused a Nigerian fighter jet to crash in northwestern Zamfara state, but the pilot survived by ejecting from the aircraft. Nigeria’s air force said Monday the crash occurred on Sunday as the Alpha jet, a light attack aircraft, was returning to base from a mission on the Zamfara-Kaduna border. The jet “came under intense enemy fire which led to its crash”, an air force statement said, but pilot Abayomi Dairo successfully ejected. “Luckily, the gallant pilot … successfully ejected from the aircraft,” air force spokesman Edward Gabkwet said. “Using his survival instincts, the pilot, who came under intense ground fire from the bandits, was able to evade them and sought refuge in nearby settlements awaiting sunset.” The pilot found his way to an army base “where he was finally rescued”. The government is increasingly turning to the air force to counter banditry. The air force said over the past two weeks, flights daily and nightly over Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states had “neutralised” hundreds of bandits. It is the first time that armed groups active in the region have shot down a military jet. This comes as the National Broadcasting Commission has ordered television and radio stations in the country not to divulge “details” of the activities of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers in their reports. The regulator specifically directed radio and television stations not to “glamourise the nefarious activities of insurgents” during their daily newspaper reviews. Many radio and TV outlets review newspaper headlines daily during their breakfast shows. But the NBC, in a letter dated 7 July, issued to television and radio stations, stressed the need for “caution” by broadcasters while reporting security challenges. The letter titled, signed by the agency’s director of broadcast monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, advised outlets on the “need for caution as too many details may have an adverse implication on the efforts of our security officials who are duty-bound to deal with the insurgency” as well as advise “guests and/or analysts on programmes not to polarise the citizenry with divisive rhetoric, in driving home their point.” The Commission also reminded broadcast stations of Sections 5.4.1(f) and 5.4.3 of the NBC Code which states that “The broadcaster shall not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the divisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state. In reporting conflict situations, the broadcaster shall perform the role of a peace agent by adhering to the principle of responsibility, accuracy and neutrality.” The government has tried to institute stricter controls on free speech and the freedom of the press, pushing the National Assembly to amend both the Nigeria Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act as well as suspend the use of Twitter citing “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

The Kano State Government has sued an Islamic cleric, Abduljabbar Kabara, for blasphemy and incitement. The state Commissioner for Information, Muhammed Garba, stated this in a release made available to journalists on Friday evening. It said that the Kano-based Islamic cleric was famous for controversial religious commentaries and statements, which were regarded as mortifying the companions and the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The government said the decision to take court action followed the receipt of the First Information Report from the police by the Office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. It also said that the accused had been arraigned on 16 July, before an Upper Sharia Court at Kofar Kudu. The accused was charged before Ibrahim Sarki-Yola, for blasphemy, incitement, and sundry offences. The statement added that the court adjourned to 28 July, while the scholar would remain in police custody until 19 July, when he would be remanded in prison till the adjourned date.

Commentary

 It appears that the APC as a policy has taken a stand against the electronic transmission of results – only one APC senator present, Robert Boroffice of Ondo, voted in support of the original Clause 52(3) of the bill. In the House of Representatives, the Deputy Speaker overrode the voice vote that was against the amendment despite the fact that those who were against were louder and more numerous than those who voted for the amendment. There remain questions about the legality of the clause that subjects INEC’s ability to electronically transmit the results from areas to NCC adjudging the areas to be adequately covered by telecoms networks: it is in direct contradiction to the constitutional clauses that give INEC the sole power to manage and supervise elections in Nigeria except for local government elections (elections in the Federal Capital Territory remain federal responsibility). The two versions of the bill will have to be harmonised before being sent to the President for assent and the input of INEC on their ability to carry out the electronic transmission of results could be put into consideration. If it passes, a legal challenge to the law is assured, and that could be a setback to 2023 election planning if the case isn’t timeously disposed of.
 After the lack of clarity on how the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and brought to Nigeria, the security services bit again, this time under a cloud of scrutiny. Unlike in the case of Mr Kanu whose organisation, IPOB, has been declared as a terrorist one by Nigeria’s government, there is no such cover for action against Mr Igboho. The rights of citizens to protest and ask for self-determination are globally recognised and while the Nigerian state has chosen to declare such an agitator a wanted man on its own, we fail to see how it can marshal international law to force Beninoise cooperation. Rather than deal with the issues that created voices like Igboho and Kanu, Nigeria continues to play whack-a-mole with them. The idea of secession in the South West is a fringe issue and despite the best efforts of Igboho and his defenders, it continues to remain so. However, clear parallels continue to be drawn regarding the quick response of the FG to Mr Igboho’s calls for secession compared to how it has turned a blind eye to the media advocacy of Sheikh Ahmed Gumi on behalf of bandits that have almost overrun large parts of the North West; with the latter actions of the government framed in ethno-religious terms. A decent way to properly handle this will be to look into the issues that have plagued the South West such as herdsmen militia attacks that Mr Igboho’s ilk latched on to fuel his message of a Yoruba nation. If the government fails to change direction and insists on a continuation of this trajectory, we will see the emergence of more competent demagogues. We have seen this situation play out in the North East with devastating consequences. Nigeria cannot afford to fail that lesson again.
 The shooting down of a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet by the bandits suggests the use of anti-aircraft weaponry such as general-purpose machine guns (GPMGs) or possibly truck-mounted machine guns. This portends trouble for air interdiction missions and sorties to eliminate the armed groups running amok in Nigeria’s North-West especially as ground forces are spread thin across the country, and will be unable to take on the bandits in the vast area they operate in without a surge in numbers. This attack came in the wake of the NBC’s directive to broadcast stations to limit their coverage of insecurity in the country. The directive which is in the form of an advisory does not have the power of a regulatory order; and might be disregarded by some stations. However, it signals a worrisome trend of efforts by the government to institute strict controls on free speech and the press, using security and terrorism as constant excuses. Coupled with a stalled but live attempt to amend laws to institute even tighter controls on both the National Broadcasting Commission and the Nigeria Press Council, it raises uncomfortable reminders of the infamous Protection Against False Accusations Decree, otherwise known as Decree 4 of 1984 – one of the earliest military decrees signed by President Muhammadu Buhari when he ruled as a military dictator. Old habits do indeed die hard.
 As a socially conservative state, Kano is no stranger to charging people to court for blasphemy according to its Sharia criminal law. Although blasphemy is an offence punishable by death and sentences have been handed out to a few people, no executions have been carried out due to appeals to superior common law courts. However, underlying this case is a battle for supremacy between two Muslim sects, the Salafist Izala group and the Sufist Qaddriyya group which Sheikh Kabara leads, with the former being a hardline sect. It does appear that the Izala group has significant influence in Kano government circles, especially as the leadership of the Hisbah board (the state’s Sharia moral policing body) and the Sharia Implementation committee of the state are dominated by Izalas. It bears noting that in 2016, a Kano Sharia court sentenced a cleric, Abdulazeez Dauda, popularly known as Abdul Inyass who is of the rival Sufist Tijjaniyya sect (Nigeria’s largest Muslim sect). It is not known if Mr Inyass has been released or if an appeal has been made against the sentence, but he has not been executed. Having offered this background, we must point out that we find it unfortunate that a state government, elected under the laws of a country like Nigeria, will use the instruments of state and the resources of its people to pursue religious blasphemy laws. Northern Nigeria is playing with fire, and is already in the early stages of conflagration. Its elite have all but migrated out of the region and reside elsewhere, yet they continue to use political religion as a means to galvanise popular support. This ticking time bomb is morphing to uncontrollable proportions and threatens to gobble up the region. Our counsel is for a course change lest the region continues this inexorable march towards the anarchic state of affairs that obtains in the most unstable parts of the world.