Saturday Polls: Confusion as litigations, technical gaps, force postponement of elections
…Court ruling came too late to perfect reconfiguration — INEC
…Postpones election to March 18, adjust campaign schedule till midnight Thursday March 16
…Fix bugs, glitches in BVAS machines other election technology, eliminate corrupt staff — NBA to INEC
…INEC issues CoR to Rep-elects
By Moses Adeniyi & Joel Oladele
Technical gaps and distractions from litigations posing contraints against the perfection of plans towards Saturday March 11 gubernatorial and State Assemblies elections have forced a postponement of the second phase of the general elections.
Despite the prayer granted by the Court of Appeal to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has postponed the governorship and State House of Assemblies elections earlier slated for Saturday 11th March.
The Commission extended the time by one week, rescheduling the election for March 18, a postponement by seven days.
The Commision in a statement signed by its National Commissioner & ChairmanInformation and Voter Education, Committee, Barr. Festus Okoye at the late hours of Wednesday said the rescheduling became necessary following the ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) on the reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
Recall that opposition parties have been protesting the INEC’s declaration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the winner of the 25th February presidential election which has led to litigations against the electoral umpire, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the president-elect.
A Court ruling had earlier given an ex-parte order for some political parties to inspect materials used for the Presidential election, including the forensic inspection of over 176,000 BVAS used in the election which are located in INEC LGA offices across the country.
Another ruling was given in favour of INEC on Wednesday to prepare the BVAS for the governorship and State Assembly elections.
However, the Commission said the ruling came too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded, consequently, rescheduling of the elections became imperative so as to have enough time to prepare.
Okoye added that the campaigns will continue until midnight of Thursday 16th March 2023, that is 24 hours before the new date for the election and assured all litigants that the Commission is not in anyway against them and will do everything possible to make everything required within the legal framework available in pursuit of their cause.
The statement reads, “Following today’s ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) on the reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the Presidential election held on 25th February 2023, the Commission met to assess its impact on the Commission’s preparations for the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, 11th March 2023.
“Nigerians would recall that on 3rd March 2023, the Presidential EPT had given an ex-parte order for some political parties to inspect materials used for the Presidential election, including the forensic inspection of over 176,000 BVAS used in the election which are located in INEC LGA offices across the country.
“The Commission approached the Tribunal to reconsider the order, given that the BVAS Systems were to be deployed for the Governorship and State Assembly elections and that the lack of a clearly defined timeframe for the inspection could disrupt the Commission’s ability to conduct the outstanding elections.
“For instance, the BVAS can only be activated on the specific date and time of an election. Having been used for the Presidential and National Assembly elections on 25th February 2023, it is necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the Governorship and State Assembly elections.
“While the ruling of the Tribunal makes it possible for the Commission to commence the preparation of the BVAS for the Governorship and State Assembly elections, it has come far too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded.
“Consequently, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to reschedule the Governorship and State Assembly elections which will now take place on Saturday 18th March 2023. By this decision, campaigns will continue until midnight of Thursday 16th March 2023 i.e. 24 hours before the new date for the election.
“This decision has not been taken lightly but it is necessary to ensure that there is adequate time to back up the data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on 25th February 2023 and then to reconfigure them for the Governorship and State Assembly elections. This has been the practice for all elections, including the period when the Commission was using the Smart Card Readers.
“However, we wish to reiterate that the Commission is not against litigants inspecting election materials. Consequently, it will continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.
“We wish to reassure all political parties and candidates that the data from the Presidential and National Assembly elections will be backed up and available in INEC cloud facilities, including the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV). Political parties can apply for Certified True Copies of the backend data of the BVAS. Also, the results on the BVAS will continue to be available on the IReV for interested parties to access.
“We thank Nigerians and friends of Nigeria for their understanding as we continue to deal with these difficult issues and navigate these challenging times.”
Amidst confusion while official statement was awaited from the Commission on Wednesday, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nigerian NewsDirect that “the news is true,” affirming the Commission is just trying to “put together the press release I guess.”
A source also disclosed that the postponement is as a result of the complexities to reconfigure BVAS machines which may not be concluded before Saturday.
Anxiety had set in on Wednesday over the report of the postponement of the election before INEC late Wednesday night officially confirmed the development.
…Court grants INEC prayer to reconfigure BVAS
Recall there has been a Court impediment on the INEC from tampering with the BVAS technology following a suit filed by aggrieved parties over the Feb. 25 presidential election.
The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, however, on Wednesday, gave INEC, the nod to reconfigure the BVAS used for the presidential election.
The Court, in an unanimous decision by a three-member panel of justices, held that stopping the electoral body from reconfiguring the BVAS would adversely affect Saturday’s governorship and state assemblies elections.
It dismissed objections that the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, raised against INEC’s move to reconfigure all the BVAS.
The Court ruled that allowing the objections by Obi and his party, would amount to “tying the hands of the respondent, INEC.”
Noting that INEC had in an affidavit it filed before the Court, assured that the accreditation data contained in the BVAS could not be tampered with or lost, as they would be stored and easily retrieved from its accredited back-end server, it further observed that neither Obi nor LP controverted the depositions in INEC’s affidavit, stressing that since such averments were not challenged, it amounted to admission by the applicants.
The Court, however, ordered INEC to allow the applicants to inspect and carry out digital forensic examination of all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the elections, as well as to avail them the Certified True Copy, CTC, of result of the physical inspection of the BVAS.
The Justice Joseph Ikyegh-led panel faulted Obi and LP for repeating their request to be allowed to scan and make copies of the electoral materials in INEC’s possession.
Noting that the request was earlier granted, the panel held that repeating the prayer amounted to an abuse of Court process.
Recall the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the LP and their respective candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Obi had approached the Court of Appeal urging the Court to compel INEC to allow them obtain documents used for the presidential election to aid their petitions against the outcome of the presidential election.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja last Friday granted leave to Obi, and his PDP counterpart, Atiku, to have access to all the sensitive materials used by INEC for the conduct of the Feb. 25 presidential election.
A panel of the appellate court led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh made the order after hearing two separate ex parte applications the two aggrieved presidential candidates filed alongside their political parties.
Specifically, the applicants urged the court to compel INEC to allow them to obtain documents used for the presidential election to aid their petitions against the outcome of the presidential election.
They sought “an order granting the applicants’ permission to do electronic scanning and make photocopies of voter registration and ballot papers used in the conduct of the election for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on the Feb. 25.
“An order granting leave to the applicants to carry out Digital Forensic Inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the Feb. 25 election for the Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The plaintiffs also sought an order restraining INEC “from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until due inspection was conducted and Certified True Copies of them issued.”
The Court, in its consideration, ordered INEC to allow the applicants to inspect all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the presidential election.
The Court permitted the appellants to do electronic scanning and or make photocopies of voter registration and ballot papers used in the conduct of the presidential election.
“That leave is hereby granted to the applicants to carry out Digital Forensic Inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the Feb. 25, 2023 Election for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the Court ordered.
Cited as respondents in the matter were INEC, the declared winner of the presidential election, Tinubu, as well as his party, the APC.
Both applications were predicated on Section146 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022, Paragraph 47 (1, 2 &3) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act of 2022, as well as under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court as referenced by Section 6 (6) A & B of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
While Obi, in his application marked CA/PEC/02M/23, which was moved by his team of lawyers led by Mr. Alex Ejesieme (SAN), sought six principal reliefs, Atiku’s lawyer, Mr. Adedamola Faloku, sought seven prayers from the tribunal.
Consequent upon the order, INEC on Monday approached the Court of Appeal in Abuja for an order to allow it reconfigure its Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the March 11 State elections.
The Commission’s resort to the Court, was in reaction to pray it to vary the orders it granted for candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi to be allowed to inspect sensitive materials that were used for the presidential election.
INEC, in its legal process dated March 4, urged the appellate court, which will sit as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, to vary the order to enable it to reconfigure the BVAS it used for the presidential poll.
The Commission told the Court that the configuration was necessary since the BVAS would also be deployed for the next round of elections, which include the governorship and state assemblies elections billed for Saturday, as well as other rescheduled elections.
According to INEC, without a prompt variation of the inspection order granted to Obi and Atiku, especially the aspect restraining it from tampering with formation contained in the BVAS, it would be difficult for it to proceed with the scheduled elections.
While opposing the application, INEC told the Court that there were a total of 176,000 BVAS that were deployed to polling units during the presidential election.
“Each polling unit has its own particular BVAS machine which we need to configure for the forthcoming elections.
“It will be very difficult for us, within the period, to reconfigure the 176,000 BVAS.
“We have already stated in our affidavit that no information in the BVAS will be lost as we will transfer all the data in the BVAS to our back-end server.
“We need the BVAS configured. So, granting this application will be a cog in the process and may delay the conduct of the elections,” INEC’s lead lawyer, Tanimu Inuwa (SAN), pleaded.
…Fix bugs, glitches in BVAS machines other election technology, eliminate corrupt staff — NBA to INEC
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has called on INEC to fix all bugs or glitches recorded in the use of BVAS machines and other technology used during the Feb. 25 presidential/NASS polls.
Recall that the NBA Election Working Group had deployed over 1,000 INEC-accredited observers, drawn from 128 branches of the association to monitor elections across the 36 states and the FCT.
The NBA in a call on INEC on Wednesday in Abuja contained in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Akorede Habeeb-Lawal, told the Commission to excuse staff, including collation and returning officers, with proven cases of misconduct in the Feb. 25 elections from the gubernatorial/state assembly’s elections.
“The NBA urges INEC to ensure that all bugs or glitches in the BVAS machines and other election technology are fixed and improved.
“All INEC staff, including collation and returning officers, with proven cases of misconduct in the Feb. 25 elections should be excluded from the March 11 elections,” it said.
The Association urged the Inspector-General of Police to ensure the timely deployment of police officers on duty for the elections.
It also called on political parties to educate their members and supporters on the need to eschew all forms of actions in violation of the Electoral Act.
The NBA commended Nigerians for their resilience and perseverance in carrying out their civic duties, during the presidential and national assembly elections.
The Association encouraged citizens to show the same values and resolve in the upcoming governorship and state houses of assembly elections.
The NBA urged INEC to address some major challenges observed during the Feb. 25 presidential and national assembly elections.
“These include the late arrival of INEC officials and ballot materials at the polling stations, malfunctioning BVAS machines, limited or non-transmission of the results from the polling units to the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV),” the body of lawyers said.
Other challenges it pointed out include insecurity at some polling units, violent attacks on voters and officials, voter intimidation, snatching and destruction among others.
The association said that findings from their observers indicated that, only a quarter of the electorate representing 27.1 per cent were impressed with the conduct of the elections.
“The majority of the voters representing 64.6 per cent said they are somewhat satisfied,” it said.
It also said its observers found out that only 8.2 per cent of the electorate rated the election poor or very poor.