INEC postpones governorship and state assembly elections to March 18
•Says postponement to ensure adequate time to backup data stored on over 176,000 BVAS used for presidential, NASS elections
•Political parties can apply for certified true copies of backend data of BVAS
•Appeal court refuses to stop commission from reconfiguring BVAS
•Situation Room expresses concern over move by commission to reset devices
•Supplementary polls to be conducted in Doguwa/Tudun Wada federal constituency
Chuks Okocha, Alex Enumah, Adebayo Akinwale and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday announced the postponement of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 11, to March 18. This announcement came hours after the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja granted the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) request to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections.
Festus Okoye, National Commissioner of INEC and Chairman of the Voter Education and Publicity Committee, said in a statement released yesterday that the decision to postpone the elections was made to allow enough time to back up the data from the presidential and National Assembly elections stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines, and then to reconfigure the machines for the governorship and House of Assembly elections.
Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, the presidential candidates for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party, respectively, were given permission to inspect “all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 25, 2023” by Justice Joseph Ikyegh of the Court of Appeal in a decision on an ex parte application delivered on March 3.
Additionally, the court approved electronic scanning and/or photocopying of the registration and ballots used in the presidential election for both candidates.
The order furthermore gave Atiku and Obi permission to “carry out digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25” presidential election.
Atiku and Obi were given access to INEC’s database, but INEC was not happy with the decision and asked the appellate court to change the ruling on the grounds that doing so would reveal the identities of voters and how they cast their ballots in the presidential election. Additionally, INEC argued that granting the order’s request for variation could have an impact on how the state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections, which are currently scheduled for March 18, are conducted.
For the March 18 elections, INEC stated that it must first reconfigure the machines, which “entails purging the accreditation data in the BVAS,” before deploying the BVAS used for the presidential election. It also stated that prior to the reconfiguration, all BVAS data would have been saved on the accreditation back-end server.
The appellate court ruled that INEC’s motion was unnecessary because it had previously denied Obi and Atiku permission to electronically enter INEC’s database in its March 3 decision.
Ikyegh declared, “The refusal will not harm the applicant; it is hereby refused.
It did not, however, intervene to prevent INEC from changing how the BVAS used to conduct the presidential and National Assembly elections was used.
Ikyegh made the decision in response to a motion on notice filed by LP and Obi.
Okoye provided an explanation for the decision to postpone the elections, saying that “following today’s (Wednesday) ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) on the reconfiguration of the BVAS used for the presidential election held on February 25, 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, March 11, 2023.
“Nigerians would recall that on March 3, 2023, the Presidential EPT had issued an ex-parte order directing some political parties to examine materials used for the presidential election, including the forensic examination of more than 176,000 BVAS, which are housed in INEC LGA offices throughout the nation.
Given that the BVAS systems were to be used for the governorship and state Assembly elections, as well as the potential disruption caused by the inspection’s lack of a clearly defined timeframe, the commission asked the tribunal to reconsider the order.
For instance, according to Okoye, the BVAS could only be turned on at the precise time and date of an election. The BVAS needed to be reconfigured in order to be activated on the day of the governorship and state Assembly elections, he continued, after being used for the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25.
Although the tribunal’s decision allowed the commission to start preparing the BVAS for the governorship and State Assembly elections, the national commissioner continued, it has come far too late for the reconfiguration to be completed.
The commission has therefore decided to reschedule the governorship and State Assembly elections, which will now take place on Saturday, March 18, 2023, according to Okoye.
By virtue of this decision, campaigns will continue through Thursday, March 16, 2023, at midnight, or 24 hours before the new election date.
“This decision has not been taken lightly,” the commission insisted, “but it is necessary to ensure that there was adequate time to back up the data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023, and, then, to reconfigure them for the governorship and State Assembly elections.”
Okoye emphasized that this had been the custom during every election, even when the commission was utilizing Smart Card Readers. He made it clear that the commission was not opposed to litigants viewing election materials, and he added that it would keep allowing all litigants access to the materials they need to pursue their cases in court. “We want 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,” the commission said in a statement (IReV). Political parties are eligible to request Certified True Copies of the BVAS’s backend data. Additionally, interested parties will still be able to access the BVAS results on IReV.
While this was going on, the Court of Appeal earlier dismissed an INEC lawsuit that asked the appellate court to change an earlier decision that had allowed the PDP and LP to examine election materials used in the February 25 presidential election.
Because the concerns raised by the electoral umpire were unfounded, the appellate court dismissed INEC’s lawsuit as unnecessary. It further stated that, in contrast to INEC’s assertion, the appellate court had refused to give PDP and LP access to INEC’s database.
However, the court noted that it had previously granted the plaintiffs’ requests for forensic inspection of the BVAS and Certified True Copies of the election results from the BVAS in its decision on March 3. Obi and LP’s motion sought permission to conduct digital forensic inspection of the BVAS as well as an order prohibiting INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines used until they had finished inspection of the BVAS machines.
Based on the upcoming elections for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly, the panel declined to prevent INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines.
The decision was based on INEC submissions stating that the information in the BVAS that needed to be reconfigured had been stored on the inaccessible accreditation back-end server. It also stated that the plaintiffs could always access data from the back-end server in the BVAS.
Furthermore, the court noted that the INEC’s assertion regarding the back-end server was not in dispute, adding that a fact that is not in dispute is deemed admitted.
In a related development, the Court of Appeal allowed the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Bola Tinubu, the APC’s presidential candidate, to inspect election materials used by INEC to conduct the February 25 presidential election in a different ruling.
Tinubu and his party asked the court to order INEC to give them access to the materials so they could adequately prepare to defend their election victory.
After collating the results from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu declared Tinubu the winner of the presidential election on March 1. Tinubu received the most votes cast in the election.
Tinubu won the election with more than eight million votes, followed by Atiku with almost seven million and Obi with just over six million.
The presence of Obi and his supporters, who surrounded the court to watch the decision being made, was one of the highlights of yesterday’s proceedings at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Obi arrived with Martins Agbaso, Chief Victor Umeh, a senator-elect running on the platform of the LP, Julius Abure, the party’s national chairman and a former leader of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The presidential candidate claimed that INEC had refused to abide by the court order allowing him to inspect election materials. The candidate had earlier tweeted that he would personally be in court to witness the day’s proceedings.
Obi admitted that despite the court’s orders, he and his attorneys were unable to access the aforementioned electoral materials.
Situation Room Expresses Concern over INEC’s Quest to Reconfigure BVAS
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room) yesterday expressed concern over the issue of preservation of data collected during the presidential and National Assembly elections.
In a statement jointly signed by Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Ene Obi; Co-Convener, Asma’u Joda; and Co-Convener James Ugochukwu, Situation Room said it would like INEC to clarify to the public how it intended to ensure that data collected in the BVAS used in the election would be preserved for use in the review and audit of the elections.
They said electoral accountability required that information collected during elections were preserved for use in the audit and review of the election and for accountability purposes.
According to the statement, “in the light of the disputations that have emerged and the controversy surrounding the 2023 general elections, Situation Room is asking @inecnigeria to ensure that its records and data related to the election and securely to ensure its use for the purposes of scrutiny and accountability.
“Reports indicating that the BVAS may need to be reconfigured or even erased for the upcoming state governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections is a serious cause for concern and we worry that this could further pose additional credibility questions over the integrity and conduct of the 2023 general elections.”
INEC to Conduct Supplementary Elections in Doguwa/Tudun Wada Federal Constituency
INEC disclosed a plan to conduct supplementary elections in Doguwa/Tudun Wada Federal Constituency.
The Returning Officer for the federal Constituency elections held on February 25, Professor Ibrahim Adamu Yakasai, yesterday, announced the reviewed results of the elections held in Doguwa/Tudun Wada Federal Constituency, saying the results previously announced by him was under duress.
He further stated that INEC made the decision to review the results in accordance with the Electoral Act’s provisions.
Ibrahim announced the choice, citing the following election results: APC – 39,732; NNPP – 34, 798; and PDP – 7,091.
In 13 voting units, he claimed, results had been canceled.
According to Ibrahim, the total number of votes residing in the polling places that were canceled was significant compared to the margin of votes cast favoring the APC and NNPP.
According to him, there were 6,917 PVCs total collected in the 13 polling places that were canceled, compared to the over 4,000 vote difference between the APC and NNPP.