Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that prolonged public discussion on whether the Independent National Electoral Commission has a computer server and if it was deployed to work in the 2019 national elections encourages all types of theories
At the beginning of the week, the latest twist to the debate trailing the availability of a computer server in the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had emerged as presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubaker denied a statement credited to him.
A group, YouthSupportPDP had twitted part of a speech supposedly by Abubakar, saying, “My server results are authentic and if the judges frustrate justice we will take over the street. I will lead all Nigerians in a massive protest that mankind have never witness before.” On the surface, it looked like a piece of communication from a sufficiently aggrieved person like Abubakar. On closer examination, however, it could be observed that the message was filled with many errors including antiquated spellings that is not in the character of the Abubakar public communication team.
It was, therefore, not a surprise when Abubakar said the statement did not emanate from him or his aides. Reaffirming his believe in the rule of law and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Abubakar said he will not take any action that will stand against democracy. “My attention has been drawn to a statement circulating in the media, to the effect that I plan to lead a street protest in the event that the election petition tribunal rules against my party and I on the issue of a server for the Independent National Electoral Commission. Such a statement did not emanate from me or my privies.
It is the work of mischief makers who want to mar my spotless pro-democratic record and lay the ground work for their threatened actions against me on false charges of being a threat to national security. For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in the Rule of Law and in the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In my almost four decades in politics, I have never taken action or spoken words against democracy and I will not start now,” he stated.
The current round of argument over INEC computer server started after the announcement of the result of the 2019 presidential election which showed that President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had defeated Abubakar with over three million votes. Abubakar and the PDP promptly rejected the result, which it described as a sham. INEC had declared Buhari winner of the election after polling 15,191,847 votes. Atiku polled 11,262,978 votes to place second.
In their petition to the Presidential Election Tribunal on March 18, Abubakar and the PDP contended that “from the data” obtained from INEC’s server, “the true, actual and correct results” showed that they polled 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari, who they said scored 16,741,430 votes. Abubakar in April, gave the tribunal what he called the “unique MAC address and Microsoft product ID of the INEC server. The figures and votes were transmitted to the first Respondent’s Presidential Result’s Server 1 and thereafter aggregated in INEC_PRES_RSLT_SRV2019, whose Physical Address or unique Mac Address is 94-57-A5-DC-64-B9 with Microsoft Product ID 00252-7000000000-AA535,” he said.
The PDP Presidential candidate and his party were said to have made unauthorized intrusion into INEC’s computer server. Dr. Kayode Ajulo, a constitutional lawyer denounced hacking the computer server of the INEC, describing it as an act of terrorism. According to him the provisions of cybercrime act 2015 recognised INEC server as one of the Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII).
Taking steps to address the issue, the APC on March 25 petitioned the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Service (DSS), accusing the PDP of illegally accessing the server of the INEC. Festus Keyamo, spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, urged the security agencies to question the leadership of the PDP on their claims relating to the INEC server.
Though the APC has accused the main opposition party of hacking, the PDP has not said if it obtained the information in its possession through criminal hacking of the server or through criminal conspiracy of some INEC officials.
Returning the barrage of attacks against his party and its presidential candidate, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, alleged that the APC was panicking because of the case instituted before the tribunal by the party and Abubakar. The PDP further said President Buhari was overweighed by the burden of illegitimacy, following overwhelming evidence before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that he stole the presidential mandate, according to the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan.
Last week, INEC created a very unpleasant situation, in which a lot of people got very angry and complained, when the electoral body claimed at the presidential election tribunal sitting in Abuja that it did not have or use any electronic server for the 2019 presidential election. The PDP and its presidential candidate Abubakar had earlier moved a motion seeking for access to inspect the server and data of smart card reader used by the INEC in the conduct of the presidential election. The PDP argued that the order will be in the interest of justice, fair hearing and neutrality to enable the petitioners to maintain their petition. Responding to the application, counsel to INEC, Mr. Yunus Usman asked the tribunal to refuse the request of the petitioners. “The PDP said we should bring something we don’t have,” Usman told the court. The All Progressives Congress (APC) through its counsel, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi aligned itself in asking the tribunal to dismiss the application of the PDP.
Documented evidence dating back to March 10, 2015 shows a report by Mr. Kayode Robert Idowu who served as Chief Press Secretary to then INEC Chairman detailing, ‘INEC Statement on Card Reader Demonstration’. It gave a comprehensive account of field reports from the public demonstration of Smart Card Readers (SCRs) conducted in 12 states.
Paragraph four of the report reads, “(iv) The SCR sends the data of all accredited voters to INEC’s central server, equipping the Commission to be able to audit figures subsequently filed by polling officials at the PU and, thereby, be able to determine if fraudulent alterations were made. The public demonstration also succeeded wholly in this regard.” If the INEC admitted the existence of a functional ‘central server’ in its offices in 2015 and allocated monies under several sub-headings to computer server related items in the 2019 national elections, why has it denied these facts?
Buhari allocated N189 billion to INEC to fund the 2019 general election. INEC proposed to spend N143.5 billion on 209 items. Out of that amount, N2.27 billion was budgeted for server-related procurement items, with budget code 230808. “N1.37 billion was budgeted for nationwide replacement of servers for 25 states and National Data Centre, N99.7 million for an upgrade of the server version of OpenVR for compatibility with new Dell server, and N800 million for the migration of voter registration database from MySQL Open Source to OracleDB (both database administration services). INEC also budgeted N157.5 million for the renewal and maintenance of cloud infrastructure, with budget code 230709.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, excused himself from making a statement on the issue when this reporter contacted him. He said, Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the matter because it is subjudice.” He, however, sent video of his boss interview on a national television network to answer our probe. In the interview, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman said, “As for the reason we are not transmitting electronically (election results), we had meetings with the Nigerian Communications Commission and through the NCC we had meetings with the telcos and we have identified many blind spots in Nigeria that are not covered by any of the networks.
How do you effectively transmit results from those blind spots? In order to address the issue of the blind spots, we also had a meeting with the Nigeria Communications Satellite. We have not concluded our meetings with the Nigerian Communications Satellite in that respect. There are two issues, the first is communication with several blind spots. How do you communicate? Secondly, the percentage of the country that is covered by 2G, let alone 3G or 4G network and we have no 5G in Nigeria, is very small.
How do you, in addition to sending raw result from the Polling Units, meaning figures, which is just like sending text message, in addition to sending copies of the EC8A? Sending figures is different from sending images. We have challenges in the area of communication. Equally important, we have a challenge in the area of security, particularly in this era of cyber insecurity. I think we need to do lot more before we then deploy this technology for the purpose of the result nationwide.”
The latest on the INEC computer server controversy is, arguably, the statement by the Deputy Chief Observer for the European Union Observer Mission (EU EOM), Hannah Roberts that the Mission knew nothing about the INEC server, but simply relied on results that were released by INEC.