The Independent National Electoral Commission would have to do more to pass on its current narrative over the server controversy, writes Chuks Okocha
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi legal team applied to the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, asking the court to permit the team to inspect the server used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
INEC, in a counter affidavit filed at the Court of Appeal, denied that the commission had a server and in the words of the INEC counsel during the hearing, “The Appellant (The PDP and Atiku/Obi) is testing the waters with both legs. INEC cannot provide what they don’t have.”
Few days later, the INEC headquarters in Abuja, in a bid to defend the obvious rigmarole and somersault of the commission, referred Nigerians to a speech of the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, sometime before the elections in February and March.
In that speech, the commission’s Chairman explained the constraint of INEC in transmitting results to the SERVER, citing network coverage across the country and other logistics.
The commission further explained that the SERVER was used in some off-season elections in Osun State and others, before the general election to test-run the system, but claimed it was not used in the February 23, Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
First, INEC at the Court of Appeal through its legal counsel vehemently denied that the Commission transmitted the results of 2019 residential election, arguing that since the President did not sign the electoral act amendments into law, there was no way it could have transmitted the results of the election. Then it went on to deny that it had a server, reiterating that the commission could not provide what it didn’t have.
Thirdly, the commission later made a U-turn, saying a certain server was used in the off-season elections before the general elections.
Fourthly, INEC Chairman and other commissioners of the commission like Mike Igini, had told the world that in the 2019 General Election, the commission would transmit results to INEC server as a backup, in order to prevent rigging and sustain the confidence of Nigerians on the electoral process.
Fifthly, there were reports showing clearly that INEC made budgetary provisions for the purchase of servers, and training of ICT Ad-Hoc staff for the purposes of transmitting results after collation to the said server. It further showed that INEC deployed the ICT crew on election day and honorarium paid to them.
Now, the BIG Questions
Does INEC have a server (s)? Were results transmitted to the server during the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly Elections? Why is INEC denying the existence of its server? Can the court prosecute INEC for lying on oath, if it confirms that INEC indeed has a server?
Will the Presidential Tribunal grant the PDP and Atiku/Obi legal team access to inspect the said SERVER and electoral materials used in the February 23, 2019 Presidential Election?
These questions and more are seriously begging for answers.
The commission gave clarifications on the controversy over the non-electronic transmission of the 2019 elections, stating that President Muhammadu Buhari not signing the amended electoral act practically made it impossible for the commission to transfer the results electronically.
Enter the Blame Game
The commission said it was indeed ready to transmit the results electronically, but the results could be declared a nullity for operating outside the dictates of the electoral act as amended in 2010. Why were ICT staff responsible transmission and data management deployed for the election? Why were they paid honorarium for election duty? If INEC did’t have a central server as it now claims, where were the data captured by Smart Card Readers stored? Is it some form of server or what?
A Senior INEC official that spoke with THISDAY, said though he did not want to comment as it was an issue before the Presidential Election Tribunal, he however admitted that the commission has a server and was ready to transmit the elections electronically, if the amended electoral act was signed into law.
According to the INEC official, “Yes, we have a server or website. We have a website for the registration of voters. We have a server for political parties registration, where all data are stored. We also operated a pilot transmission of results in the Ondo and Osun States governorship elections.
“But all our efforts came to naught with the President not signing the electoral act in the twilight of our preparations for the elections. So, we consulted on what to do and we were advised to stick to the subsisting laws on the elections. This is because to insist to go ahead with the transmission of the electronic elections could put the elections in great danger.
“Someone could go to court and say we operated outside of the constitutionally recognised rules of the elections. Someone could go to court and the election would be declared null and void”, the INEC official said.
He also referred THISDAY to what the Supreme Court said on the smart card reader involving election of Governor Nyesom Wike in 2015, where it was held that the smart card reader was not covered by electoral laws.
“Another point is the non-coverage of the country by the Global Systems Mobile Communications (GSM). We discovered that over twenty per cent of the country is out the coverage of the major GSM providers. This is what we called the blind spot.
“We consulted the National Communication Commission and the Computer and Satellites Communication Association and we were advised to avoid this controversy. So, the main problem was how do we transmit the election results electronically to this 20 per cent we refer as blind spot.
“Another challenge is the fear of people hacking into the electronic results as it is being transmitted”, the INEC official said, adding the general election was too contentious to enable anyone toy with it.
On what happened to the N2. 27 Billion already appropriated for the Information Communication Technology, the official said, “I told you that we were ready for the electronic transmission, but for the non-signing of the electoral act.
“It is worth mentioning that the word server is likewise used four times in INEC’s “2017-2021 Strategic Programme of Action.”
Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), a nonprofit group committed to facilitating legislative advocacy and access to public policies said INEC’s ICT department was expected to award contracts by the first quarter of each year for the upgrade of existing mail server and expansion of INEC mail system to states and local government offices.
PLAC also said that the department was to get approval by the second quarter of 2017 and 2018 for the procurement of servers for all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. It was also to upgrade the server version of Open VR for compatibility with the new Dell Server.
The renewal and maintenance of cloud infrastructure as well as the development of data management tools “for archiving election results and other electoral activities” were also provided for in the programme of action,” it claimed.
It is true that monies (over N2 billion naira) meant for the procurement and upgrade of servers, were approved for INEC by the National Assembly and it has had a long-term plan favouring the electronic storage of electoral results.
The amount was also released to the INEC and the commission reported it as utilised. Therefore, if the agency insists it does not have a server, then it has some explaining to do on how exactly it spent the appropriated funds.