THE UNSPOKEN SECRETS OF THE Z-PAD

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The server controversy has put the credibility of INEC at stake, argues Olayiwola F. Babatunde

One profound secret that INEC has kept away from Nigerians regarding its election server is the secret of the use of tablets like ipad called Z-Pad which is the brand name of its manufacturer. The INEC server is useless if INEC ad-hoc staff did not send election results to the server during elections. The secret link between the INEC server and the public is the fact that INEC recruited IT technicians from a public portal, trained them and paid them honoraria for using the Z-Pads to send election results to the INEC server on election day. What is the Z-Pad? Before further explanation, a little background on INEC’s recruitment efforts to enable the use of the Z-Pad.

Just before the 2019 general election, when the president generated needless and intense controversy by his refusal to accent to the amended 2019 Electoral Act, one of the redeeming acts which restored INEC’s autonomy was the willingness of the commission to assert its right to determine election procedure based on already existing laws. In particular the commission through its proxies reminded the country that former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the 2015 Amended Electoral Act. In the new version of the act, Section 52 empowered INEC to determine the procedure of elections without equivocating. The provision states that:“Voting at an election under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission.” On the basis of that section of the extant act and the provisions of Section 160 of the constitution which states that“Any of the bodies may with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise regulate its own procedures or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions; provided that in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedures shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president.”

It is widely known and accepted that these legal enablers informed INEC decision to use the electronic transmission of results, hence the commission chairman and a few resident electoral commissioners used this legal backing to inform the public that it was going to transmit results for the 2019 general election, a programme that it has been piloting since the 2011 general election. To appreciate the scale of work required by INEC to achieve the digital collation and transmission of results to augment manual collation and transmission as well as appreciate how it was expected to advance electoral integrity, it is necessary to note that it budgeted for and indeed procured tablets for each of the 8,809 registration areas or wards in the local governments around the six geopolitical zones of the country.

On the basis of the above, INEC recruited information technology technicians for training, including online recruitment, developed a training kit for registration area techs (RATECH) and local government techs (LGATECHs) and trained them through its IT and electoral institute line activities sponsored by IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) which sponsored the trainings in Cross River and Kaduna States. These activities were all budgeted for, implemented and funds disbursed and used for them all over the country. For the training and field activities, INEC procured Z-Pad tablets from some well known organizations in Nigeria, and selected personnel from those trained after the recruitment.

These selected individuals were deployed with the procured Z-Pad tablets to collate digitally captured election results data from the RAs outlined above on election day. Several such ad-hoc personnel have since testified under oath to have used the Z-Pad to send election results as they were trained, on election day. Specifically, INEC’s mandate for the RATECHs as published in INEC’s manual included: “E-collation: which involves, electronically entering the values on the EC8A into the handheld tablet or Zpad by accessing results from APOI uploaded to INEC Platform via his tablet and validates the entry of the APO1 when the actual EC8A result sheet gets to him/her at the collation center where he/she can take picture of the EC8a and attach to the uploaded data by the APO1 from Polling Units. The APO1 are meant to use his/her SCR and do the electronic entry of the values as recorded on form EC8A and upload same to a server platform and the RATECH gains this data before validating at Collation centers.”

INEC spent so much for procuring the E-transmission assets, services and maintaining its own internal needs to receive and disseminate the data from the endeavor. Thus it came as a shock that these lofty improvements which were made with the support of credible institutions such as IFES to advance the integrity and speed of collation of results across the country were regrettably denied by INEC itself. Where is the independence of the election body? The improvement would have complemented hard copy data from Form EC8As. But all that effort is being suddenly erased because INEC, for unstated reasons, is unable to show the country the results produced from these endevours. This curious attempt by INEC to turn an asset into a liability raises many unanswered questions such as: Why is INEC denying the fact that it collated election results using Z-Pads and Smart Card Readers on election day in 2019? Over 90% of RATECHs and LGATECHs from sources are not INEC staff; can they not be easily accessed or subpoenaed to court as they have been done? Can most of their accounts, electronic transfer payments from INEC for the job done not be tracked and confirmed or verified? Why is INEC retreating from a procedure which the chairman and several of its principal officers elaborately explained to Nigerian before the election regarding the electronic transmission of results to an INEC server? Where are the digital data from INEC’s Z-Pads and Smart Card readers which the e-Collating Officers from the over eight thousand RAs obtained from APOI on election day and sent to its server and for which INEC paid not less than N243m of tax payers funds to procure? For what reasons did INEC advertise and recruit IT technicians including online recruitments from its website prior to the elections? What are INEC’s invoices for the procurement of z-Pads meant for? The electoral monitoring teams (provided to INEC by USA and UK AID) set up in each state during the election has stored and cloud data of the effectiveness of these activities: what has become of their reports on these matters? Telecommunication Towers transmitted stored data of sent results from the E-collating officers as INEC cannot get this data to their server without the interface of telecommunication companies.

Some of the data are accessible to non-Nigerians who regularly hear INEC deny this fact, making the credibility of INEC and its leadership questionable for any future election duties. More importantly, can INEC refute all these facts under cross examination and under oath, and still be able to retain its claim of autonomy and integrity? Can INEC ever present the use of a server to the Nigerian public again after this incident?

Dr. Babatunde, data analyst, wrote from Ibadan