INEC Shifts Governorship, State Assembly Polls to March 18

INEC Shifts Governorship, State Assembly Polls 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

Hours after the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja green-lighted a request by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, the electoral body yesterday announced the postponement of the governorship and states’ Houses of Assembly elections, scheduled to hold on Saturday, March 11, to March 18.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, in a statement issued yesterday, said the decision to postpone the polls was made to ensure adequate time to back up data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the presidential and National Assembly elections and, then, reconfigure the machines for the governorship and House of Assembly elections.

Justice Joseph Ikyegh of the Court of Appeal had in a ruling on an ex parte application delivered on March 3, granted permission to the presidential candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party, Peter Obi, to inspect, “All the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 25, 2023.”

The court also permitted both presidential candidates to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of voters’ registration and ballot papers used in the presidential election.

In addition, both Atiku and Obi were by the order permitted to “carryout digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25” presidential election.

But INEC, dissatisfied with the order, had approached the appellate court to vary the order on the grounds that permitting Atiku and Obi access to its database would reveal the identities of voters and how they voted in the presidential election. INEC also asked the court to vary the order on the grounds that granting it may affect the conduct of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, now slated for March 18.

INEC said for it to deploy the BVAS used for the presidential election for the March 18 polls, it must first reconfigure the machines, which “entails purging the accreditation data in the BVAS”. It added that before the reconfiguration, all information on the BVAS would have been uploaded to its accreditation back-end server for safekeeping.

However, the appellate court held that INEC’s motion was not necessary because in its ruling of March 3, it did not authorise Obi and Atiku to electronically enter into the database of INEC.

“The refusal will not prejudice the applicant, it is hereby refused,” Ikyegh held.

It, however, refused to stop INEC from reconfiguring the BVAS used for the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Ikyegh made the refusal while delivering ruling in a motion on notice brought by LP and Obi.

Adducing reasons for the postponement of the polls, Okoye explained, “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 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.”

Okoye said, for instance, the BVAS could only be activated on the specific date and time of an election. He added that having been used for the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, it was necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the governorship and state Assembly elections.

The national commissioner added that while the ruling of the tribunal made 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.

Okoye stated, “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.”

The commission insisted, “This decision has not been taken lightly, 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 25th February 2023 and, then, to reconfigure them for the governorship and State Assembly elections.”

Okoye stressed that this had been the practice for all elections, including the period when the commission was using the Smart Card Readers. He clarified that the commission was not against litigants inspecting election materials, adding that it would continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.

 The commission added, “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.”

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal earlier, in another ruling, dismissed a suit by INEC seeking for an order of the appellate court to vary its earlier order, which granted permission to the PDP and LP to inspect election materials used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.

The appellate court dismissed INEC’s suit on the grounds that it was not necessary, since the fears expressed by the electoral umpire were unfounded. It added that contrary to the position of INEC, the appellate court did not grant PDP and LP access to the database of INEC.

However, ruling in the motion by Obi and LP seeking permission to carry out digital forensic inspection of the BVAS as well as an order restraining INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines used until they had completed inspection of the BVAS machines, the court pointed out that the request for forensic inspection of BVAS as well as Certified True Copies of election results from BVAS had been granted the plaintiffs in its ruling of March 3.

The panel refused to restrain INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines, based on the forthcoming governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

The decision was predicated on submissions of INEC that information in the BVAS to be reconfigured had been stored in the accreditation back-end server, which cannot be tampered with. It added that the plaintiffs could always obtain data in the BVAS from the back-end server.

More so, the court observed that the submission by INEC about the back-end server was not controverted, adding that a fact not controverted is deemed admitted.

In a related development, the Court of Appeal, in another ruling, granted permission to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, to inspect election materials used by INEC for the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.

Tinubu and his party had prayed the court to direct INEC to allow them access to the materials to enable them prepare adequately in their defense of their victory at the polls.

INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, had on March 1, at the end of collation of results from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), declared Tinubu as winner of the presidential election, having scored the highest number of votes cast in the election.

Tinubu polled over eight million votes to emerged victorious, while Atiku came second with nearly seven million votes and Obi third, with a little above six million votes.

Highlights of yesterday’s proceedings at the Court of Appeal in Abuja included the presence of Obi and his supporters, who besieged the court to see how the ruling would go.

Obi came in company of the party’s national chairman, Julius Abure, a former Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, now senator-elect under the platform of LP, and Martins Agbaso.

The presidential candidate, who had earlier twitted that he would personally be in court to witness the day’s proceedings, claimed that INEC had refused to comply with the court order permitting him to inspect election materials.

Obi disclosed that he and his lawyers had not been able to have access to the said electoral materials as ordered by the court.

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 added that INEC, in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, decided to review the results.

Announcing the decision, Ibrahim stated that the reviewed elections results were as follows: APC – 39,732; NNPP – 34, 798, and PDP – 7,091.

He said there was cancellation of results in 13 polling units.

Ibrahim said the total number of votes domiciled in the polling units that were cancelled was high compared with the margin of votes difference cast in favour of the duo of APC and NNPP.

 He explained that the total number of PVCs collected in the 13 polling units that were cancelled stood at 6,917 as against the over 4,000 votes margin between APC and NNPP.

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