Is INEC Ready for Saturday’s Governorship Poll?

Ahead of March 18, 2023 Governorship and State Assembly elections, Adedayo Akinwale writes on the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission and its plan to address the identified challenges  during the presidential and National Assembly poll

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Wednesday announced that it has shifted  the governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections from Saturday, March 11 to March 18, 2023.

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had on March 3, 2023 stopped the commission from tampering with the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) deployed in February 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections in a motion on notice brought by the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

However, this request was opposed by INEC, which claimed that the said BVAS machines which the plaintiffs sought a restraining order are to be deployed for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly’s election slated for March 11.

The commission had submitted that in order to deploy the BVAS for the March 11 polls, it would require their reconfiguration, praying the court against granting of the order so as not to stall the March 11 elections.

It was against this background that the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja gave permission to INEC to reconfigure the BVAS used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections.

Following the judgement, the electoral body, after meeting for several hours, decided to postpone the governorship and state Assembly elections by one week.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, in a statement  said, the decision has not been taken lightly, but it was 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.

According to him, BVAS could only be activated on the specific date and time of an election adding that having been used for the Presidential and National Assembly elections on 25th February 2023, it was necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the Governorship and State Assembly elections.

Moreso, the National Commissioner added that while the ruling of the Tribunal makes 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.

“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,” Okoye noted.

The electoral umpire clarified that it was not against litigants inspecting election materials. It promised to continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.

“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.”

Prior to the postponement, INEC admitted that issues of logistics, election technology, behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, attitude of some party agents and supporters marred the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Since the February 25  election, the commission had come under fire from election observers – both national and international, Chatham House, the United States and United Kingdom, political parties, as well as political commentators who observed that the conduct of the election fell short, especially with the inability of INEC to transmit results from polling units to the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal.

However, during a recent meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) held at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the immediate concern of the Commission was how the identified challenges could be addressed as it approaches the concluding phase of the general election involving the largest number of constituencies –28 State Governorship elections and 993 State Houses of Assembly seats.

He admitted that the presidential and the National Assembly elections raised a number of issues that require immediate, medium, and long-term solutions.

According to him, planning for the election was painstakingly done while its implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen. The issues of logistics, election technology, behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in which elections are usually held in Nigeria.

Yakubu pointed out that as the commission approached Saturday’s election, it  must work harder to overcome the challenges experienced in the February 25th elections, saying nothing else would be acceptable to Nigerians.

He was of the opinion that  election day logistics must be finalised days before the election and handled by the Electoral Officers (EOs) at Local Government level. He pointed out that  centralising the process as was done in some States resulted in delayed deployment of personnel and materials and late commencement of polls.

Yakubu warned that RECs would henceforth be held responsible for any tardy arrangement or the failure to deploy electric power generators to collation centres or polling units where such facilities are needed. He said the Commission has enough facilities in all the States of the Federation and  failure to deploy them is simply inexcusable.

He said: “Arising from last week’s (February 25) election, the Commission has received reports from our State offices, as well as complaints and petitions from political parties and candidates. Where infractions of any kind are proven, there will be redress. I must add that any action taken by the Commission is without prejudice to the rights of parties and candidates to seek further remedy as provided by law.

“All staff found to be negligent, whether they are regular or ad hoc officials, including Collation and Returning Officers, must not be involved in forthcoming elections. RECs must also immediately initiate disciplinary action where prima facie evidence of wrongdoing has been established.”

To ensure all identified problems during the presidential and National Assembly elections do not reoccur, the chairman announced that refresher training must be conducted for ad hoc staff that participated in the last election. He added that where they are replaced for good reason, they must be properly trained so that processes are not delayed or compromised at any stage.

In addition, the chairman said BVAS would once again be deployed for voter accreditation and result management, insisting that the deployment of BVAS has gone a long way to sanitise voter accreditation as can be seen from the result of recent elections.

In spite of efforts of INEC to ensure everything goes according to plan on Saturday, recent court judgement may frustrate the plan of the commission.

Last Thursday, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered the commission to allow electorates with Temporary Voter Cards, to participate in the March 18 governorship and State Assembly elections billed for March 18.

The court made the order following a suit brought before it by two aggrieved registered voters, Kofoworola Olusegun and Wilson Allwell, who lamented that despite their effort and repeated visits to INEC office, they were unable to obtain their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVCs), before the February 6 deadline.

Nevertheless, the commission has vowed to appeal against the Court judgment ordering the commission to allow voters with Temporary Voter Cards to vote.

The commission in a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, confirmed that INEC has been served with the court order, but added that the commission was taking necessary steps to vacate the order.

His words: “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been served a copy of the judgement delivered today by the Federal High Court, Abuja Division which ordered it to allow two Plaintiffs to vote with their Temporary Voter’s Card (TVC). The Commission is taking immediate steps to appeal against the judgement of the trial court.”

Despite the assurance given by INEC about its preparation for the Saturday’s elections, what happened during the February 25 polls have made  majority of Nigerians to lose confidence in the electoral body. As such, the question on the lips of many Nigerians remains how prepared is INEC for Saturday’s elections?.

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