The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has postponed the March 11 governorship and state assembly elections by one week.
By this development, the governorship and state assembly elections will now hold on March 18, 2023.
The announcement was made in a press statement signed by the national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education, Barr. Festus Okoye in Abuja, last night.
Okoye said following the ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) on the reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the Presidential election held on 25th February 2023, the Commission met to assess its impact on the level of preparations for the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, March 11, 2023, and was forced to postpone the polls.
He said 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 came far too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded before the polls.
Consequently, he said the Commission had 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,” he said.
He noted that the BVAS can only be activated on the specific date and time of an election.
“Having been used for the Presidential and National Assembly elections on 25th February 2023, it is necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the Governorship and State Assembly elections,” he said.
He said the Commission’s decision has not been taken lightly but it is necessary to ensure that there is 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.
“This has been the practice for all elections, including the period when the Commission was using the Smart Card Readers,” he said.
He, however, reiterated that the Commission is not against litigants inspecting election materials.
“Consequently, it will 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.
“We thank Nigerians and friends of Nigeria for their understanding as we continue to deal with these difficult issues and navigate these challenging times,” he said.
He recalled 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,” he added.
Speaking on BVAS, the managing director of AgentX Security Group, Timothy Avele, said because the BVAS are near-real-time machines, INEC will be able to conclude the reconfiguration process in good time before the governorship and state assembly elections.
According to him, the only process that may take some time is the backup of data.
Meanwhile, the Appeal Court also granted the request of the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to inspect INEC’s materials for the conduct of the elections to prepare for the defence of his victory at the polls which is being contested by two of his opponents.
INEC had asked the court for an order to reconfigure the BVAS for use in the March 11 governorship and state assembly elections.
The candidate of the Labour party in the February 25 presidential election, Mr Peter Obi and other chieftains of the party were at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to witness proceedings.
In the company of Obi at the tribunal were the chairman of the party, Mr Julius Aburi, Senator Victor Umeh and others.
A three-member panel of the appellate court led by Joseph Ikyegh granted permission to the electoral body to reconfigure the machines ahead of Saturday’s governorship and Houses of Assembly elections across the 36 states of the federation.
The panel, however, ordered INEC to upload the data on the BVAS machines to the back-end server and make certified true copies of the data to the respondents.
The court had earlier granted an order permitting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi, to inspect the BVAS machines and other sensitive electoral materials.
The opposition candidates who came second and third behind the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had requested access to the electoral materials preparatory to filing their petitions to challenge the outcomes of the 25 presidential elections in court.
Apart from granting them access to the materials, the court had, in its ruling delivered on March 3, also restrained INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines pending the inspection to be conducted by the candidates.
But INEC subsequently filed an ex parte application on March 4 urging the Court of Appeal to vary the ex parte order made in favour of the PDP and the Labour Party candidates.
INEC had asked the court to vary the order to allow it to reconfigure the BVAS machines for the March 11 governorship and state houses of assembly
The commission’s lawyer, Tanimu Inuwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the application became necessary following an order restraining it from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until the due inspection was conducted and certified.
He added that the commission would require sufficient time to reconfigure the BVAS needed to conduct the election that would take place on Saturday. He told the court that INEC would upload from the back end.
‘Gov’ship Polls Results Must Be Transmitted Electronically’
Meanwhile, Justice Peter Lifu of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered INEC to directly and electronically upload from the polling units to the iREV portal the results of the March 11, 2023, Governorship and State House of Assembly elections in Lagos State.
Justice Lifu granted the order while delivering judgment on a suit filed by the Labour Party and 41 others, in which they sought an order of mandamus to compel INEC to obey the Electoral Act and its guidelines for the conduct of the elections.
The judge held that the court had the jurisdiction to entertain the suit because it was commenced in accordance with the provisions of the law.
He also held that the subject matter of the suit is not a pre-election issue because the reliefs sought by the applicants deal with the preparation of the elections and not the conduct of the elections.
He further stated what the applicants are trying to do is to compel the electoral body to comply with the Constitution, its regulations and guidelines following it failure to do so during the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023.
The court mandates the presiding officer of all polling units to paste the Publication of Result Poster EC60 (E) at the polling units conspicuously after completing the EC8A result sheet.
The judge also granted an order of mandamus mandating the Presiding Officer of all polling units to transmit or transfer the result of the Polling Units electronically, direct to the collation system and use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) immediately after the completion of all the Polling Units voting and results procedures during the conduct of the Governorship and House of Assembly election in Lagos State on 11 March 2023.
He further granted an order directing and compelling INEC to enforce the observance and compliance of Section 27(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 in the distribution of electoral materials during the conduct of the Governorship and House of Assembly election in Lagos State on March 11, 2023 by engaging the services of independent, competent, and reliable logistic companies who are non-partisan or known supporters of any political for the distribution of electoral materials and personnel.
The Labour Party, its governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, and 40 others had told the court that some Presiding Officers complained of wrong passwords as the reason for not being able to upload their BVAS information. In contrast, some complained the BVAS gave an “error” sign anytime they tried to upload.
They also stated that “after seeing the pattern of the defendant on 25th and 26′ of February and through the period of collation of the presidential results in Abuja, the handwriting on the wall became clear that the defendant had colluded with APC in Lagos State to steal the mandate of the good people of Lagos State and to deprive the applicants their rightful victory at their various wards.
It argued that if the court does not grant this leave, the same vote manipulations of February 25, 2023 polls would be repeated during the governorship and House of Assemblies election in Lagos State.
But the electoral body had challenged the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the matter, stating that the Plaintiffs had failed to disclose any cause of action to warrant the exercise of the court’s discretion in their favour.
INEC had also argued that the suit is premature and speculative and that it will serve the interest of justice to strike out and or dismiss this action.
The commission also stated, through its counsel, Mrs Jecinta Kelechi-Ukaonu, that it is a law-abiding organisation and that it is doing its best to fulfil all its obligations under the law.
Mrs Kelechi-Ukaonu also told the court that the applicants had not demanded compliance with the laws and were refused before running to court.
She maintained that INEC has explained to Nigerians the issues that caused the glitches experienced on February 25 and that it had reassured all stakeholders that it was working hard to fix them.