The Independent National Electoral Commission has said that information in the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System used for February 25 presidential poll is intact.
The electoral commission lead counsel, Tanimu Inuwa, gave the assurance on Tuesday at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, while opposing an application filed by the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, on BVAS deployed in the presidential poll.
Opposing the application, Inuwa argued it would delay the conduct of governorship and houses of assembly elections scheduled for Saturday.
Earlier, Obi, lead counsel, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, had argued that the essence of the application was to enable the legal team to extract data embedded in the BVAS, “which represent the actual results from polling units.”
Obi’s lawyers also applied to obtain the certified true copy of all the data in the BVAS.
“My lords, this is to ensure that the evidence is preserved before the BVAS are reconfigured by INEC. This is because if they are wiped out, it will affect the substance of the case”, Ikpeazu added.
However, INEC, through its team of lawyers comprising four Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by Inuwa, urged the court to refuse the application.
INEC insisted that granting the request by Obi would affect its preparations for the impending governorship and houses of assembly elections.
It told the court that there were about 176, 000 BVAS machines that were deployed in polling units during the presidential election.
“Each polling unit has its own particular BVAS machine which we need to configure for the forthcoming elections. It will be very difficult for us, within the period, to reconfigure the 176,000 BVAS.
“We have already stated in our affidavit that no information in the BVAS will be lost as we will transfer all the data in the BVAS to our backend server.
“We need the BVAS configured. So, granting this application will be a clog in the process and may delay the conduct of the elections”, INEC’s lawyer, Inuwa, SAN, pleaded.
After listening to the parties, Justice Joseph Ikyegh adjourned ruling on the matter till Wednesday.
The court issued the restraining order in the ruling it gave on Friday granting permission to the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar and Obi to inspect the sensitive materials used for the conduct of the February 25 election.
Both Atiku and Obi obtained the order to challenge the outcome of the election which they alleged was marred by fraud and other irregularities.
INEC on March 1 declared the All Progressives Congress candidate, Bola Tinubu as the winner of the election but the PDP and the LP candidates are contesting the outcome.
They subsequently filed separate ex parte applications, praying to be granted access to inspect sensitive materials that INEC used for the conduct of the presidential poll.
But INEC, in a motion on the notice filed on March 4, asked the court to vary the order restraining it from tampering with materials used for the election.
The commission said it needed to reconfigure the BVAS for the next round of elections which would be held on Saturday.
PDP backs LP
Meanwhile, the PDP has pledged its support for Obi’s suit on the preservation of the data on the BVAS.
Speaking with The PUNCH on Tuesday, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Ibrahim Abdullahi said the PDP shared the stand of the Labour Party on the issue.
He said, “The PDP has built a working relationship with the Labour Party. The disappointment that LP witnessed with the election is the same that PDP is expressing today. Some of the expectations the LP had in the electoral process, PDP had as well and we are both disappointed with the outcome of the 25 February election.
“What is churned out by the Labour Party is a product of concerted efforts and agreement with the
PDP. The Labour Party does not speak without having discussed with the PDP because we have realised that the only way to forge ahead and exert pressure on the system is to speak together. We are united against this anomaly.”
The publicity secretary further called on the electoral umpire to address the issues raised by concerned Nigerians and election observer groups rather than pretending that it did well during the presidential election.
According to him, unless the mistakes of the presidential election are addressed, any assurance by INEC that Saturday’s governorship poll will be different is likely to be taken with a pinch of salt by Nigerians.
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Rufus Aiyenigba, noted that the situation might be challenging for the electoral commission.
He stated, “We just pray that things will go well in the interest of the nation because this is now beyond the party to consolidate democracy.
“We pray that this shouldn’t affect the election timetable; the reality is if INEC is going to go by
the way things are it will certainly affect them because the BVAS have to be preserved. All the data there has to be preserved. Some of the BVAS machines are destroyed, some malfunctioned and all of that.’’
For the All Progressives Grand Alliance, the interest of the nation must supersede personal considerations.
The National Chairman of the party, Victor Oye said, “The court knows what to do. However, the interest of the nation overrides selfish, parochial interests.”
But the Chief Spokesman for the New Nigerian Peoples Party presidential campaign council, Ladipo Johnson dismissed INEC’s claims that Obi’s suit might threaten the election, noting that the electoral commission was not telling the truth.
According to him, INEC cannot in all honesty claim it hasn’t backed up the election data to its servers, adding that this would signal incompetency on the agency’s part if this hadn’t been done by now.
He stated, ‘’Obi or Atiku’s suit is not threatening anything. The truth about it is that they cannot tell us that the data is not backed up to a server. It has to be. If it isn’t, it means they are more incompetent than we thought. Let them inspect the data.
That’s the only thing they are after and let us see where it was uploaded.
“INEC should come out and tell the truth. Let them open up their books for inspection if there is nothing they are hiding. BVAS machines would copy. Were they not being uploaded to some place?’’
Johnson further accused the electoral body of playing to the gallery, saying the demand of the plaintiffs in the suit had nothing to do with the March 11 polls.
He added, ‘’What INEC is trying to do is to circumvent the rule of law and run away from providing
the facts of the charade and manipulation that took place on February 25.
“It is on authority that INEC is trying to black out the evidence against them. Once they reconfigure the BVAS, there won’t be traces of the information with regard to the presidential election. And we said No to that.’’
Continuing, he said, “The only time we will allow BVAS to be reconfigured is when they provide evidence of the February 25 election. INEC should be aware that their conduct would be subject to litigation.’’
“If that should be the case, the BVAS machine represents the highest position of our evidence against INEC. Unless INEC has something to hide, they can deplore other machines for the next election.’’
In a related development, a coalition of over 80 human rights organizations under the aegis of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room has raised concerns about INEC’s claims that the BVAS needed to be reconfigured ahead of the next round of elections.
While calling on the commission to clarify this, the coalition warned that this could “further pose additional credibility questions over the integrity and conduct of the 2023 general elections.”
The Conveners of NCSSR, Ene Obi, Asma’u Joda and James Ugochukwu, raised the concerns in a statement on Tuesday evening.
The organisation was concerned about the question of the preservation of data collected during the presidential and National Assembly election.
The statement said, “Situation Room will like the Independent National Electoral Commission to clarify to the public how it intends to ensure that data collected in the BVAS used in the election will be preserved for use in the review and audit of the elections.
“Electoral accountability requires that information collected during elections is preserved for use in the audit and review of the election and for accountability purposes. In light of the disputations that have emerged and the controversy surrounding the 2023 general elections, Situation Room is asking INEC to ensure that its records and data related to the election are held safely and securely to ensure their use for 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 due on Saturday, March 11 2023 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.”
But the APC’s Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim, endorsed INEC’s request to reconfigure the BVAS.
“INEC is the umpire. If INEC says come for election, we will be ready to go. Certainly, the BVAS has to be reconfigured because they were configured for the presidential election, they have to also be reconfigured for the governorship and state assemblies elections.