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INEC shifts governorship, state assembly elections to March 18

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has postponed the governorship and states’ assembly elections till March 18, Peoples Gazette has learnt.

The exercise was previously scheduled to hold on March 11, but INEC, citing a logistics crisis stemming from BVAS configuration and transportation, said the election could no longer proceed as scheduled following a meeting of its executives on Wednesday evening.

“The elections were postponed to allow one more week for preparations,” an official familiar with the meeting told Peoples Gazette by telephone on Wednesday night. “We should be able to get everything in order before March 18.” 

The meeting was still underway at INEC headquarters in Abuja as of the time of filing this report. A senior INEC official told The Gazette a statement was being put together about the postponement.

The commission earlier today had convinced the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to vary its order granting Peter Obi of the Labour Party and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar permission to inspect the presidential election materials on the premise that it had to reconfigure the BVAS for the conduction of the polls this Saturday.

The electoral commission, despite having four years and a massive N355 billion budget to prepare, has a notorious history of postponing elections at the last minute due to concerns with preparedness.

In 2019, the commission under Mahmood Yakubu announced the postponement of the elections around 2:30 a.m. the same Saturday the elections were scheduled to hold.

Nigerians had hoped Mr Yakubu would have learnt from his 2019 experience and be better prepared to handle the 2023 elections supported by an even bigger budget and cutting-edge BVAS technology.

A similar incident occurred in February 2015 when the then-INEC chair, Attahiru Jega, shifted the presidential and governorship elections by one month.

This was after Mr Jega had postponed the presidential polls more than once in 2011 when he led the electoral commission.

INEC’s full statement confirming postponement:

Following today’s 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 Commission’s preparations for the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, 11t 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 VAS 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 VAS 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.

For instance, 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 VAS for activation on the date of the Govemorship and State Assembly elections.

While the ruling of the Tribunal makes it possible for the Commission to commence the preparation of the VAS 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.

This 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 25 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.

However, we wish to reiterate 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 (IRe). 

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 IRe 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.

Barr. Festus Okoye 

National Commissioner & Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee 

Wednesday 8th March 2023