Why INEC postponed 2023 governorship / house of assembly elections – Official 

The delayed court ruling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s prayer to grant the commission the power to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) it used for the presidential election may have forced the postponement of Saturday’s Governorship/ House of Assembly Elections by one week, Blueprint has gathered.

The elections were initially scheduled for March 11, 2023.

INEC, had, Monday approached the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Abuja, to grant it permission to reconfigure the BVAS for Saturday’s polls.

It however became another legal tussle as the duo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party (LP) counterpart, former Anambra state Governor Peter Obi strongly opposed the INEC move at the court.

The duo insisted the commission would tamper with the evidence they hoped to adduce to reclaim their “stolen mandate” from the President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

“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 back-end server.

“We need the BVAS configured. So, granting this application will be a cog in the process and may delay the conduct of the elections,” INEC’s lead lawyer, Tanimu Inuwa, SAN, had pleaded before the court.

Although the three-man panel gave INEC the nod to reconfigure, this, according to our source, “came rather late.”

Delayed ruling

A top INEC source said postponement was the best way to go because the commission needed four days to reconfigure,  “but not yet official.”

“Yes, I knew there would be postponement. A meeting is going on now at INEC on when to fix it, whether March 18 or 25. The truth is INEC requires four good days to get those BVAS stuff reconfigured and you and I know quite well that the machines, having been brought to Abuja, would have to be reconfigured and redeployed to their various states and consequently the respective polling units. So, where is the time to do all of this?

“The judgement which came this evening , came rather  too late,  but again the court has to do its job to satisfy all concerned. That’s the reality. So, the best INEC could do under the circumstance is just to postpone the election. This is practically beyond INEC, and I do hope Nigerians will understand the situation,” the source told Blueprint.

INEC speaks

The commission later issued a statement Wednesday night to confirm the shift in the election date.

It was signed by Barr. Festus Okoye, National Commissioner  and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee.

It reads: “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, 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. 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 BVAS for activation on the date of the Governorship and State Assembly elections.

“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.

“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 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.

“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 (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.”

The court verdict       

Earlier, the tribunal, had in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of justices Wednesday, held that stopping the electoral body from reconfiguring the BVAS would adversely affect Saturday’s governorship and state assemblies’ elections.

It dismissed objections that Obi raised against INEC’s move to reconfigure all the BVAS.

According to the court, allowing the objections by Obi and his party, would amount to “tying the hands of the respondent, INEC.”

Besides, it noted that INEC, had in an affidavit it filed before the court, assured that the accreditation data contained in the BVAS could not be tampered with or lost, as they would be stored and easily retrieved from its accredited back-end server.

It further observed that neither Obi nor LP controverted the depositions in INEC’s affidavit, stressing that since such averments were not challenged, it amounted to admission by the applicants.

Nevertheless, the court ordered INEC to allow the applicants to inspect and carry out digital forensic examination of all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the elections, as well as to avail them the Certified True Copy(CTC) of result of the physical inspection of the BVAS.

The Justice Joseph Ikyegh-led panel faulted Obi and LP for repeating their request to be allowed to scan and make copies of the electoral materials in INEC’s possession.

Noting that the request was earlier granted, the panel held that repeating the prayer amounted to an abuse of court process.

INEC had insisted that the reconfiguration of the BVAS was necessary since they would be deployed for the next round of elections.

It maintained that without a prompt variation of the order the court earlier granted to Obi and the PDP presidential candidate , especially the aspect restraining it from tampering with formation contained in the BVAS, it would be difficult for it to proceed with the scheduled elections.