Similar to February 2015 elections, the Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission-INEC, on the night of Wednesday, March 8, postponed the country’s governorship and state’s assembly elections till March 18.
The extension of the exercise which had been previously scheduled to hold on March 11, 2023, caused a stir among many Nigerian netizens who wondered if the electoral umpire was actually ready for the exercise in the first place, having assured Nigerians that the 2023 general elections will hold as scheduled despite the fuel scarcity and naira swap crisis.
Justifying the postponement, INEC in a statement signed by Festus Okoye, its national commissioner and chairman, information and voter education committee, said it was due to the inability of the commission to promptly commence reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines utilised during the February 25 presidential election to enable their use in the state elections.
INEC was earlier restrained from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until due inspection was conducted and Certified True Copies (CTC) issued to candidates who are challenging the outcome of the presidential election, but the commission was able to convince 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 election materials on the premise that it had to reconfigure the BVAS for the conduct of the March 11 election.
INEC was expected to deploy the same BVAS for the subnational elections, meaning that the commission will have to reconfigure them and make them fit for the polls. But reconfiguring the BVAS machine, according to experts, takes an average of five days, meaning that the commission has to begin the process of reconfiguration latest by Tuesday.
“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.” the statement read.
“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”. The statement added.
However, mixed reactions trailed the announcement immediately. Speaking to newsmen, some Nigerians maintained that if INEC insists on reconfiguring the BVAS machines ahead of the next elections, it has to, in the interest of justice, provide sufficient proof that the data from the devices have been backed up on a secure server.
Some others who toed INEC’s path in the extension, argued that the commission needs enough time to reconfigure the electoral devices in readiness for the state elections. They believed that the postponement would give Atiku and Obi the opportunity to examine the data when moved into the Certified True Copy-CTC.
Another group of the respondents were more concerned with the effect of the extension on students who have been asked to vacate school to participate in the ‘March 11 election’ and Nigerians in general. “Please what does this mean for university students that have been sent home since February? Is this another one week extension of school closure? since the reason for sending them home was for them to be able to vote where they registered? As usual, FG will keep silent and keep parents and students guessing because their own children are schooling abroad”. Argued some very concerned students.
“These party officials are simply riding on the ignorance of the average Nigerians. You have hard copies of the result sheets collected by your agents. How difficult is it to collate it together and show where you say you were cheated? It’s been one week now and no one has been able to show where they won and results were tampered with. With this postponement, expect voter turnout of less than 15%. Low turn out always favors the ruling party by the way” noted yet another concerned citizen.
Recall that Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, had announced in November 2022, that the introduction of BVAS and the result viewing portal or IReV, a technology to upload election results in real time, was to ensure a free, fair and credible election. But several reports across the country have shown the elections were marred by widespread accounts of voter irregularities, sporadic violence at polling stations, logistical issues and delay in uploading the polling unit results on the IReV. Hence, the outcry by the disadvantaged parties and their supporters.
Postponing elections a few days to the scheduled date for reasons arising from alleged failure to maintain the promise of ensuring a free, fair and credible election does not speak well of a “supposed” independent electoral umpire. It cannot boast of being a right step in the right direction if the motive is sinister. To be trusted enough to tamper with the BVAS machines without much apprehension from voters, INEC ought to have maintained utmost transparency to win the trust of the masses from the onset of voting and results transmission. There should be no reason to doubt its credibility to deliver.
Also, the two major contenders in the presidential election which declared candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu winner, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and that of the Labour Party (LP) Peter Obi would not have decried “the number of complaints of irregularities of bypassing of BVAS, failure to upload to the IReV and unprecedented cancellations and disenfranchisement of millions of voters in breach of the Electoral Act and the commission’s own guidelines” if INEC had dotted all I’s and crossed all T’s as supposed. This contention obviously led INEC to the quagmire of postponement of further elections.
This is obviously not the first time the electoral umpire is making a shift in its election dates but none has appeared as rancorous as this year’s. About one month to the general election, INEC had described the performance of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines as very efficient and impressive ahead of the 2023 general elections after conducting a mock accreditation to test the efficiency of the machines. Those who had challenges with fingerprints were easily captured using facial capturing. INEC chairman, who went round Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), said he was optimistic about the performance of BVAS and that the goal of INEC during the ongoing mock accreditation was to ensure that the machines are working optimally before the general elections. What then happened along the line?
To avoid further rancour, INEC must do everything to avoid violating the laws of the election results transmission on the new date. A repeat of what happened in the presidential and National Assembly elections may finally collapse the trust of Nigerian voters in INEC. All the rules and regulations guiding elections in the country should be allowed to take its course. The Electoral Act 2022 as amended should be enthroned in the conduct of the polls.
INEC should ensure to keep to its promise of not “tampering” with the data stored in the IReV as the case may be. Nigeria is a democratic country, In fact, the “biggest democratic country” in Africa and so that title should not be killed overnight on the altar of selfish interest of whoever is involved.