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INEC back from drawing board, faces governorship poll test Saturday

YAKUBU



The outcome of the 2023 presidential election sparked considerable controversies. GIFT HABIB writes on the postponement of governorship and states Houses of Assembly polls, reactions by parties, and the Independent National Electoral Commission’s preparedness for Saturday’s elections

The Independent National Electoral Commission, the beautiful bride days before the presidential election, has suddenly become the fall guy in the aftermath of the February 25, 2023, elections.

Bricks of different shades and colours have been thrown at the electoral body by many who previously applauded the commission’s preparedness for the elections.

What also excited the people was the fact that for the first time in the last three presidential election cycles, the poll was not postponed. It will be recalled that the presidential poll was postponed in 2015 to allow security forces to clear some areas under the siege of Boko Haram in the North East, while in 2019, the poll was postponed due to logistics issues.

But this time around, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC management seems to have got its acts right, not even the insecurity across the country could stand as a barrier to the actualisation of conducting the poll in February 2023.

However, the result of the 2023 presidential election has pitted INEC against those who have been praising its name for the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and its result viewing portal.

The declaration of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the February 25 presidential election by INEC on March 1 at the National Collation Centre did not go well with opposition parties.

According to the commission, Tinubu won after he polled 8.8 million votes, while main opposition candidates Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi had 6.9 million and 6.1 million, respectively.

Atiku and his counterpart, Obi, refused to concede defeat, vowing to recover their mandate in court.

At separate press conferences on March 2, the two candidates rebuffed the gesture of conciliation made by the President-elect, Tinubu, who, in his acceptance speech after he was declared the winner of the poll on Wednesday, asked them to support him in the task of building the nation.

The Peoples Democratic Party said the integrity of the presidential election was compromised.

The PDP spokesperson Debo Ologunagba, claimed that some of the results were “manipulated.”

It accused INEC of deliberate refusal to upload all election results from polling units to the result viewing portal.

In the same vein, the Labour Party presidential candidate vowed to challenge the result of the election in court, saying he, rather than Tinubu, won the election.

He stated “It is a clear deviation from the electoral rules and guidelines as we were promised and did not meet the minimum criteria of a free, transparent, credible and fair election devoid of voter intimidation and suppression, and late commencement of voting in some specific states.

Also, the New Nigeria Peoples Party described the process of collating and presenting presidential election results by INEC as a “sham.”

The spokesperson for the NNPP Presidential Campaign Council, Ladipo Johnson, said “It was a sham. There was systemic rigging. We had an illegible logo in the ballot papers. The logo was illegible to the people.”

Expressing their grievances, both presidential candidates requested the Presidential Election Court in the Federal Capital Territory allow them to inspect materials used for the February 25 election.

Their request was contained in two ex-parte motions they filed at the PEC secretariat at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.

On March 3, the Court of Appeal granted a request of Abubakar and Obi, to inspect documents used for the conduct of the recent presidential election in the country.

The permission was a sequel to two separate ex-parte applications filed by Atiku and Obi, who came second and third, respectively, in the presidential election won by Tinubu.

But INEC requested the Appeal Court vary the permission earlier granted to the PDP and Labour Party to inspect materials used by the commission in the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.

The request was a sequel to INEC’s plans to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System used for the presidential and National Assembly elections.

INEC said the request was predicated on the need to reconfigure the BVAS used in the presidential election before deploying them for the March 11 governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls.

However, on March 8, the PEC granted the request of INEC to reconfigure the BVAS it used for the presidential election.

In a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of justices, the court held that preventing the electoral umpire from reconfiguring the BVAS would adversely affect the forthcoming governorship and State Assembly elections.

It dismissed objections by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Mr. Obi, against the request.

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

Hours later, INEC announced the postponement of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, scheduled to hold from Saturday, March 11, to March 18.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, said in a statement that the decision to postpone the polls was made to ensure adequate time to back up the data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the presidential and National Assembly elections and, then, reconfigure the machines for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

However, the National Chairman of the LP, Julius Abure, said the postponement of the governorship poll showed that INEC could not be trusted, adding that “If they knew they were going to postpone the governorship election for a week, why did they go to court to go and vary the order given to us to inspect materials?

“There was absolutely no need for it because one of the reasons they gave to the court was that if they allowed us to inspect the BVAS, it would affect the timeline for the election, but surprisingly, after getting the court to grant them the request to reconfigure the BVAS, they immediately shifted the election.”

The APC said it respected the decision of the INEC to postpone the governorship and state house of assembly elections, believing that data from the presidential and national assembly elections will be properly backed up on its cloud facilities.

A few days later on March 18, the commission assured the political parties that the information on the BVAS would be backed up for their inspection and also promised that all documents requested by the parties will be made readily available.

INEC has assured that election results would be transmitted on INEC’s result-viewing portal, noting that the glitches that delayed the uploading of presidential poll results had been rectified.

The commission also noted the reconfiguration of the BVAS that had been carried out and the re-distribution of non-sensitive materials that were distributed before the postponement of the poll.

The Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi,  said, “The meeting with the RECs was held to essentially discuss final preparations for the governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections as well as other supplementary elections scheduled for March 18.

“The chairman charged the RECs to ensure a hitch-free exercise. He said he would not accept any excuse for failure, warning that he would hold each REC responsible for any lapses that occur in any state.

“The RECs pledged their commitment and readiness to conduct free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections.”

Speaking with our correspondent, a political expert, Jackson Ojo, explained that the postponement by INEC would help deepen the country’s democracy.

Ojo noted that the governorship election is a local politics that would be fought for, noting that INEC needs to prepare immensely to avoid the controversies that marred the February 25 elections.

He explained, “The two aggrieved presidential candidates of the opposition parties knew that they could not take on the Commission directly and that they could resolve the issue through the court. Approaching the court is a global standard. Even when President Donald Trump of the United States was not satisfied with the outcome of the November 2020 presidential election, he went to court and pursued his case up to the Supreme Court.

“I see what is happening as the deepening of Nigeria’s democracy because whatever is resolved at the Tribunal or at the Court will further enrich electoral democracy. I am up for litigation because the same political parties and candidates who are calling for fire and brimstone conducted shambolic primaries. There were over 600 pre-election matters brought to the Court of Appeal in November last year. If the parties had conducted credible primaries, we would not have someone winning the election, and there would be no appropriate candidate to give a certificate of return.

“INEC admitted that the February 25 election had a hitch after its review. Ordinarily, people would say let’s get this governorship election done once and for all; however, this governorship poll would be fiercely fought for because it is local politics. INEC needs to approach this March 18 election with utmost preparation.

“The postponement of the March 11 elections by INEC is in the best interest of this country to give them sufficient time to cross the T and dot the I of their preparation so that they will not have excuses for any glitches that may occur on March 18.”

Also, a legal practitioner, Sani Rabiu, said there was nothing wrong with the postponement of the election.

Rabiu noted that the postponement was for the good of the country.

He noted, “There is nothing wrong with the postponement of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections because this is not the first time INEC is postponing elections. It was done in 2015 and 2019. It is better that it was postponed than for the commission to carry out an incredible election, coupled with what is happening on the ground.”



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