The Independent National Electoral Commission was criticized by the Labour Party on Thursday. The party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, had attempted to check the election materials when the electoral umpire decided to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machines.
This occurred as the party criticized the commission’s assertion that the information obtained from the BVAS was supported by independent witnesses and political party leaders who were not there.
A mere 24 hours have passed since INEC postponed the scheduled governorship and state house of assembly elections that were originally scheduled for March 11 in order to reconfigure the BVAS machines.
The commission’s appeal to reconfigure the BVAS that was utilized for the presidential election was approved by the Presidential Election Petition Court, which was sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
In a unanimous ruling, the court dismissed the LP’s objection and determined that stopping the electoral umpire from reorganizing the BVAS would have a negative impact on the upcoming governorship and state assembly elections.
However, Yunusa Tanko, the chief spokesperson for the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, reaffirmed that INEC erred in asserting that it had backed up the data from the BVAS without providing any witnesses.
Tanko additionally alleged that the electoral umpire frequently altered its rule of engagement to hide some of the irregularities they had previously noticed.
Are we allowed or invited to see what was being backed up? he questioned. If there is to be transparency, INEC must let everyone and their technical experts to view the evidence the commission wants to cite as its primary source. Did this get done?
“We didn’t want to introduce that into a legal proceeding as evidence. Please remind INEC that we have our own results as well. Anything that runs counter to that specific outcome and the evidence they provided will be completely unacceptable to us.
“It is clear right from the beginning that INEC deliberately went to court for reconfiguration of the BVAS machines after Obi requested to inspect election materials. Of course, nobody, not even you and I, know the commission can come up with anything like reconfiguration at this time. This was done after we demanded to inspect those machines.
“When you are going into an arrangement, it is always important to tell people about the rule of engagement and ensure you don’t change it. But INEC keeps on changing the rule of engagement in order to cover their shady deals. It is unfortunate that we have to bring INEC down to this particular level.”
The LP campaign spokesman indicated that Obi was talking with his attorneys to decide whether or not to challenge the court order on BVAS reconfiguration while noting that they had lost faith in the commission’s ability to conduct a free and fair election.
Tanko also cautioned the electoral body to work to increase its bar and endeavor to act morally in order to avoid angering the general populace.
Similar concerns regarding INEC’s ability to handle the next gubernatorial and Houses of Assembly elections in a free, fair, and transparent manner were raised by the Peoples Democratic Party.
Debo Ologunagba, the PDP’s national publicity director, claimed in an interview with The PUNCH that most Nigerians were outraged by the commission’s actions during the last two weeks.
He said, “The governorship and Assembly polls were to hold on March 11, according to INEC, knowing full well that they could not do it. Now, they have moved it to March 18. Why can’t they allow the parties who had got a court order to get that information from BVAS so that they can be sure of their integrity? Given the behaviour of INEC in recent weeks, how can we be sure that they can even conduct acceptable polls this time?
“This is about the integrity and believability of INEC. What is the average Nigerian saying about INEC today? From the behaviour and activities of INEC, during and after the election, it was clear they were not ready to walk their own talk.”
On assurances by the commission that data from BVAS would be secured in a back-end and cloud, and made accessible to the PDP at any time, Ologunagba said, “This election is technologically driven but today, INEC is on its own, deliberately sabotaging a process it promised the whole world it would sanitise.
“On Google, you would realise that there is the possibility of losing data when saved in the cloud. There is the risk of losing data. So, if there is a risk of losing data, why is INEC not worried like the rest of us? How are we sure that this data will be preserved? This is the question we want INEC to answer.”
But reacting, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the data back-up of the BVAS was an internal affair of the commission and not open to inspection by parties.
Oyekanmi said: “The reconfiguration or data back-processes of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machines is strictly an internal affair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, that no external eyes are allowed to witness.
“Of course, political parties are free to witness a test run of the BVAS, and they did during the mock accreditation exercise that we carried out before the general elections.
“However, it is really, really curious that the Labour Party would express any desire to witness such activity. What exactly do they want to see? Would the party also want to witness when ballot papers and result sheets are designed and printed?
“It is like students demanding to be present when their teachers are determining examination questions. While the commission appreciates and maintains a very cordial relationship with the Inter-Party Advisory Council, the boundaries are well defined and known to both parties.”.