INEC Postpones Governorship & State House of Assembly Elections

+ details on the Court of Appeal ruling between candidates of the PDP, LP and the electoral commission.

Since the turn of the year, national elections have been the biggest concern of the Nigerian population. From recording an unprecedented interest amongst young Nigerians to actually having massive turnout across the 36 states of the country, the elections of 2023 have been engaged on a level like no other. The Independent National Electoral Comission (INEC) who’ve been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring free and fair elections have been at the centre of the conversation, spurring widespread criticism for their ineffectual handling of the elections.

Yesterday, the INEC announced that it was postponing the governorship and state house of assembly elections, which was originally scheduled for March 11th to a week later. Citing its need to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, the electoral commission made the development known not long after The Court of Appeal in Abuja granted them permission to reconfigure the BVAS machines which were used in the 25th February Presidential and National Assembly elections. 

Led by Joseph Ikyegh, a three-member panel of the court ruled in favour of INEC, agreeing with the electoral body that the data on the BVAS machines were capable of being completely saved on the back-end server, and that not configuring them would adversely affect the organisation of the governorship and state house of assembly elections. 

The court also ordered them to make certified copies of the data to the respondents, which were namely the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate Abubakar Atiku; and as well the Labour Party and its presidential candidate Peter Obi, both of whom came second and third in the widely controversial results announced by INEC some days after the election was held. 

Both Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar had commenced separate legal actions to challenge the outcome of the elections at the Court of Appeal which also doubles as the Presidential Election Petition Court where candidates could present their dissenting arguements before the judicial system. In the immediate aftermath of the results’ announcement, both parties filled ex parte applications—-which were subsequently approved—seeking to inspect sensitive materials that INEC used to conduct the elections, including a physical examination of the BVAS machines.

Prior to yesterday’s hearing in Abuja, several employees within the INEC had given assurances that the information on the BVAS couldn’t be lost or tampered with, but that’s rich coming from a body that has visibly broken its numerous promises to Nigerians on how it intended to handle the elections. From the understaffed polling units to its failure to electronically transmit the results, there’s been no shortage of dissapointments from this INEC administration. “There is the need for reconfiguration of the BVAS devices,” said the INEC deputy of the ICT department, in a filing dated on the sixth of March, “The reconfiguration of the BVAS devices entails purging the accreditation data on the BVAS devices”. 

The Labour Party lead counsel Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) in his argument, said that granting INEC permission to reconfigure the BVAS devices would be tantamount to losing essential data which they needed to build their case. 

In a statement signed by Festus Okoye, the chairman of the INEC Information and Voter Education Commitee, the body revealed its reasons for taking court action against the initial ruling to inspect the 176,000 BVAS machines that were used for the elections. “The Commission approached the Tribunal to reconsider the offer, 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”. 

The body mentioned that while the ruling gives them the time to commence its preparation of the BVAS, “it has come far too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded,” it wrote on the statement. “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…However, we wish to reiterate that the Commission is not against litigants inspecting electoral materials. Consequently, it will continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court”.

It remains to be seen how the postponement would affect the elections. Considering the place of Labour Party as a legitimate third force, as it won a number of impressive seats at the senatorial elections, several states could experience a change in the ruling party after the gubernatorial elections. To keep our readers in track with developments in some important states, The NATIVE analysed the prospects of several leading candidates going into the elections.

For now, we encourage participant figures to campaign with grace, to shun ethnic comments and promote values of true democracy.