INEC’s posture on BVAS suspicious – Nigerians

Nigerians have condemned the posture of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the request by opposition political parties for access to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the presidential and National Assembly elections as directed by the court.

They spoke in separate interviews with BusinessDay on Wednesday.

They said if the commission insists it has to reconfigure 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.

Last week, the Court of Appeal in Abuja granted Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party a leave to access sensitive materials used for the presidential election. It restrained INEC from tampering with the BVAS machines until due inspection was conducted and certified true copies of them were issued.

But the electoral umpire approached the appellate court to vary the orders, saying it needed to reconfigure the BVAS machines and redeploy them for the March 11 governorship and state House of Assembly elections.

“All parties have a legal right to examine the election documents in the possession of INEC. How else do you want them to make their case if that right is denied them,” Castro Ginigeme, an Abuja-based lawyer, said.

“The reason they are requesting for a repudiation of the PDP and LP’s request is because they want to obliterate the evidence. The entire election was a sham. They did not really deploy the BVAS in most places to transmit the election results. If they are honest people, they would have allowed the inspection to take place and postpone the governorship election, after all, the handing over isn’t taking place till May,” he added.

Before the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, INEC had said it was ready to conduct the most qualitative election that Nigerians would be proud of.

In November 2022, Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, said 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.

The elections were, however, 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.

Atiku has 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”.

Obi has said the poll will “probably go down as one of the most controversial elections ever conducted in Nigeria, as the good and hardworking people of Nigeria have again been robbed by the institutions and leaders whom we trusted”.

Both men decided to go to court after being asked to do so by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the president. In doing so, they seek to inspect the BVAS and other election documents

Gideon Ayogu, a communication expert, said INEC had demonstrated in recent years that it was not capable of conducting a free and fair poll in Nigeria.

He said: “I wonder why the commission is attempting to stop parties from having access to BVAS if they are sure of what they are doing.

“What is more paramount to parties currently looking to challenge the outcome of the recently concluded presidential election is the data transmitted from the BVAS and uploaded to INEC servers.”

Gbenga Ogunleye, a public affairs commentator, said that INEC must obey the ruling of the court granting access to PDP and LP to conduct digital forensic audit and examination of the materials and equipment used for the last presidential election, stressing that the commission must not take any action that will tamper with the uploaded data in the BVAS.

Read also: Inside the ‘technical hitches’ behind BVAS failure

He said: “It is very unfortunate that INEC displayed gross ineptitude and incompetence in the handling of the very important election against the promises and assurances that the commission has given the political parties and the general voting public.

“We expect that provision should have been made tech-wise to allow the process of conducting the gubernatorial and state assembly election without hampering evidence needed in the likely litigation over the presidential and national assembly election. The Mahmoud Yakubu-led INEC is a huge disappointment.”

Idowu Ogunwale, a lawyer and human rights activist, said that the major problem with the commission was its lack of independence, adding that the method of appointment of INEC’s chairman and national commissioners must be reviewed for the commission to deliver on its mandate to Nigerians.

He said that there was no justification for the poor conduct of the February 25 poll and the refusal of the commission to transmit election results electronically as promised.

He said: “I think part of the fundamental thing we need to do is to reform INEC so that the commission can deliver on its mandate.

“I do not think the current INEC can maintain its independence, especially looking at the way top officials of the commission were appointed by politicians. What do you expect? They would be loyal to their bosses.

“It was obvious they were playing a script on that day, otherwise, how do you rush to announce election results that went against your rules? INEC’s general conduct was suspicious and I am not surprised that they are challenging the parties that want to access the materials.”

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