from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE cancellation of governorship and House of Assembly elections coupled with plans by the electoral body to reconfigure machines used in the disputed presidential election pollutes an already toxic political atmosphere in Nigeria.
It gives credence to claims of vote rigging and calls into question the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct what is the biggest election exercise in Africa, with more than 94 million Nigerians registered to vote.
Governorship and Houses of Assembly elections were scheduled for Saturday but with the West African country still reeling from a presidential election outcome that has been disputed and highly likely to end in the courts, the elections have been postponed.
They have been rescheduled for March 18.
INEC is again at the centre of controversy.
It is caught in a dilemma. So is the Court of Appeal.
Polls have been postponed by at least a week because INEC needs more time to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines, which are at the centre of vote rigging claims by the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP) of presidential hopeful Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi respectively.
INEC declared Bola Tinubu, of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner.
The dilemma is that while the machines have to be reconfigured, the parties challenging the presidential poll outcome base their vote rigging claims on the BVAS thus reconfiguring them will apparently tamper with evidence.
On Wednesday this week, the Court of Appeal in the capital, Abuja, gave INEC the permission to reconfigure (BVAS) for the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections.
It set conditions such as uploading the data on the BVAS machines to the back-end server.
INEC failed to do so in the February 25 poll. It has insisted nonetheless that data would not be lost during the reconfiguration.
The Court of Appeal had meanwhile earlier granted PDP and LP permission to inspect the BVAS and other crucial electoral material as they appeal the presidential poll outcome.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), which is the umbrella of the registered parties in the country, foresees disaster.
“For INEC to seek an order of the Court to reconfigure the BVAS machines without due inspection of their raw data and certified true copies (CTC) of them issued to parties wishing to obtain the information is a recipe for avoidable crisis,” Willy Ezugwu, CNPP Secretary General, warned.
“It is strange that INEC, which failed to upload election results from the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) would seek to reconfigure the BVAS while litigations are being initiated by disputing political parties that felt cheated by virtue of the failure of the Commission to upload results of the elections in real-time from the polling units.”
CNPP said the INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, not President Muhammadu Buhari, should be held responsible “if anything goes wrong in the country following its alleged inability to follow its own guidelines for the 2023 general elections.”
The organisation thus believes INEC was never ready to conduct the elections, beginning with last weekend’s presidential poll.
PDP denounce the motion by INEC to reconfigure the BVAS machines, claiming it is a ploy to wipe out relevant information the party and its candidate require to prosecute their case at the Presidential Election Tribunal.
“This reprehensible action by INEC to frustrate the desire of Nigerians to get redress through the court is a clear recipe for crisis and a deliberate design by the Commission to derail our democracy and trigger anarchy in the country,” spokesperson, Debo Ologunagba, said.
He maintains Abubakar won the presidential poll.
“It (INEC motion) further validates the fact that our party and presidential candidate won the February 25, 2023 presidential election, based on the actual votes cast at the polling units.”
According to results announced by INEC, Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes, ahead of Abubakar with 6,984,520 and Obi at 6,101,533.
APC said it respected the court’s decision on the reconfiguration of BVAS and the subsequent postponement of the poll that was set for this coming weekend.
“We urge INEC to do everything to preserve and protect the integrity of the extracted data from BVAS as it has committed to do before court,” APC stated.
The ruling party insisted Tinubu had emerged the “overwhelming” winner in an election it described as free and fair.
Violence preceded the elections in Africa’s biggest nation by population, estimated at 219 million people. There were intermittent protests over shortages of cash and fuel in the continent’s largest economy and biggest oil producer.
This week, prior to the postponement of polls, the Department of State Services (DSS) alerted the public of “orchestrated plans by some persons to cause a total breakdown of law and order in the country shortly after the elections.
It also lamented political tension in parts of the country prior to the elections.
“It is observed that some of the players are at daggers drawn with one another, DSS spokesman, Peter Afunanya, said.
He added, “The development holds dire consequences for national peace and stability.”
– CAJ News