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INEC Shifts Governorship, State Assembly Polls to March 18

•Says postponement to ensure adequate time to backup data stored on over 176,000 BVAS used for presidential, NASS elections

•Political parties can apply for certified true copies of backend data of BVAS

•Appeal court refuses to stop commission from reconfiguring BVAS

•Situation Room expresses concern over move by commission to reset devices

•Supplementary polls to be conducted in Doguwa/Tudun Wada federal constituency
Hours after the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja green-lighted a request by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, the electoral body yesterday announced the postponement of the governorship and states’ Houses of Assembly elections, scheduled to hold on Saturday, March 11, to March 18.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, in a statement issued yesterday, said the decision to postpone the polls was made to ensure adequate time to back up 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 House of Assembly elections.
Justice Joseph Ikyegh of the Court of Appeal had in a ruling on an ex parte application delivered on March 3, granted permission to the presidential candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party, Peter Obi, to inspect, “All the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 25, 2023.”

The court also permitted both presidential candidates to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of voters’ registration and ballot papers used in the presidential election
In addition, both Atiku and Obi were by the order permitted to “carryout digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25” presidential election.

But INEC, dissatisfied with the order, had approached the appellate court to vary the order on the grounds that permitting Atiku and Obi access to its database would reveal the identities of voters and how they voted in the presidential election. INEC also asked the court to vary the order on the grounds that granting it may affect the conduct of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, now slated for March 18.
INEC said for it to deploy the BVAS used for the presidential election for the March 18 polls, it must first reconfigure the machines, which “entails purging the accreditation data in the BVAS”. It added that before the reconfiguration, all information on the BVAS would have been uploaded to its accreditation back-end server for safekeeping.

However, the appellate court held that INEC’s motion was not necessary because in its ruling of March 3, it did not authorise Obi and Atiku to electronically enter into the database of INEC.
The refusal will not prejudice the applicant, it is hereby refused,” Ikyegh held.

It, however, refused to stop INEC from reconfiguring the BVAS used for the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Ikyegh made the refusal while delivering ruling in a motion on notice brought by LP and Obi.

Adducing reasons for the postponement of the polls, Okoye explained, “Following today’s (Wednesday) ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) on the reconfiguration of the BVAS used for the presidential election held on 25th February 2023, the commission met to assess its impact on the commission’s preparations for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, 11th March 2023.
“Nigerians would recall that on 3rd March 2023, the Presidential EPT had given an ex-parte order for some political parties to inspect materials used for the presidential election, including the forensic inspection of over 176,000 BVAS used in the election, which are located in INEC LGA offices across the country.

“The commission approached the tribunal to reconsider the order, 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.”
Okoye said, for instance, the BVAS could only be activated on the specific date and time of an election. He added that having been used for the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, it was necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the governorship and state Assembly elections.

The national commissioner added that while the ruling of the tribunal made it possible for the commission to commence the preparation of the BVAS for the governorship and State Assembly elections, it has come far too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded.
Okoye stated, “Consequently, the commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to reschedule the governorship and State Assembly elections, which will now take place on Saturday, 18th March 2023.

“By this decision, campaigns will continue until midnight of Thursday 16th March 2023 i.e. 24 hours before the new date for the election.”

The commission insisted, “This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is necessary to ensure that there was adequate time to back up the data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the presidential and National Assembly elections held on 25th February 2023 and, then, to reconfigure them for the governorship and State Assembly elections.”
Okoye stressed that this had been the practice for all elections, including the period when the commission was using the Smart Card Readers. He clarified that the commission was not against litigants inspecting election materials, adding that it would continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.

The commission added, “We wish to reassure all political parties and candidates that the data from the presidential and National Assembly elections will be backed up and available in INEC cloud facilities, including the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV). Political parties can apply for Certified True Copies of the backend data of the BVAS. Also, the results on the BVAS will continue to be available on the IReV for interested parties to access.”

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