The tension has been palpable in Lagos and other States where Governorship and House of Assembly Elections were to take place this weekend. In many cases, there have been threats, cajoling, begging and unsavoury smear campaigns by some candidates and their supporters in the media and in physical sense, in a bid to have the upper hand. If the date had stood, we would have all gone out to vote today and would be expecting results by now.
One thing that made some people to hold their breath during the week was the expectation of a decision by the Presidential election tribunal on the request by INEC for the appeal panel to vary its previous decision of providing access to the commission’s materials as requested by the PDP, APC and Labour Party.
The Court of Appeal on Wednesday granted INEC permission to reconfigure its Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, for the Governorship and State Assemblies Elections originally scheduled for today.
The three-member panel of the appellate court, led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh, granted leave to INEC for the purpose of configuring the BVAS for the election, but asked the commission to upload the presidential election data to its back-end server and make certified copies available to the parties.
INEC in its motion filed on March 4, had asked the appellate court to vary the ex parte order made in favour of Labour Party and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, with regards to inspection of materials used for the presidential election.
When the tribunal’s decision was made known, it was a no-brainer that there would be no way today’s election of governors and state assembly members would take place because INEC would not have enough time to reconfigure the BVAS in all the states of the federation.
So when news of the postponement came in a couple of nights ago, there was not much a surprise to those who knew the internal workings in INEC and technological configuration.
This is not the first time elections will be postponed in Nigeria with just a few days to D-Day.
In 2019, INEC postponed the presidential and national assembly elections, with the announcement by INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, coming just hours before Nigerians were slated to head to their polling units. The announcement was made at about 2.30am on that Saturday, with polls expected to open at 8am and the electoral body cited logistics challenges in some parts of the country, including security issues.
The new dates for the elections were February 23 for presidential and national assembly elections, and March 9 for governorship and state assemblies elections, instead of the original 16th February for Presidential and National Assembly elections and Governorship/State Assembly/Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections 2nd March 2019.
On February 8, 2015, six days from elections, INEC then chaired by Professor Attahiru Jega, postponed the February 14th presidential election by six weeks citing insecurity. Jega said the delay was necessary because of heightened insecurity that could affect the safety of election personnel, voters and materials, especially in the North-east region.
Presidential and National Assembly elections were moved to March 28 while Governorship and State Assembly polls took place on April 11, 2015.
in officially rescheduling today’s governorship and state houses of assembly elections, INEC cited the ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on the reconfiguration of the BVAS used for the Presidential election held on 25th February 2023, saying the Commission had met to assess its impact on its preparations for the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.
The commission recalled that on 3rd March 2023, the Presidential Election Tribunal 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 said it 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. 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 was necessary to reconfigure the BVAS for activation on the date of the Governorship and State Assembly elections.
INEC confirmed that the ruling of the Tribunal has made it possible for the Commission to commence the preparation of the BVAS for the Governorship and State Assembly elections, but the decision had come far too late for the reconfiguration to be concluded. Consequently, the Commission decided to reschedule the Governorship and State Assembly elections to next Saturday 18th March.
This decision means that campaigns will continue until midnight of Thursday 16th March 2023, i.e. 24 hours before the new date for the election.
INEC said the postponement will ensure that there is adequate time to back up the data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the Presidential and National Assembly elections then to reconfigure them for the Governorship and State Assembly elections.
It however assured that it will grant all parties, as directed by the tribunal, access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court, while reassuring 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 are expected to 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.
There is no doubt that the postponement has given more time for parties and candidates to put last minute touches to their strategies for the election. It also has given everyone some time to breathe and reduce the tension from social media bombardment.
However, experience has shown that many parties at times like this may lose steam, especially as their budgets would have been expended up till the original date. We may not therefore see too much in terms of Radio and TV advertising or even major rallies.
But it could said to be a time to look back and identify what has been done or is outstanding, and plug whatever holes need to be plugged, forge alignments and mergers where possible.
The tensions created in areas where there have been tribal and community disenchantment that came out of the presidential and national assembly election results will be doused a bit during this waiting period. We hope!