The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rescheduled the governorship and state assembly elections from Saturday, March 11 to March 18, 2023.
The development was conveyed in a statement issued on Wednesday night by INEC Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye.
Okoye said the shift is to enable the Electoral body back up the data and reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines deployed for the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly polls to be used for guber and state legislative elections.
It is reported that the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC), sitting at the Court of Appeal, Abuja, on Wednesday granted the request of the Commission to reconfigure the BVAS.
The court had earlier restrained it from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until the due inspection was conducted and Certified True Copies (CTC) issued to candidates who are challenging the outcome of the presidential election were satisfied.
He said; “Following today’s ruling by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal EPT on the reconfiguration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System 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.
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.
“While the ruling of the Tribunal makes 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.
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.
“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 from the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on 25th February 2023 and then to reconfigure them for the Governorship and State Assembly elections.
This has been the practice for all elections, including the period when the Commission was using Smart Card Readers.
“However, we wish to reiterate that the Commission is not against litigants inspecting election materials. Consequently, it will continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.
“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”.
The court had last week stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC from tampering with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System BVAS deployed in last Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly Elections.
Obi in his application moved by his team of lawyers, led by Mr Alex Ejesieme SAN, sought six principal reliefs, while Atiku’s lawyer, Adedamola Faloku, sought seven prayers from the tribunal.
Among the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs were; “An order granting the applicants’ permission to do electronic scanning and make photocopies of voter’s registration, ballot papers used in the conduct of the election for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on the 25th day of February 2023.
“An order granting leave to the applicants to carry out Digital Forensic Inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the 25th February 2023 election for the Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The plaintiffs also sought an order restraining “the First Respondent from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until the due inspection was conducted and Certified True Copies of them issued”.
The court granted the reliefs and with regards to the BVAS, said; “That leave is hereby granted to the applicants to carry out Digital Forensic Inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the 25th February 2023 Election for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
However, INEC is expected to deploy the same BVAS for the subnational elections, meaning that the commission will have to reconfigure them and make them fit for purpose.
It is revealed that it takes an average of five days to configure the BVAS, meaning that the commission should have begun the process of reconfiguration latest on Tuesday this week.
A source in one of the state offices of the commission who did not want his name mentioned due to the sensitivity of the issue however said the commission would be approaching the courts to vacate the order.
He said; There are over 176,000 polling units. The BVAS is polling units specific, which means that you cannot do a mass reconfiguration. The machines have to be reconfigured individually and those take an average of five days.
“If we leave the BVAS as the court has ordered, it simply means that we cannot use them for the state elections. So, we are approaching the court to seek a way out”.