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INEC Shifts Governorship, State Assembly Polls to March 18

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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.

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