I had the privilege of a long conversation with the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, last Saturday morning. I was in the house of a mutual friend when Obi dropped by. For almost two hours he shared interesting insights into why he believes he won the election. But what I enjoyed most were the stories of his varied experiences on the campaign trail across the country. I told Obi that he surpassed my expectations at the polls and repeated what I wrote in my column last week that I either overestimated the power of party structure or underestimated his own (Obi’s) capacity for mass mobilization. In light of yesterday’s ruling, there may be a change in both tactics and strategies by Obi. His counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, had prayed the Appeal Court not to grant the application that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) be allowed to reconfigure the BVAS machines for gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections now rescheduled for 18th March. The bid failed.
In her compelling weekly column in PUNCH last Thursday, ‘What does Peter Obi do next?’, Dr Abimbola Adelakun promised to spend the next few weeks scouting for post-election insights to better understand “how to correctly account for the Peter Obi phenomenon.” I believe many scholars will be doing the same for more clarity about what transpired in Nigeria on 25th February. Abimbola also wrote: “But I hope Obi knows that what he achieved is phenomenal. I hope he allows himself to reflect on the import of his votes and astutely plan where to go from here. Something has been handed over to him, and what he does with it will be the subject of history.”
By a combination of reasons, including the demographics that project him as their symbol of hope for the country, Peter Obi has become a factor in Nigerian politics. Perhaps in recognition of that, Obi said several things that I took away from our conversation last Saturday. The most important is that he is not walking away after this election. He shared anecdotes from his life about being a long-distance runner in worthwhile ventures. And as I promised in my column last week, I will be interrogating what Obi’s aspiration means for our polity once the election legal processes are exhausted.
However, while Obi is optimistic of victory at the end of the legal process, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, also believes the election was rigged against him. Perhaps as evidence of that claim, Atiku led PDP bigwigs, including the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu to protest at the INEC head office on Monday. Yesterday, he went a step further by assembling a legal team comprising 19 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to “establish the claim of illegality in the election and reclaim the mandate of the Nigerian people” from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
When three people lay claim to a mandate that only one can secure, the court drama is bound to be interesting. Yesterday evening, a three-member panel of the appellate court led by Justice Ikyegh granted INEC permission to reconfigure the BVAS machines ahead of the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections across the 36 states. The panel, however, ordered INEC to upload the data on the BVAS machines to the back-end server and make the data’s CTC available to both Atiku and Obi. The latter was in court yesterday and I am sure he was disappointed that he wasn’t awarded the relief he sought.
The story began last Friday when Justice Ikyegh granted the two separate applications for the inspection of INEC materials, which both Atiku and Obi said they would use to prove that the poll was rigged against them or/and that they won. “All the electoral materials used in the conduct of the election for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Justice Ikyegh ruled while also granting the duo permission to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of used ballot papers and “carry out digital forensic inspection of BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.”
Mindful of the implication to its election timetable, INEC also approached the appellate court, asking that the order be varied to allow the configuration of BVAS for use in the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections initially slated for this Saturday. The argument of INEC was that no timeframe was given in the order obtained by both Atiku and Obi to inspect the over 176,000 BVAS devices used on 25th February. Statutorily, the Governorship and State Assembly elections must be held (with possible run-offs and supplementary elections concluded) not later than one month before the end of tenure of the current holders of offices. That puts the deadline as 28th April for Governors and the first week of June for state assembly members. If elections are not held as scheduled, 28 States may not have elected governors.
Now that the BVAS machines will be reconfigured by INEC, what comfort is left for the aggrieved presidential candidates? As directed by the Court of Appeal, both Atiku and Obi can obtain the accreditation data transmitted to the backend server. I understand that the scanned images of PU results which are uploaded to the IReV portal can also be obtained from INEC on request. But considering what recently happened at the Osun State Gubernatorial Tribunal, there are issues regarding BVAS and judicial interpretations.
Following the election won by Ademola Adeleke of PDP, the defeated Adegboyega Oyetola of the APC challenged the victory at the tribunal. When INEC realised that the CTC issued to the APC did not contain the synchronised data, the commission tendered the complete CTC and physically delivered the BVAS machines for the over 740 Polling Units in contention to the Tribunal. The idea was to clear up all doubts about the victory of Adeleke since the figures in the BVAS machines tally with the results declared. Despite being admitted in evidence, the Tribunal still relied on the first CTC issued by the commission for its judgement, thus declaring the defeated Governor Oyetola victorious, simply by placing no value on the physical BVAS that I understand remain in their custody!
Since INEC does not have over 176,000 BVAS machines as contingency provision to replace those used for the presidential and national assembly elections, I can understand why the appeal court made the order it did yesterday. The gubernatorial elections in 28 states and the house of assembly elections in 36 states cannot be conducted without BVAS. The law makes electronic voter accreditation mandatory unlike the collation of results which are still essentially manual, although in the current public discourse, the matter is obfuscated to create the opposite impression. But the ruling in favour of INEC has created its own problem. Both Atiku and Obi will argue that lack of access to the BVAS weakens their case. It also puts INEC on the spot on the issue of transparency and accountability.
My column, ‘INEC and the Lesson from VAR’ dealt with what the commission can learn from the Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the administration of football. As I pointed out, it is important for INEC to be cautious of the potential risks of human error in the deployment of BVAS and their result viewing portal, IReV. I referenced the controversial incidents involving Arsenal and Brighton in the English premiership that weekend. With all the hoopla after the presidential and national assembly elections, I have been proven right. But even the most implacable critic of INEC will admit that our elections are better with the new technologies. We only need to improve on them and make allowances for environmental factors.
For instance, Gospel Nwafor (who went through my mentorship as a teenager but is now a Big Boy) sent me a terse WhatsApp message during the week on the application of technology by INEC: “If a machine can accredit a voter with their biometrics, what do we need the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) for? Even with it, if BVAS doesn’t accredit you, you can’t vote. Then, why print ballot papers when you could simply upload e-ballot papers via integrated voting software to enable people choose their preferred candidate, immediately after they’ve been verified by the BVAS? That way, you reduce the number of invalid votes, and you save the country the billions of Naira for printing and the logistics nightmare that comes with carrying them around. The same goes for ballot boxes. These are just my thoughts.”
I see what Gospel is saying. Perhaps we should begin to explore the idea ofa one-day general election as it is done in most countries, including within the West African sub-region. That will eliminate this kind of problem we are now confronted with. But I consider it unfortunate that the deployment of technology tools designed to aid the credibility of the 2023 general election has ended in a fiasco.
On Ireti Kingibe
Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the 2023 International Women’s Day yesterday. In his message on the occasion, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned that “Gender equality is growing more distant. On the current track, UN Women puts it 300 years away.” I do not share such pessimism but evidence from our country suggests that despite their achievements, Nigerian women do not get their due. There can be no better illustration of this than in the political arena. We are yet to elect a female president or vice president or even governor. The situation in the legislature is not any better. While only 7.3 per cent (8 of the current 109 senators) and 3.6 per cent (13 of the House of Representatives members) are women, the situation could be worse in the coming National Assembly, if results of the election are anything to go by.
However, it is significant that for the second time under the current dispensation, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is going to be represented by another female Senator in Hajia Ireti Kingibe of the Labour Party. There is a personal reason why I am delighted that Kingibe has finally made it to the Senate.
I wrote my first book (though more like a pamphlet), ‘Before The Verdict’, in my first year (1991) as a reporter with The Guardian Newspapers. It contained profiles of the 23 presidential aspirants in both the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) who were later banned from participation in politics by General Ibrahim Babangida. I expended all my savings in self-publication. Only one person paid for a copy after reading it: Ireti Kingibe. She gave me a tidy sum of N150 (yes, N150 for the Twitter generation who may not understand how badly our national currency has depreciated over the years) for two copies. I am not sure any of the other people who received free copies even bothered to read the book. Knowing her capacity, passion, and intellect, I have no doubt that Kingibe will provide quality representation for Abuja residents. Congratulations, my sister.
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