The Independent National Electoral Commission has asked the Presidential Election Petition Court to vary the orders that were granted to the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, respectively, to inspect materials used for the last presidential election.
INEC, in a motion on notice filed on March 4, is praying the court to vary the order which restrained it from tampering with materials used for the election.
The commission said it needed to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for the next round of elections.
The appellate court had on March 3 granted leave to Atiku and Obi to inspect election materials used by INEC in the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.
A panel of the appellate court led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh granted the permission following two separate ex parte applications filed by Atiku and Obi, who came second and third respectively in the presidential election won by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress.
In the application filed by the commission and sighted by NAN, the commission is asking the court to vary the order to allow it to reconfigure its 176,846 BVAS for the March 11 governorship and state houses of assembly elections.
NAN reports that it is the sole prayer in the application of the electoral umpire filed at the court.
No date has however been fixed for hearing of the application.
According to a source, considering the number of BVAS required to conduct the election across the states, INEC needs to reconfigure the BVAS used for the February 25 elections and deploy them to polling units for the March 11 elections.
The source said that the technical team of the commission had to be deployed on time to start the reconfiguration of the devices, which had to be done one by one.
The official further said the order was pertinent as not getting it could result in the postponement of the Saturday governorship and state houses of assembly elections.
The credible source explained that the application became necessary following the order restraining INEC from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until the due inspection was conducted and Certified True Copies of them were issued, noting that the commission would require sufficient time to reconfigure the BVAS needed to conduct the polls.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, could not be reached for a reaction on Monday as he did not respond to several calls and the text message sent to him on the issue.
Meanwhile, the PDP has said the ruling of the Court of Appeal granting its presidential candidate permission to inspect election materials had yet to be complied with by the electoral commission.
A member of the National Working Committee of the party disclosed this to The PUNCH on Monday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the NWC member stated that part of the reason for the protest by the party chieftains on Monday was the refusal of the commission to obey the order of the appellate court.
“The legal team of the PDP has not commenced the process of inspecting the documents used for the election, not because it is not ready but because INEC has not granted the team access to the materials.
“It is too early to say that they have an ulterior motive but they can’t deny us of our right. They can only delay the process but they cannot stop the PDP.
“If in the next few days, they don’t grant us access to the documents, there is a provision of the law that will compel them to obey the pronouncement of the court,” he said.
When contacted, the Director of Strategic Communications, National Election Management Committee of the PDP Campaign Council, Dele Momodu, stated, ‘’Don’t you think INEC has abused that ruling? They may also have appealed the ruling and if that is the case, there is nothing we can do in the interim.’’
Meanwhile, the PDP has welcomed the application by INEC seeking leave of the court to reconfigure the BVAS.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi, described the development as “A second litmus test of the INEC’s commitment to credible polls.”
But the All Progressives Congress on Monday night asked INEC to educate Nigerians on why it needed to reconfigure the BVAS ahead of Saturday’s election.
APC seeks explanations
Speaking in an interview, the Chief Spokesman for the APC presidential campaign council, Festus Keyamo, disclosed that though INEC had been vested with the power to hold elections in the country, it still owed Nigerians an explanation on why the technological device should be reconfigured.
He said, “INEC has the statutory powers to do whatever it is they are doing. And if they have to work within those powers to ensure that the elections are free and fair, then there is no problem so long as they explain to the parties what they are doing to avoid giving room for suspicion.
‘’The need to reconfigure those systems is also not clear enough to me. I think INEC needs to explain to the public very well why it needs to do that in a psychological sense because this is about technology.
“The commission has to explain to the members of the public. For us, we are not here to defend, support or criticise INEC. No, we won’t do that. This is because we as the ruling party also look forward to a free and fair process ahead of Saturday’s election and things have to be done legitimately.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, told The PUNCH that Nigerians should not always be quick to raise suspicions over any demand that the commission might make.
“So, if INEC decides there is a technical note to reconfigure all their systems in order to conduct the next elections, I am quite sure that the course of approach in making the appropriate decision at the right time to authorise INEC to do what is necessary would be approved by the court.
“I don’t see where the cause for the alarm is. But I think the media can help us by going to INEC to clarify why they need to, technically speaking, reconfigure those BVAS,” he stated.
However, the Labour Party described INEC’s move on the BVAS reconfiguration as medicine after death.
Speaking with our correspondent, Akin Oshuntokun, Director General of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council said the party had lost faith in the activities of the electoral commission.
He said, “Anything INEC does, it does on its own. We don’t know where this one is going to end. INEC is not a body anyone should be associated with. They are not worthy of the trust of Nigerians.”
Doubting the significance of the BVAS configuration on the elections, Oshuntokun added, “We don’t believe in this configuration thing. We are all used to the internet and computers. You can only flash your phone when it is absolutely necessary but you can’t wipe out information from the cloud.’’
Osuntokun further berated the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) for doing little to match his promise of a legacy of credible elections before bowing out of office on May 29.