Presidential Election Judgement Throws Fresh Challenges at INEC

Presidential Election Judgement Throws Fresh Challenges at INEC

Wednesday’s judgement by the PEPC did not come with harsh words for INEC in terms of its role in the conduct of the February 25, general elections. But it has thrown up fresh challenges for INEC in the way to conduct future elections deploying technology. The next set of elections are due November 11, and

Wednesday’s judgement by the PEPC did not come with harsh words for INEC in terms of its role in the conduct of the February 25, general elections. But it has thrown up fresh challenges for INEC in the way to conduct future elections deploying technology. The next set of elections are due November 11, and it is very unlikely the dust raised in the PEPC judgment would have settled down by then.

The sore point for INEC in the 2023 election was the glitch it experienced in uploading the results of the presidential election to its IReV viewing portal. Viewed against its promise, stated repeatedly that “the IReV is an innovation to ensure the credibility and integrity of the election results in Nigeria”; its failure resulted in disappointment for many Nigerians. The deployment of BVAS and the IReV in the elections preceding the 2023 general elections soared INEC’s rating boosted the peoples’ confidence. But they were let down by the failure of IReV in the presidential election on election day, while it worked for other categories of election.

That is the crux of the matter and a dent on the credibility of the 2023 election. In fact, it was the major trigger on which some of the election petitions were channeled. If the introduction of technology called IReV was to enhance the credulity and integrity of the election, its failure would do the antonyms. Technology could indeed, be described as a sweet-bitter experience for INEC in the 2023 election. Sweet because the elections progressed smoothly with the BVAS doing its work as expected. Bitter because many Nigerians were disappointed when INEC abandoned the use of the IReV on the day of the election, blaming it on certain “glitch” which has not been explained till now.

A lot of the procedures for the election as contained in the INEC guidelines or manuals for the election are laced with the use of BVAS and uploading through IReV. But, the PEPC, in its judgement appears to have discountenanced the importance of IReV in the conduct of election. The Court ruled that IReV is not a collation centre or server which are facts. But, using it enhances transparency and ultimately the credibility of the election. It is a tool for INEC to deliver on a credible election. The Court is looking at the end process of election unmindful that election is a process. The BVAS for example has successfully worked well in preventing overvoting.

Nigerians expect the deepening of the electoral process through the deployment of technology. Technology was programmed to be deployed in the electronic transmission and upload of results and heavy investments went into this. BVAS was used to scan Forms EC8A and transfer the scanned forms to the IReV. The Electoral Act, section 6(5) provides that the presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission. That is what INEC adopted and deployed BVAS for.

The PEPC accepts that the INEC could use both electronic and manual means of transmission which is spelt out in the Electoral Act. Where there is a problem is when INEC says this is the mode we are adopting for this election and people are excited and troop out on the basis of believability in what INEC has promised to deliver but then INEC turns around to change the rules (as promised) in the middle of election.

The question is: Is Collation different from transmission? While we wait for jurisprudence to throw more light on this, elucidating on this is crucial for the upcoming elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo states. The PEPC may have inadvertently granted INEC the power to go against its own regulations and election manual. INEC 2023 Election Manual for Officials steps 11 & 12. So, if INEC decided that it will upload results from polling units to IReV, it becomes mandatory for it to transmit same for the credibility of its assignment.

The Court has said in its judgement that INEC Guideline is not superior to the provisions of the Electoral Act and may not have evidential weight in proving election petitions in court. The implication is that political parties should now restrategise based solely on the Electoral Act and the Constitution of Nigeria and not on INEC guidelines and manuals.

If, as the Court said, INEC is not bound to electronically transmit election results to the IREV, how else would election results be transferred directly from the polling unit as mandated by the Electoral Act? There is a confusion in the air which INEC has a lot of explanations to do.

INEC has a lot of voter education and enlightenment to do before the next test cases which are the elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo states. Nigerians and indeed the electorate in those elections would like to know if, the Regulations and Guidelines for Conduct of Elections is still a binding document that could be relied upon by the political parties and their candidates, during the elections and in prosecuting post-election petitions.

There are different sections of the INEC regulations that are premised on electronic transmission and upload. Section 38 of the Regulations provided for electronic transmission and upload while section 48 provides for the use of results electronically transmitted or transferred directly for collation. The Electoral Act has a lot of tinkering with in order to align Court pronouncements with the law.

These incongruencies between INEC guidelines and the judgement of the PEPC have to be resolved for the credibility and integrity of upcoming off cycle elections. That would be a right step to restore confidence in INEC and return its rating to the pre-February 25, 2023 general election period. Then, Nigerians believed words from INEC as the gospel truth. Therein lies the challenge for INEC.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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