BY ADAMU GWAZUWANG
The way and manner that INEC deployed its politically explosive devise of “inconclusive elections” to upset and ultimately derail emergent victories here and there it could not have imagined getting caught in its own web of unpredictable outcomes. As fate would have it, INEC got more than it bargained for when, months before the elections, its Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu gleefully announced that it would be going digital in collating 2019 election results by deploying electronic transmission from smart card readers to a central server in its headquarters.
With about N 190 billion in its kitty for the 2019 elections, the election umpire was capable of acquiring and deploying the very best of digital electronics to modernize its latest election, especially the easily manipulated collation of results, and Nigerians were elated that the umpire was set to eliminate a major recurring flaw! Just as the introduction of the smart card readers had substantially outsmarted several rigging rites associated with the process of accreditation, electronic transmission of results would fly over the precarious paths of physical transfer of results, evading ballot box snatchers and kidnapping of collation officers, while ensuring safer passage to a database server, which would collate without fear or favour.
But all the enthusiasm rapidly turned into exasperation when the matter took on a post-election potency as a major component of a petition challenging the outcome of the presidential elections submitted by the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who was declared second by INEC. Even before the Election Appeal Tribunal commenced hearings, the petitioner’s claim that the electronic collation database showed he won the election detonated an uproar of amazement as to how the presumably secret contents of the INEC results collation database server were accessed by the petitioner.
The proceedings of the Election Appeal Tribunal on the matter however threw up more surprises as the various counsel on both sides took turns to state their positions. Arguably, INEC counsel, Ustaz Yoonus Usman (SAN) set the stage for the exchanges by insisting that INEC does not have the server the petitioner referred to. In a popular TV news clip, the lawyer dismissed the matter with a memorable analogy of being asked to produce a wife he never had!
By the time the Tribunal went on break last week, after hearing out the petitioner’s case, there was less contention about the existence of an INEC server and more about whether it was deployed for the 2109 elections. Several election officials summoned as witnesses by the petitioner gave evidence of being trained to transmit results electronically to INEC database and actually doing so during the elections using a code provided during the training. Meanwhile, INEC and the APC lawyers maintained that the server’s existence or otherwise was not relevant because its use was not provided for in the Electoral Act as amended which was also not signed into law by President Buhari.
Matters got to a head on the issue when the APC legal team presented a video clip at the proceedings, where INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu was heard explaining some of the technical challenges that ruled out reliance on the electronic transmission of results to the central INEC server. He made reference particularly to the existence of several areas across the country without GSM coverage on any of the national networks, that the digital system depends on to work.
This however drew the prompt rejoinder from the petitioner’s lawyers who presented a longer version of the same video clip where the INEC Chairman was heard also stating that the electronic transmission system would be used in the 2019 elections, amid accusations of attempts to mislead the Tribunal with an “edited” version of the video clip.
The last has not been heard of the controversies surrounding INEC’s server and electronic transmission of 2019 election results as the APC legal team will take its turn to present its case when the Tribunal resumes. Meanwhile, the social media is awash with copious references to INEC’s N189.2 billion budget for the 2019 elections and its provisions of N99.7 million for upgrade of server version for compatibility with new Dell server and N27.5 billion for procurement of election technologies. Over one billion naira was earmarked for nationwide replacement of servers for 25 states and the national data center as well as purchase of new SIMS with special registration with NCC for SCR and other devices for data transmission with data bundle.
Commentators have suggested that INEC may have incurred its own dose of “inconclusive” outcome of an election matter pending judicial determination of the lingering controversy of the status of the INEC server mentioned in the PDP petitioner’s case in relation to the results of the 2019 presidential elections by the Election Petitions Appeal Tribunal.
Gwazuwang, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja