INEC server controversy: Atiku’s fruitless search?

EMEKA NZE examines issues surrounding the controversial INEC’s central server system, reportedly, used for the transmission and collation of the 2019 general elections results. Will it be a fruitless search by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar? He asks.

The interregnum between the time voting was concluded and results are declared is often used by mischief makers to manipulate the results of elections.

Thus, prior to the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in search for solutions proposed that election results should be collated from every polling point, about 132,000 locations, and sent using a mobile application to a central server.

At the consultative quarterly meeting with the media on February 28, 2018, in a closing remark, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu “assured that the commission was committed to full implementation of electronic collation and transmission of results.”

He also said INEC was engaging the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) to ensure a hitch-free e-collation and transmission of results to support the paper trail.

At another quarterly meeting with the media in January 2019, the INEC chairman promised that “in the absence of a legal backing for electronic transmission, the commission can only do a nationwide pilot in 2019.”

After the elections, a civil society group, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), said its observers saw polling officers ‘attempting’ to transmit results electronically in 65 per cent (961 of 1489) of polling units observed on the presidential election day.

After the postponement of the election by a week, the INEC, Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom state, Mike Igini, also said the commission made provisions for a central collation server.

“…The fact is that I am aware that at the polling unit, the same result is there, the duplicate has been given to the party agents and transmitted to the central server. Without talking to me, both of you have the result,” the official said during a Channels TV programme aired on February 18, 2019.

After the declaration of the 2019 presidential election results, candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, kicked and claimed that results obtained from the INEC server proved he won the election with 1.6 million votes defeating his All Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari.

But the INEC in response to Atiku’s claim said that the central server system existed only in the imagination of the former vice president and his party, the PDP.

According to INEC, the Electoral Act 2010 as amended does not permit for electronic collation and transmission of results. More so the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign into law late last year the Electoral Amendment Bill as passed by the National Assembly put to an abrupt stop the plan to embark on electronic voting and transmission of results. The commission also accused Abubakar of circulating fake results.

In a response to INEC’s denial of the existence of the server and its purported result, Mr Abubakar submitted affidavits from 12 persons he said worked for INEC as electoral officials. The officials, reportedly, admitted under oath that they transmitted results electronically.

Controversy rages

Depending on which part of the divide, the controversy of the central server which is now pending at the tribunal and has become the source of a heated debate amongst the citizenry.

However, the release of the 2019 regulations and guidelines for the elections stated that, “the presiding officers are duty bound to transmit the results as prescribed in the Electoral Act.”

Section 65 of the Electoral Act specified how results should be submitted by the presiding officer but did not provide for electronic transmission of results and data. Only the amended version, which Buhari did not accent to, provided for electronic transmission and collation of results.

For the ruling and the major opposition parties and their supporters, the existence or otherwise of the central server system have provoked boiling rage.  It had become a hotbed for trading of tackles and like partisan issues, it has generated

Following the PDP and Atiku claim, Director APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, urged the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and Director General of Department of State Services (DSS) to investigate the PDP and Atiku for hacking into INEC’s server.

The petition read in part: “It is now clear that some criminally-minded PDP operatives have access to the INEC server to be able to smuggle in fake results into that server. The only means by which they could have access to the INEC server is by the criminal hacking of the server or through the criminal conspiracy of some INEC officials.

“The APC Presidential Campaign Council hereby prays that the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General of the Department of State Services use your good offices to investigate the hacking of and/or illegal tampering with the INEC server by the PDP. The leadership of the PDP must be invited, interrogated, and investigated and those identified as perpetrators must be arrested and prosecuted. Opposition is healthy in a democracy but it is not a license for criminality and illegality.”

Presidency jittery…

In response to the petition, PDP said President Buhari and the APC were jittery over their overwhelming evidence at the tribunal and urged them to stop their unnecessary fabrications, smear campaign, and prepare to face its legal team at the presidential election tribunal.

The party said the President was overweighed by the burden of illegitimacy, following overwhelming evidence before the tribunal that he stole the Presidential mandate, hence this lame attempt at blackmailing the tribunal by engaging in clear acts of subjudice.

PDP, National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the facts and issues touching on the INEC server were already within the public domain and Nigerians were already at home with them.

“By resorting to shadow-boxing outside the tribunal, President Buhari and the APC have shown that they have no defence to present to the court against PDP’s submission that they stole our mandate.

“It is even more appalling that Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a member of Buhari’s legal team, who should know better, would engage in this act of subjudice designed to distort facts already known to Nigerians that our Presidential Candidate and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, clearly won the February 23 presidential election.

“Since it has become clear that President Buhari has no defence to present to the court, we counsel him to save the nation further stress by surrendering our mandate, which was freely given by majority of Nigerians to Atiku Abubakar.”

Attempt to overreach judicial process

While the presidency lauded the ruling of the presidential election tribunal which rejected the request by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, and his party to compel the INEC to allow them access to the server used for this year’s presidential election.

The presidency in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Garba Shehu, on Monday, said the desperate attempt by the PDP to overreach judicial process “was overwhelmingly rejected by a unanimous decision and the long standing principle of law has once again been re-enacted”.

It also said, “An attempt to cause the determination of an issue that constitutes the fulcrum of contention between the parties, at an interlocutory stage, has again been rejected by the tribunal.”

…Misinterpretation of ruling

The presidential candidate of the PDP had reacted to a statement by Presidential Spokesperson, Garba Shehu, on the recent ruling of the presidential election tribunal on his petition before the tribunal.

He said contrary to the interpretation of the Presidency, the tribunal did not reject his application to inspect INEC’s server the Media Adviser to the former vice president, Mr. Paul Ibe, in a statement on Tuesday, said Mr Shehu misinterpreted the court ruling.

He said the ruling did not mean rejection but that the court only set aside the request because the case is still at its preliminary stage.

“What the Honourable Tribunal said is that it is still at the preliminary stages and the main case has not begun and that the matter of granting access to inspect the INEC server is not relevant to the preliminary stages.

“It is a matter to be adjudicated upon when the case proper is being heard. As such, the celebration by the administration of General Buhari that their electoral heist has been covered is premature.”

Atiku will succeed, if…

Speaking to our correspondent on the raging controversy, National Leader, New Nigeria Vision Group, an Abuja-based advocacy group, Comrade Emmanuel Copi Iriogbe, said it was within the right of the presidential candidate of the PDP to seek access to INEC server.

Iriogbe, who expressed confidence that the former vice president’s prayers would be granted by the tribunal, said: “It is obvious that there exist a server at INEC headquarters and the said server was used for the final collation of results during the 2019 general elections.

“Keyamo’s letter to the IGP asking for the arrest of the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, and the party’s presidential candidate, for hacking INEC server is a confirmation of its existence.

“Also, INEC double talks and their submission before the tribunal showed that they know more than they are willing to admit.

“The question of the budgetary allocation for the server is another pointer to the existence of a server. Nigerians should not be hoodwinked into believing that if Buhari is removed through judicial means the country would be thrown into political upheaval. That notion should be discountenanced.”

No basis for search

However, many of the stakeholders, the political parties, the CSOs, the media who ordinary would have shed more light on the matter, especially prelude to the elections, preferred to decline comments, stating that it is subjudice.

But a legal practitioner, Ugochukwu Osuagwu, told Blueprint Weekend that, “The Electoral Act amendment bill was sent to the president by the 8th National Assembly. That was the bill that contained the use of electronic transmission of results but it was not signed.

“So having not signed it, there is no basis for whether server was used or not used because if INEC has used the server it would have been a ground to nullify the election because there is no law to back up electronic means to transmit results.”

Controversy unnecessary

Recently a group known as Forum of Presidential Candidates and Party Chairmen deplored Atiku and the PDP for the server palaver.

The group, made up of 60 presidential candidates in the 2019 elections and national chairmen of registered political parties, passed a vote of confidence on INEC over its performance in the 2019 general elections. 

The Forum, at a press conference in Abuja, addressed by its Chairman, Shittu Mohammed, who is also national chairman of Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (ABDA),  and former chairman, IPAC, alongside the Presidential Candidate of Nigeria Unity Party (NU), Perry Ajunwa, said political parties never agreed with INEC in any of the several pre-election meetings that results will be transmitted electronically.

Mohammed also described the report of the European Union Election Observation Mission, released over a week ago, wherein they alleged a lack of transparency in the guidelines of the election as “bewildering”.

 He said, “Having thoroughly x-rayed the 2019 election, and the unfavourable and hostile environment the election management body operated under, and the extant laws under which the elections were conducted, we have come to the emphatic conclusion that INEC performed creditably well and we hereby unequivocally reaffirm our confidence in INEC for its performance against all odds in the conduct of the 2019 general elections.”

According to him, there were several innovations introduced by INEC which made the 2019 elections freer, fairer and more credible than what was obtainable in the past elections such as: the simultaneous accreditation and voting; the introduction of  innovations for physically challenged voters; and the continuous voter registration; which added 14 million new voters to the register.

He said the delay in finalising the electoral legal framework and the eventual withholding of assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill deprived the nation of the much-needed reform of the electoral process which must be anchored on the rule of law.

“We also demand the immediate setting up of the process that will lead to the sanctioning of all personnel of security agencies who compromised the elections to serve as a deterrent to others and to exhibit that there are consequences for risking the peaceful coexistence of the country and putting the country in danger,” he said.

Speaking on the INEC server controversy, he disclosed that all political parties were informed that electronic transmission would not be deployed in the election.

He said, “INEC informed all political parties in the election following the withholding of assent by the President that it would not deploy the electronic transmission of results since it would not be lawful to do so. We must inform Nigerians now that the PDP was represented in those meetings and we do not know why they are heating up the polity with the server story.

“We reiterate that the INEC server controversy is unnecessary. It is a plot to discredit the election as parties agreed on a lot of issues with the Commission and those were implemented. It is worrisome that only one political party out of 91 is saying a different thing on the Presidential election while at the same time praising its performance on the other elections, especially Governorship, conducted by the same INEC.

“We are aware that INEC had run pilots on electronic transmission of results. It had informed us that these pilots were deployed in Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun governorship elections.”

Forum amorphous, PDP insists

Responding in a statement, the PDP berated the group saying “The attention of the PDP has been drawn to a press release by an amorphous group parading as “Forum of Presidential Candidates of the 2019 Elections and National Party Chairmen” lending support to denial by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the existence of the server it used in the 2019 general elections.

“This group, our investigation reveals, was hurriedly conjured by leadership of INEC and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to assist them in distorting facts, and making misrepresentations on a matter that are already subjudice, all in their attempt to clean up INEC’s blunders on the existence of the server, sway judicial pronouncements and influence public opinion on extant matters in court.

“The PDP invites Nigerians to note that the press release by this nebulous group emerged after INEC’s several blunders while the Presidency has already admitted that the claim by the PDP and millions of Nigerians that INEC had a server wherein it stored results of the 2019 elections, “constitutes the fulcrum” of contention in the Presidential election.

“Nigerians are already aware of the existence of the server, which was duly budgeted for, set up in various INEC offices and in which data from the elections, including results, were stored. Moreover, the ruling of the Court of Appeal preventing the PDP from inspecting the server does not in any way obviate the existence of the said server.

“Furthermore, PDP counsels that instead of engaging in this unnecessary media trial, INEC should have listed its nebulous group as witness in the election tribunal.

“We also challenge INEC to confront the indictment contained in the reports of the European Union and other international agencies which showed evidence that the 2019 general elections were marred by irregularities and violation of rules by the Commission.

“It is therefore unfortunate that at a time when the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, ought to be apologizing to Nigerians for the failure of the commission he leads to conduct a credible, free and fair election, a mass electoral failure consequent upon which the nation has over 766 election cases across the country, his commission is now contracting faceless groups to launder its sinking image and pass a confidence vote on Yakubu.

“The PDP therefore counsels INEC to own up to its failures and put an end to its consistent denials on the existence of the server as justice will be served at the end of the day.”

Accept defeat, ex IPAC boss urges

In an interview with Blueprint Weekend, former National Chairman, IPAC and the Director General, National Taskforce to Combat Illegal Importation of Small Arms, Ammunitions, Light Weapons, Chemical Weapons and Pipelines Vandalism (NATFORCE), Chief Emmanuel Okereke, said the electoral umpire was in the best position to say whether a central server was deployed during the 2019 general elections, not a candidate, who is an interested party in the said election.

Okereke expressed dismay at the statement attributed to the immediate past Chairman, INEC, Professor Attairu Jega, claiming that INEC has a central server.

He warned that such statements could instigate rebellion by Nigerians, especially youths, just as he cautioned against actions that may jopadise the future of the country including anti-government protests.

“I call on all Nigerians, especially the elite, to be very careful of their pronouncement on this matter of INEC Server, if there was a serve why did successive leadership of the electoral body not transmit results electronically from the points where they were announced?

“Nigerian politicians don’t believe they can lose election that is why they will do anything, even going as far as destabilising the country to reclaim non-existent mandate. I advise those who lost out in the last presidential and governorship elections to go home and re-strategise for another round of elections in another four years.”

On European Observers report, Chief Okereke said, “there were many things that happened during the last election which the European Union observers did not witness because they were virtually not on ground to monitor the elections. They just concentrated only in Abuja and other major cities.”

Okereke noted that that there was nowhere in the world where elections are conducted under perfect conditions, urging people who are calling for mass protest against the government because of perceived elections rigging to have a rethink.

He said such action could throw the country thrown into another circle of confusion, make the country ungovernable and life unbearable for the ordinary people.

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