The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has for the first time responded to accusations that it failed to follow the Electoral Act 2022, and also failed to abide by its own guidelines on mode of collation of results in the last presidential election.
It is an indication of the legal line of argument it intends to canvass in its defence at the Presidential Election Tribunal.
INEC’s position was in response to a petition by the Action Peoples Party (APP) before the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) in Abuja.
The APP is challenging the result of the presidential poll and the declaration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) standard bearer, Bola Tinubu, on the grounds of alleged substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws of Nigeria, as well as breach of the INEC guidelines.
But in a reply to the suit instituted by one of the parties, the APP, INEC through one of its lawyers, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), insisted that it conducted free and fair polls on February 25.
“The election was free, fair, credible and in compliance with the constitution and the Electoral Act, 2022 and other relevant laws and guidelines,” it stated in one of the documents before the tribunal. The APP had alleged that INEC breached its own laws and guidelines.
However, INEC dismissed the party’s argument that results collation were to be done electronically, citing paragraphs 50 to 55 of the regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the 2023 presidential election.
“There was no collation system of the 3rd respondent (INEC) to which polling unit results were required to be transmitted by the presiding officers…the prescribed mode of collation was manual collation of the various forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C,EC8D and EC8E in the presidential election,” the electoral umpire stated in its defence.
It also dismissed the allegation that its officials doctored results to favour a particular political party’s candidate or that there was over-voting.
It further stated that its online result viewing portal became erratic at the point of collation and members of its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) team were called in to rectify the problem, reason the presidential results were not immediately uploaded.
“It was observed that while the result sheets were being successfully uploaded through the e-transmission system to the iRev portal in respect of the Senatorial and House of Representatives elections to their respective modules, the e-transmission was not processing and uploading the result sheets to the iRev portal in respect of the presidential election. The system was encountering glitches and was extremely slow.
“The 3rd respondent’s (INEC) technical team took every step to restore the application to functionality…five application/patches updates were created and deployed immediately with the aim of fixing the error,” INEC said in its court filing.
To give further credence to its argument, the electoral body said it will tender in evidence the report of its ICT department during the tribunal hearing with two witnesses who are INEC officials for further clarity.
The dates for hearing of the five petitions so far received from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Labour Party (LP), the APP, Action Alliance (AA) and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) is yet to be fixed by the PEPC.