BY ADEMOLA YAYA
IN the 23 December, 2022 Edition of this column which I titled “BVAS On Trial” I did submit, “Therefore BVAS is on trial as it is the bedrock upon which 2023 general elections is built; verdict of Election Tribunal sitting in Osogbo will either vindicate or invalidate its efficacy.” On Friday, 27th January, 2023, the Osun Election Tribunal, headed by Justice Terste Kume, delivered its ruling. This column can never contain the details. The fulcrum of the ruling, however, is that the tribunal granted the prayers of the petitioners, former Governor Gboyega Oyetola and All Progressive Congress to sack Governor Sen. Ademola Adeleke and declare Oyetola as the winner of the July 16, 2022 gubernatorial election in Osun. The tribunal affirmed over voting in 749 polling units across 10 local government areas in the state as alleged by the petitioners. The question begging for answer now is can BVAS be relied on to deliver free, fair and credible election in the forthcoming February and March 2023 general elections? X-ray of what happened on the recent tribunal judgment in Osun will answer the poser.
The July 16, 2022 gubernatorial election in Osun was very peaceful as voters went to their various polling units to exercise their right to vote their chosen candidates. Kudos must always be given to the security agencies for their professional conducts before, during and after the election without which the peaceful atmosphere recorded would have been elusive. By the following day, July 17, Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), having polled 403,271 votes against Oyetola’s 375,027 votes which triggered spontaneous wide jubilations and carnivals across the state, especially by the youths.
On the 5th of August, 2022, however, the loser of the election, Oyetola and his APC submitted a petition before Election Tribunal in Osogbo, challenging INEC’s declaration of Adeleke as the winner. Oyetola and his party contended that there was over voting in the declared results of the 976 BVAS used in 749 polling units across 10 local government areas in the state. They prayed the tribunal to outrightly cancel the contended results in the alleged polling units for non-substantial compliance with the 2022 Electoral law and an order for INEC to conduct fresh elections in the affected poling units or declare him and his party winner of the election.
In filing their documents to challenging July 17 INEC’s verdict, Oyetola and APC approached INEC to furnish them total number of accreditation of the disputed poling units. It should be noted that 976 BVAS were used in 749 polling units being challenged which means that more than one BVAS were used in some particular polling units. By the time INEC was uploading number of accredited voters to the petitioner from its website, it was yet to synchronise the second BVAS used to accredit voters in those particular units on its server. Meanwhile, the totality of number of accredited voters in both BVAS used in every particular poling unit was recorded in the form ECA8 signed by every agent of the party present immediately after the election. And this is the crux of the matter.
By the time INEC woke up from its slumber that it had a technical problem of synchronisation with the server and rectified the problem and uploaded the actual totality of accredited voters, which is in tandem with what was recorded on the form ECA8 on the election day, the tribunal refused to admit it but relied on the erroneous one earlier submitted. Hence, there is discrepancy between synchronised and yet to be synchronised list given to the petitioners which the tribunal’s majority judgement relied on.
On the surface, the tribunal judgment casts an aspersion on BVAS which could raise credibility question of its efficacy. However, investigations have proved contrary. Perhaps because such scenario did not occur in Ekiti gubernatorial election that took place on 18th June, 2022, exactly four weeks before Osun, INEC could have girded its loins. In essence, BVAS is very ok and makes election conduct and management easier. What has brought confusion here is human inefficiency and poor management by INEC. When INEC knew that it was yet to synchronise its accreditation and confirmation on its server, it could have delayed its announcement of the winner of the election until having done the needful. Why in a hurry to announce result and give petitioners incomplete list of accreditation? On this matter, INEC should be held responsible by the Osun voters whose electoral choice is being smashed by its inefficiency and unprofessional conduct as there is no established over voting but negligence of INEC in issuing two conflicting reports on a single matter. I, therefore, align myself with Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, who submitted on Arise TV on Sunday, 29 January, 2023 that, “INEC has to be held completely responsible for what happened” and that Osun voters in the affected areas should sue INEC for damages over wastage of their votes.
Assuming without conceding that there was over voting which will be known by the presiding officer and agents of the political parties immediately after the election, this is what Section 51 of the 2022 Electoral law states particularly Section 51(2,3 and 4), “Where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit, the Presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that poling unit; where the result of an election is cancelled in accordance with subsection (2) there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected polling unit; notwithstanding the provision of subsection (2) and (3), the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not substantially be affected by voting in the area where the election is cancelled, direct that a return of the election be made.”
Although, as at the time of writing this piece, INEC has gone to the Court of Appeal in Akure to vacate Justice Terste Kume tribunal verdict, it must come all out to apologise to Osun people and assure them of victory to rectify its error and also assure Nigerian voters that such irresponsibility will not repeat itself in this forthcoming general elections.