By Chukwudi Nweje

Liborous Oshoma, human rights lawyer and advocate for good governance, justice and equity in this interview breaks down the judgement of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal that sacked Senator Ademola Adeleke as governor of the state and discusses other national issues.

Reactions continue to trail the verdict of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal that sacked Senator Ademola Adeleke as governor of the state, what are your thoughts?

The bimodal voters accreditation system (BVAS), a technology that the Independent national electoral Commission (INEC) said will perform dual functions of authenticating the voter’s card and the biometrics of the voter was introduced after the card readers proved inadequate in previous elections.

INEC said BVAS machine would work without the internet, that internet was needed only to send information to the backend server.

What happened in Osun State was that after the election, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the petitioner in the case applied for the result sheets and the reports from the server of the polls on July 17, 2022, a day after the election and by virtue of Section 74 of the Electoral Act, INEC complied with the request on July 27, but did not tell the APC that the reports were inconclusive.

INEC in filing its defence generated another report from the same backend server, this time saying it is a conclusive report.

In the analysis of the reports, the Tribunal discovered that there were over-voting from the report generated from the backend server.

Section 51 of the Electoral Act recognises over-voting as number of actual voters exceeding the number of accredited voters, and so the Tribunal concluded that there was over-voting based on the report from INEC, as against the provisions of the old Electoral Act that says over-voting is when the number of actual voters is more than the number of voters on the register.

In cross-examining the report, the Tribunal concluded that the report attached to both the INEC and the PDP defence was fraught with over-voting and so there was an application to examine all the BVAS machine used in all the local government areas where there were complaints of over-voting. On examination, there was no over-voting because the number of actual voters tallied with the number of accredited voters as recorded in the BVAS machine examined in court. So, the majority judgement said that though INEC said the initial report given to APC is inchoate that it did not state it in the report so to that end, the Tribunal said it will not believe the BVAS examined in court because they may have been adjusted to tally with the numbers because the matter was already in court before the machines were brought.

The minority judgement believed the BVAS examined in court that though there were irregularities in the BVAS report given to APC and the one examined in court that the BVAS examined at the Tribunal showed that the number of actual voters tallied with the number of accredited voters.

So, what is the problem?

The problem now is at what point can you rely on the information generated from the backend server? One of the reasons given by the minority judgement for believing the BVAS examined at the Tribunal is that Nigeria has technological deficiencies and epileptic internet supply that cannot be overlooked, and that though they were not part of the evidence tendered at the Tribunal, they could cause the discrepancies between the BVAS and the backend server. I think what the judge was trying to say is that you can send a message and it will not go immediately. We have seen cases for instance where you go to the ATM to withdraw money, the ATM will debit you but will not give you money.

This BVAS will be used in the February and March elections but considering the problem of Osun State, should we revert to the manual verification; the Electoral Act allows INEC the leverage to decide the mode of verifying election result?

If there were no BVAS it would have been difficult to prove over-voting, it was the use of BVAS that exposed the over-voting but what INEC is saying is that the discrepancies were caused by faulty internet facilities. INEC should have an independent forensic expert to conduct an examination of their BVAS and the mode of transmission to their backend servers; it should also have an independent internet facility to ensure it can transmit information to their server.

The Osun State experience has opened a window for anybody that wishes to challenge election result to say that the result generated from the backend server cannot be conclusive because some information could still be hanging. The INEC did not explain that there could be lapses. INEC gave us the impression that the BVAS machine is a one shoe fits all machine that will fix our electoral problems. 

The question now is at what point do you announce results collated; are the results being announced the results collated from the backend server or the result sent by the BVAS? INEC said result sheets from the polling units will be sent from the BVAS to their central server, and that results will be collated from the central server. INEC generates information from their central server, and if the result collated from INEC’s central server can be inconclusive, would that not pose a problem for the election?

I think INEC should acquire its own technology like satellite to be able to transmit information in real time because the commission does not have control of the internet. INEC should also manually examine the information from the BVAS, ensure information on them tally with the voters register and the information at the backend server before it can say the result announced is water tight.

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The elections are so close and there are still issues with the collection of permanent Voters cards (PVCs), what are your concerns?

 In 2011, we registered and collected that temporary slip that we used for the election that year. I remember that we went around calling on Nigerians of voting age to register and many of them gave us reasons like that our votes don’t count, I also remember telling them that politicians struggle to buy their PVCs because our votes count.

Frustration from INEC also led to many people not collecting their card and typical of us, immediately after the election, everybody went to sleep and left their uncollected PVCs with INEC. In 2015 and 2019, we repeated the same cycle, many people did not bother to register, then in 2022 many of those who did not bother to register before saw that there was need to vote and there was a surge, but INEC is still relying on the same old method. We have said that INEC, considering that it says that the Commission does not want to disenfranchise anybody, should decentralise the collection of the PVCs and allow people to collect their PVC at the polling units where they vote. The blame is on Nigerians and INEC; INEC knows very well that there is no way it can achieve maximum collection of PVCs using the current system; if PVCs are collected at the polling units, you will not have more than 1,000 people in a day coming to collect their PVC, but INEC says it is short of manpower and don’t want the PVCs in the wrong hands. Telling people to go to the area offices and local governments, do you know the number of polling units involved and how many people are distributing them.

There is also the human factor, Nigerians whether in INEC or outside all have one form of political interest or the other and such people could restrict access to the cards depending on the area and who they perceive you are going to vote for, what is INEC doing to ensure that such people are prosecuted?

Can INEC prosecute without the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation?

 Yes, it can, INEC has powers to prosecute electoral offenders the same way it has power to defend pre and post electoral matters. Section 145 (2) of the Electoral Act is clear on the prosecutorial powers of INEC. It says, ‘An offence committed under this Act shall be triable in a Magistrate Court or a High Court of a state in the state in which the offence was committed or the Federal High Court, the prosecution power under this act shall be undertaken by the legal officer of the Commission or any legal practitioner appointed by it.’  Unfortunately, INEC is more interested in defending pre- and post-election matters than in prosecuting electoral offenders. INEC keeps saying it is the Police that will prosecute but it has the power.

There are 18 presidential candidates going into the election, do you think any of them addressing the real issues holding Nigeria down?

I have not seen any of them discussing the issues that will take Nigeria out of the woods post 2023. Our problem has never been the election, but every four years, we talk about how the next government will address the problems. We have had elections every four years since 1999 but our problems have got worse. Our problems are not economic, otherwise, Ngozi Oknonjo-Iweala would have solved it. Our problems are structural, there is no country in the world multi-faceted like Nigeria that is structured the way we are and is making progress. We are running a unitary system of government cloaked in a federal structure, everybody still goes to Abuja to collect handouts every month. We say though tribe and tongue may differ but in brotherhood we stand. Yet in discussing Nigeria, we want to jettison the tongue and hold unto the brotherhood; it will not work.

A country like Egypt is ethnically and linguistically over 90 per cent Egyptians and they speak Arabic that is why Arab Springs succeeded there because they are same but EndSARS failed in Nigeria because while people were talking in Lagos, the man in the North felt it is an attempt to bring down his brother. Though our sufferings are the same, our tongues differ so he will not be part of it. The candidates know this but none of them is talking about it because of votes, the principalities holding Nigeria down don’t want to hear about it.

What can the candidates do, ‘the big three’ for instance?

Why for instance can’t Peter Obi be the Governor-General of the South East, resources generated from the South East should be used to develop the region while they pay a percentage to the Centre as taxes to take care of the weaker regions and maintain the common access areas. Bola Tinubu can take charge of the South West, harness all the silicon valleys, and change the area to modern day Singapore. Atiku Abubakar can take charge of the North and turn it to Dubai; with that, it becomes easy for everybody to look inward and desire to change the current narrative.

Rather one says he will turn Nigeria from consumption to production without telling us how or the indices, and all his life he has been an importer, he does not own any factory in Nigeria. Another says ‘emi lokan’, it is my turn, and apart from working in Mobil and having some questionable drug related issues, the only thing we know him for is politics; he has no manufacturing company, how can you transform an economy when you cannot empower people to produce?

The other, all we have known him for is Custom and accusations of corruption; even as Vice President, accusations of corruption also trailed him, he privatised almost all our national assets. Today, none of them is working and he is still taunting us with privatisation.

You are not a politician but if given the opportunity to lead Nigeria, what would you do?

We must have an ethnic conversation; this is the only country where people, after they travel overseas still hold village meetings abroad. When other nationals living in Nigeria meet, they meet as nationals not as ethnic groups. What this shows is that we are different ethnic nationalities. We must tell ourselves the truth that Nigeria is not working and that we must devolve power.