Several officials who said they were deployed as electoral officers by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 presidential election said they transmitted results electronically to a ‘central server’ through smart card readers.
This they said was done in compliance with the directive given by the commission during a three-day training before the polls.
The 20 officials deployed to various states, who mostly worked as presiding officers, said they were told that there was a “central server in Abuja” where results are collated electronically.
It is not immediately clear on which “central Server” the officials admitted to transmitting results but this has added a new twist to the ongoing confusion trailing INEC’s consistent denial that it used no server for the election.
A manual issued to the electoral officials by INEC for the 2019 election revealed that the “Communicate” icon on the Smart Card Reader should be used to transmit the accreditation data to the central server.
Another handbook for election officials in 2018 was however more précise on how presiding officers should use the card readers for electronic collation and transmission of results.
It said it became necessary to apply technology to transmit data and results from the polling units due to irregularities that take place after the voting process.
“After successfully filling the EC8A result sheet and announcing the result, the presiding officer shall tap the e-collation application on the home screen”, a part of the book read.
The runner up in February’s presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the election tribunal.
Determining whether the commission operated a central computer database that received election results has become central to the dispute after Mr Abubakar said results obtained from the server proved he won the election with 1.6 million votes to defeat Mr Buhari.
But INEC has strongly denied the claim, saying it neither transmitted results electronically nor saved them on any server. It said such activities were not permitted by the electoral law yet. The commission also accused Mr Abubakar of circulating fake results.
Following the controversy over the veracity of INEC’s position on not using a central database, News Reporters randomly interviewed about twenty electoral officers who worked in various states during the election.
While most of them admitted to sending the results electronically using the internet enabled smart card readers as directed, the rest said they only sent the number of accredited voters and rejected votes, “to the central server”.
Some of the officials, who requested to speak anonymously for fear of victimisation, said they were instructed to turn in the card readers after sending the results.
“INEC asked us to paste the result sheet and also send them electronically through the card reader,” a serving corps member who worked as an ad-hoc staff at Ido Local Government of Oyo State said.
“The results, as we were told, were sent into a central server in Abuja. The results can’t be more than the accredited voters on the card reader. It will reject it… You can’t submit your card reader without posting the results.”
Gbenga Oladayo, an Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) in Ipetumodu area of Osun State, described INEC’s denial as ‘contrived’.
“They told us there’s a server that automatically records the number of accredited voters, cancelled votes and rejected voters.”
The APO2 for polling unit 023 at Maryland, Kosofe Local government in Lagos corroborated this.
“We did that as we were told during the training. I was shocked when I also saw the news that INEC claims that there is no server.”
‘How we handled results’
An ad-hoc staffer for PU8, Ode Ajibade Ward, Ilorin East Local Government, Ode Ajibade in Kwara State explained how they handled the results as instructed.
“We were instructed, in line with the guidelines, to record the results on form EC8A and paste at the polling unit and also transmit the result via the electronic card readers through the e-collation option, and this was communicated to us during training. The revision was done by ‘RAC TECH’ guys too.
The challenge we had was bad network. However, we ended up transmitting the results via the electronic card readers when we got to the collation centre. You must send the results before submitting the card readers.”
When asked where the results were transmitted to, he said he believe ”it’s to the central server”.
“Not only were the results sent. Figures regarding accredited voters were also transmitted. I did all these as the PO, and I also had an APO (VP).”
Another ad-hoc staffer for PU10, Ologbenla ward, Ifetedo Local Government, Osun State gave a similar account.
But the Presiding Officer (PO) at PU002, Ward 8, Agege Local Government of Lagos State disputed this.
He said ”they were not directed to do anything with the result”.
Others who spoke said they experienced hitches in sending the results to the “central server” due to network challenges.
Ayo Aderibigbe, the P.O for Kware Local government in Sokoto State said during the training, said, “We were told to press the ‘send’ button on the card reader after the voting and the counting has been done.”
“They told us it would automatically get to them. But on Election Day, it was not going through because of the poor network, and after trying for hours, we paid one of the INEC technical officers at the local government, Raphael. He promised to help us upload this to the server when it was less congested,” Mr Aderigbe, a corps member, said.
Another corps member, who was the P.O at PU 022 ward 2 of Jos South local government In Plateau State, had a similar experience.
“I could not sleep that night. The issues most people had was the network. The network was not responding.”
But Collins, a student of Obafemi Awolowo University on election duty at PU008 of Fajuyi hall, Ile-Ife in Osun State said the network was “okay”.
“At exactly 1:40 p.m. that day, we sent the necessary information that should be sent via the card reader. I was shocked by INEC’s denial.”
Conundrum of INEC laws
Reporters saw details of INEC’s budget for the 2019 elections, and the spending plan shows the electoral body collected N1.47 billion from the federal government for servers.
But a spokesperson for the commission, Festus Okoye, told this Newspaper that the budget for servers was made in anticipation that President Buhari would sign the amended Electoral Act to allow electronic transfer of voting results.
It was reported that Mr Buhari refused to sign the Electoral Bill in letters to the leadership of the National Assembly last December. The president said signing such a bill few months to the general elections could disrupt the process, a position criticized by several Nigerians.
With the foregoing, our reporters further reviewed the duties of the electoral officials as prescribed by the electoral act and guide.
According to the electoral regulations and guidelines for 2019 elections, the presiding officers are duty bound to “transmit the result 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.
However, a new section (65A) inserted in the amended electoral act seeks to mandate digital storage and archiving of election results by INEC at its national headquarters.
It is that amended electoral act that Mr Buhari refused to sign into law.
More questions than answers
In a response to INEC’s denial of the server and its purported result, Mr Abubakar submitted affidavits from 12 persons he said worked for INEC as election officials.
The officials reportedly admitted under oath that they transmitted results electronically.
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 Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom, 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.