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FLASHBACK: Six top INEC officials who confirmed planned use of ‘central server’
RESPONDING to an application by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to inspect its server used for the 2019 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said on Thursday that it does not have such a thing.
“They are asking us to bring something we do not have,” Yunus Usman, INEC’s lawyer, said.
Lawyers representing President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal also asked that the application be dismissed for failing to establish that a server exists.
This development has led to a fierce debate among supporters of Nigeria’s two major political parties, and moreso because available record has cast doubt on INEC’s claim.
In a fact-check, The ICIR already established that over N2 billion was approved for the electoral commission towards the procurement and upgrade of various servers. And the money was not only released, but fully utilised.
Asides this, there is also video evidence showing that the upgraded Smart Card Readers used during the election are capable of transmitting results to a central server monitored by INEC; and there are reports from ad-hoc officials indicating that they actually did transmit such information.
The operational procedure given to those officials states that there should be an “electronic movement of election results from the Polling Unit (PU) using the Smart Card Reader (SCR) to a centralised database system where the collation of such result is done”.
— PantoKrato (@lucidator) June 14, 2019
In this report, we take a look at the statements of some of INEC’s top officials pointing to the fact that the commission had always planned to make use of a central server in 2019 and has used such servers in past elections.
Said to be “one of the most experienced electoral officers”, Igini was INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Bayelsa State during the election. On February 17, he was interviewed on Sunday Politics, days after the commission postponed the presidential and National Assembly elections by a week.
On the show, he confirmed that INEC planned to make use of electronic collation officers and a central server to ensure fairness in the collation process and “bring about transparency, openness to issues about the results declared at the polling unit being at variance at the world collation centre”.
“What we are going to do on Saturday in each of the polling units, and we have trained people for that, is that unlike before when you have only one collation officer we are now having two collation officers at the ward level,” he said.
Igini added: “And this is how they are going to go about it: First, the presiding officer will have to input the result into the card reader and will send it straight away to the central server… We have what they call the e-collation officer and the manual collation officer because we are still doing the manual collation process as required under section 73 of the Electoral Act that talks about step-by-step recording.
“What happens is that after I have sent that data as the presiding officer, the cameraman and yourself, you are the two collation officers, before I get to you, without any form of communication, we have granted you access to our central server. You will see what I have transmitted without talking to me.
“Therefore, it is not expected that on my way to the World Collation Centre I will do anything funny with the form EC8A because we now have evidence trail–the fact that I am aware that at the polling unit, the same result is there, the duplicate has been given to the party agent, I have transmitted to the central server, without talking to me, both of you have seen that result.
“By the time I get to the World Collation Centre … the e-collation officer will have to confirm whether what is on the result sheet is the same thing I have transmitted.”
Igini had given similar assurances in November during a press conference at the INEC headquarters in Akwa Ibom. According to him, the commission “developed a platform in which once the results at polling units are announced, the same results would be transmitted straight to our central server.”
Soyebi Adedeji Solomon
Two-time national commissioner, Soyebi, is described on INEC’s website as one who “is no stranger at all to elections and the electoral process”. “As a great team player with a wide knowledge of electoral matters, he was appointed Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) following the expiration of the tenure of the then Chairman, Professor Maurice Maduakolam Iwu,” it said.
Before this appointment, he served as the national commissioner in charge of electoral operations; and in 2019 he acted as the chairman of INEC’s Board of Electoral Insititute, the agency’s training arm, and supervised the Information and Voter Education Committee.
Speaking on Channels Television in February 2018, Adedeji also confirmed that INEC intended to make use of a central server to store electoral results.
“What we are trying to do is that come 2019 every result at a polling unit will be scanned at that particular polling unit—a full scan, just an exact replica of what is there; and it goes into a central server. And this is stored. We are going to rely on this for 2019,” he said.
“We’ve started piloting,” he added. “We did it in Sokoto. We did it in Anambra, although it was not the determinant of the result. We used that to compare. We have been testing some of these transmissions. But then we are going to make sure that come 2019, we are going to make sure that these scanned results are fully operational, or they are determinant of results.”
Asked if this plan is dependent on President Buhari’s signing of the bill to amend the Electoral Act, he replied in the negative.
“No, we have a right to do it,” he said. “We are not aware. As I told you, the amendment was signed in 2015, but it was not even made public until 2016.”
He gave assurance that it would be impossible to hack the server, explaining that the Smart Card Readers would be enhanced to function as a scanner.
INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun State, Agbaje, confirmed on Politics Today, a show on Channels Television, that results will be sent to INEC’s headquarters in Abuja using the card readers.
“Right from the Polling Unit, when you finish the polling, and then they do the calculation, that is after the sorting and counting of the ballot, everything is going to be put inside the Smart Card Reader and this we will also transmit to the central server,” he said.
Asked if the card reader will be used for the transmission, he said yes at the Polling Unit, “but by the time we get to the collation centre we have technical officers who are also going to deploy their gadgets to be able to transmit it to Abuja headquarters.”
Nwafor, the electoral commission’s Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), said in March 2017, at an event chaired by INEC chairman Mahmud Yakubu, that the commission would make use of electronic collation and transmission as a way of preventing malpractices.
“Observations have shown that most election malpractices that take place do not take place at polling units,” he said. ‘The challenge has been after the poll – between the polling units and the collation centres and at the collation centre.
“INEC has therefore decided to securely transmit results from all polling units to a central database such that only viewing access is allowed at the wards and local government levels – which ultimately eliminates manual collation processes.”
“INEC is preparing for the 2019 elections and is further deploying technology to improve its service delivery and make its processes less prone to manipulations,” he had added.
He explained that the electronic collation system involves the entering of results from polling units into an e-collation application of the card reader, transmission to a central server, auto-collation of results and viewing at wards, and auditing of results and confirmation at local government, state and national levels.
No less than the INEC chairman, Mahmud Yakubu, has also mentioned the plan to deploy electronic collation and transmission of results during the 2019 elections. He said this in June 2017 during a meeting with the Computer Professionals Registration Council.
“Something happened in 2015 in our elections with the increasing deployment of technology,” the chairman said.
“This commission is committed to further deepening the deployment of technology, and we very heartily welcome this discussion with the apex body for the regulation of computer professional practice in Nigeria, and whatever you require of the commission that we can do within the law, I want to assure you that we shall do so.”
He added: “We are pioneering and we hope to deploy in the 2019 general elections a new platform for electronic collation and transmission of results.”
The immediate past INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, has also confirmed the existence of a “central server”. In a statement signed by Kayode Robert Idowu, his chief press secretary, and released on March 10, 2015, he confirmed that card readers are used to transmit information to the agency’s server.
“The SCR sends the data of all accredited voters to INEC’s central server, equipping the Commission to be able to audit figures subsequently filed by polling officials at the PU and, thereby, be able to determine if fraudulent alterations were made,” the statement said. “The public demonstration also succeeded wholly in this regard.”