As the presidential election petition tribunal (the Court of Appeal) sits on the petitions challenging the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari, one issue that has been on the front burner is the use or otherwise of a server by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Debates and arguments in this regard are easily heard in every nook and cranny of the polity. Nigerians are looking for answers.
Expectedly, various meanings have been attributed to the issue. This is so because the figures purportedly extracted from the server are at variance with the ones manually collated, recognised and declared. INEC had said the server was not used for the election under reference, or that server does not exist. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, insist the server was used. Now, there are various postulations in this regard. I am constrained to join in the debate by advancing my humble submissions as follows:
‘Server’ in this context can be defined (according to Google) as “a computer or computer program, which manages access to a centralised resource or service in a network.” It could also be said to be “a program that provides services to other programs or devices, either in the same computer or over a computer network.”
From the two definitions, it is obvious that a server is a ‘device’ that works in ‘conjunction’ with other ‘devices.’ So, if the functions of INEC include the conducting of voter registration (for eligible voters) and keeping the records, carrying out verification to confirm accuracy of the registration, and issuance of permanent voter’s card (PVC) accordingly, it means that the commission maintains a voters’ register and card readers for the purpose of conducting elections. Therefore, the voters’ register (as the name implies) comprises the hard and soft records of data, which contain the names and other particulars of registered voters in the country.
The voters’ register is subject to periodic updates to expunge the particulars of the dead and also include that of newly eligible voters. Without these documents/records, the INEC can never conduct successful elections. The PVC, on the other hand, is the card that enables the electorate to present self for accreditation and to vote in a general election. It contains all the information stored in the voters’ register about the owner, while the card reader is an electronic sensor that reads a magnetic strip or bar code on an e-card. It also transfers data from various portable storage devices.
Consequently, during the elections, the register is checked to confirm that a prospective voter actually registered and he/she is in the right polling unit to cast their vote. The card is then inserted in the card reader to authenticate the information vis-à-vis the tenderer as the rightful owner. The voter is then accredited and given the ballot papers to vote accordingly. This card reader is very necessary because, aside from other information that could be seen and verified manually, it is the only means of verifying the bearer’s thumbprint. In this circumstance, it is obvious that the card reader cannot work in isolation but in conjunction with other stored data; and, this is where the issue of the server comes in. Therefore, it becomes absurd or unthinkable for the commission’s data and process flow not to have a relative server. It would be unacceptable for anyone to say there was (is) no server during and after the elections.
From the foregoing, technically, it is clear that there was a server during the recently conducted elections. The question of whether the server is still in existence or not at present is a different ball game. In this circumstance, one would have expected the relevant authorities to provide explanations for the “purported fake server results” in circulation and adduce reasons why they should be disregarded (if truly they are not a reflection of the authentic figures) rather than waving off same as inconsequential, without convincing and substantial evidence to the contrary.
At this juncture, the answers to the following questions will be very crucial to unknotting the controversies.
(1). Does INEC have electronic data (soft copy) of all registered voters on its lists/records? (2). Do the PVCs used during the 2019 general election and the previous elections have central storage or memory for verifying the authenticity of the card, vis-à-vis the owner/bearer? (3). Does the card reader verify the data on the card in tandem with the central stored records? (4). Did INEC authorised the use of card readers for the verification and accreditation of the electorate during the 2019 elections?
If answers to the above questions are in the affirmative, then it means that there must have been a server, and the electorate have the right to know the results so transmitted to that server. If, on the other hand, the answers are in the negative, then there is a bigger problem because it means that there was (is) no soft data of the electorate in place and the actual number of registered persons cannot be electronically verified. Secondly, it means that the authentic data or information about the actual number of accredited voters (with the aid of card readers) cannot be verified. Thirdly, it means that the card reader verifies data in isolation without a link to another (which is most unlikely), and, as such, the input and output of the device cannot be relied upon. Finally, if the card reader does not have any bearing with any stored data and it is not permitted by the Electoral Act, it should not have been introduced and used in the first place and this could lead to the invalidation of the whole process and outcome of the elections.
From the aforementioned, it is very obvious that there is more to the issue of this ‘mysterious server’ than meets the eye. This issue is not all about President Muhammadu Buhari or Atiku or others. It is not all about the All Progressives Congress (APC) or PDP or the others. It is all about doing everything possible for the sustenance of our democracy.
We should have it at the back of our minds that this case is in the open and the whole world is watching and waiting to form decisive opinions and pass judgment on our judiciary and our level of intelligence and wisdom as a people. Therefore, we should rise above partisan sentiments and prove that we are reasonably reliable.
If truly the revisiting and recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day after 26 years was informed by patriotic zeal and commitment to free, fair and credible elections, then it would be irrational and foolhardy for us to treat this issue of the ‘mysterious server’ and other factors militating against better elections in our country with unpatriotic levity. We must rise above board to do the needful.
The latest admission by INEC that the server was earlier used to test-run the transmission of results in some states (in the past) is enough reason to allow for professional and expert assessment of the device to unknot the mysteries relating to the just-concluded elections.
I must say my position is without prejudice to all subsisting suits at the tribunal/courts, and or any person, group of people and institution(s).
•Oise-Oghaede, a public policy analyst/commentator, writes from Surulere, Lagos