The BVAS controversy

…Put your house in order, Nigerians tell INEC ...No system works without integrity - Onovo ...Success will depend on how Electoral Act is applied – Agbakoba …‘It’s dangerous if politicians have hijacked system’

As contention arising from the judgment given by the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal over the issue of over-voting persists, political pundits believe that the verdict will not vitiate the credibility of the Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV).

The judgment, which nearly pushed Nigerians into questioning the possibility of a credible 2023 general election with the “failure” of the BVAS touted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a game changer, has since been appealed.

Indeed, many citizens had begun to ask if Nigerians were standing on quick sand with the BVAS, around which lots of confidence had been built.

Despite the so-called poor handling of BVAS in Osun election, Mahmoud Yakubu, INEC chairman, has expressed confidence in the system to deliver the best election in Nigeria’s history.

Joel Achi, a former adhoc staff of the INEC, believed that the INEC had a lot of work to do with its adhoc staff if Nigeria must have credible election.

“INEC must blame itself over the Osun issue. It is either possible that those who were trained for the election were not used or they did not receive adequate training on BVAS deployment,” Achi said.

Achi, who cited instances where trained adhoc staff were abandoned last minutes for untrained staff over allowances, said that the Osun judgment was an indictment of INEC than Adeleke.

Osita Nwanjo, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, while speaking with BusinessDay Sunday, urged Nigerians to be circumspect over what he described as “attempt to discredit the February 25th Presidential election by enemies of democracy, over BVAS deployment.”

Nwanjo, who also lampooned the INEC over the lapses observed in the Osun gubernatorial election, noted that the judgment however, provided a good opportunity for INEC to redeem itself through proper arrangements and training of adhoc staff before the February 25th Presidential election.

He said: “We should not be unmindful of those whose plans are to win the forthcoming elections or scuttle it at the last minutes, if they fail to have their way.

“What the judgment has exposed to Nigerians is that the BVAS is not totally fool proof.

“It is good coming at his time so that INEC can quickly check itself and work on any area still outstanding, as far as the election is concerned.”

He further said that the technology, which was introduced to bequeath transparency, credibility and fairness to the nation’s electoral process should not be discredited on the basis of the observed Osun verdict, but called on INEC to put its house in order, ahead of the Presidential election

Mike Igini, former Akwa Ibom State Resident Commissioner of INEC, speaking on the judgment

said that the technology was an offshoot of the smart card reader, earlier deployed for previous elections.

“This is a more sophisticated technology for accreditation and result upload and every presiding officer is expected to sort out the ballot, count and enter total number of votes scored and accredited on the result sheet called Form EC8A.

“Thereafter, he will sign and ensure that it is countersigned by party agents who are entitled to duplicates of same result.

“The presiding officer must thereafter, upload the data from the BVAS, including the number of accredited voters and send same to the INEC Server.

“But by design, the BVAS whenever it is idle will upload accredited data on its own particularly during the period the presiding officer is busy sorting and counting ballot papers.

“Thus, if for example, at the end of the poll there was two hundred and fifty total accredited number of persons but the BVAS offloads a total of 200 of the 250 with their unique voter identification number (VIN) and the presiding officer fails to ensure that the remaining fifty (50) data is pushed (uploaded) into the server, then the record will indicate over-voting.

“Now, where any of the candidates that participated in the election applies for a certified true copy of the report of what has been uploaded so far from the Server backend in order to file or maintain his petition, any such certified true copy that obviously reflect inchoate accreditation data uploaded while the BVAS was idling; that is, the 200 number instead of 250, which is the final actual total accredited voters on the form EC8A, will give an erroneous impression of over voting.

“But unfortunately, this is not true. That is why the INEC or better still, the presiding officer has much responsibility to ensure that these lapses are eliminated

But when the physical audit of the BVAS is carried out and the 50 remaining numbers of accredited data is added, it will be 250 numbers of accredited voters, which tallies with the form EC8A.”

According to Igini, “Section 51 of the Electoral Act 2022, does not recognise this as over-voting because that section defines over-voting as “a situation where the total numbers of votes cast exceed total number of accredited voters.”

Reacting to the doubts being expressed over the reliability on BVAS in delivering credible election in the next few weeks, Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), told BusinessDay Sunday that the electronic device still remained Nigeria’s only hope.

“BVAS remains the basis of credible elections because if you are not accredited you simply can’t vote. The problem was the failure at Osun elections to apply section 47 and 51 of the Electoral Act by INEC in the first instance and the Election Tribunal,” he said.

Asked to what extent Nigerians should still rely on BVAS, Agbakoba said, “To the extent that the Electoral Act is properly applied.”

Section 47 Nigeria Electoral Act 2022 prescribes that accreditation of voters and voting must be done by the use the approved device.

“A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.

“To vote, the presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the intending voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission.

“Where a smart card reader or any other technological device deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader or technological device is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours if the Commission is satisfied that the result of the election in that polling unit will substantially affect the final result of the whole election and declaration of a winner in the constituency concerned,” it stated.

Section 51 Nigeria Electoral Act 2022, which addressed the issue of over-voting, stated that: “No voter shall vote for more than one candidate or record more than one vote in favour of any candidate at any one election.

“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 polling 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 provisions of subsections (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.”

Nwanchukwu Egbunike of the Pan African University, while also blaming INEC for the lapses noticed so far, said Nigerians have the right to be frightened by the judgment

“There is no doubt that the judgment has thrown a lot of credibility issue in the electoral process.

“As you know and will recall, BVAS is supposed to be an antidote to the malpractices in an election process, but in this case, there are indications that it was not properly handled.

“It is either INEC has a lot of explanations to do or that our politicians have found their ways to manipulate BVAS and whichever way, it is dangerous for our democracy.

“We also thank God that this is coming before the February 25th election. So, INEC must ensure that the process is fool proof. Going forward, the BVAS still remain the best option, even though we know that something went wrong.”

Some observers have said that the device may be overrated, while others say that there is ignorance among Nigerians on the operation of the device and its intended purpose.

“It will be very hasty for us to begin to condemn BVAS and other innovations introduced after the amendment of the Electoral Act last year, just like that, even when we just started using it,”, Issac Ezenwa political sociologist said.

Ezenwa further pointed out that he does not believe the problem was with BVAS, but logistic challenges and those operating it.

“Don’t forget that we have only used it to conduct about two or three elections. We are learning to use it, I believe BVAS would work. The problem may be with logistics and the people operating it,” he added.

Kunle Okunade, political analyst, said the BVAS and other technological innovations were the best thing to happen to Nigeria’s electoral system, adding that what happened in the Osun gubernatorial election was never about BVAS but internet network and the appropriateness of the adhoc staff.

According to him, “It is not overrated. The best that could happen to our electoral system is the introduction of technology to bring about credibility to the system.

“The Osun tribunal judgment is not enough to discredit the use of BVAS but rather to educate the judiciary on how it functions so that the technical aspect would not affect their judgment.

“If you critically look at the judgment, you will discover that the problem was never BVAS but the internet network and the appropriateness of the Adhoc staff. The BVAS is the most important and necessary tool in this critical period,” Okunnade said.

Expressing his worry over the issue and impact on the general election, which is just days from today, Chijioke Umelahi, an Abuja-based lawyer and former Abia lawmaker, lamented that the over-voting issue is coming at wrong time when the electorate have built confidence in the INEC, noting further that politicians who lose at the polls will now cite over-voting as tool used by the winner.

“The case is going to the Supreme and INEC has to defend the BVAS and insist on Adeleke’s victory, else it will open room for more controversies and challenging of the 2023 election victories by politicians,” he said.

According to the two-term member of Abia House of Assembly, the INEC has to do a lot more convincing and awareness over the effectiveness of the BVAS to regain the electorates’ confidence in the system.

Olabode Emmanuel, an economist, hotelier and international franchise owner, noted that the failure of BVAS cannot be now that the INEC has taken delivery of the last consignment of BVAS machines and has assembled the required number of BVAS machines for all polling units in the country.

“This should be unheard of. We are days to the election and there should be no excuse for failure this time because Nigerians truly need change, the sufferings in the land and death are much. We need confidence in the electoral body to assure that our votes are secured and count as well,” Emmanuel said.

He argued that if the Appeal Court is nullifying Adeleke’s victory on over-voting, then the BVAS machines failed because they are meant to read PVCs and authenticate voters using the voters’ fingerprints.

Deviating from the above reasoning, Emedom Irem, an Ebonyi State-born lawyer, accused the Appeal Court of compromising on the effectiveness of BVAS, noting that politicians can use the judiciary to render BVAS ineffective.

“It is all about the highest bidder, we don’t have confidence in the court judgment again; the Imo State gubernatorial election that saw a candidate who came third in the election being declared winner by the Supreme Court is the height of compromise and rape of democracy,” he said.

To save the situation and regain the electorate’s confidence in the system, the INEC, according to Irem, should stand on the victory on Adeleke and discountenance the over-voting slang, which is a grand scheme by die-hard politicians to discredit the change BVAS brings.

He insisted that BVAS was supper efficient and would turn things around from February 25th, and that the electorate should trust the system to deliver the change they need in the forthcoming elections.

He also argued that since 1999 the INEC has had so many systems and initiatives to ensure free and fair election, but that politicians always fight such good initiatives because they will not favour them at the polls.

He urged the INEC to go ahead with the BVAS, send messages across on its effectiveness, despite the Osun controversy, and also that the new electoral law will complement other INEC’s initiative to ensure credible polls this year.

“Don’t listen to Appeal Court or politicians. Listen to your conscience, vote right and let’s support the INEC, because it is facing opposition from moneybags, corrupt politicians and haters of Nigeria,” Irem urged.

Martin Onovo, a former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), said that there is no system that cannot be compromised, insisting that it takes integrity for systems to be functional.

“I have told you people before that no system works without integrity. Even if you say it is a software and not human interface, is it not human beings that wrote it? We have been told that the contractor that supplied the BVAS is a senator of the ruling party from Niger State. BVAS is just like phone. I can write whatever I want and send to you. If I am an electoral officer, all that I need to do is to add a number to the accredited number and the whole election becomes invalid,” he said.

Explaining why Nigerians must be vigilant, a stakeholder, whose message is viral on social media, said that the BVAS can be easily compromised by INEC officers who may have been compromised.

She urged political parties to ensure that their agents at polling units are vigilant and alive to their responsibility.

She said: “The Osun State governorship election was a litmus test for the use of BVAS for verification and accreditation of voters and the electronic transmission of results. And we can see how that transmission can become a problem. If Candidate A gets 1000 votes and Candidate B gets 10 votes and there are no invalid votes; it means that there are 1010 votes, because the BVAS machines use the technology of ATM they cannot make a mistake with counting the number of voters; but if INEC officials mistakenly or intentionally record 1011 votes, just one more vote, it signifies over-voting in that voting unit. By law, the election of that entire unit can be cancelled for over-voting. More votes than accredited voters is a ground for cancellation of the election at the polling unit.

“Ordinarily, the BVAS should also transmit 1010 votes only, which shows there is human error in the manual recording of the election result at that polling unit by INEC officials. Candidate A would have lost 1000 votes from his total number of votes in just one polling unit. Imagine if this happens in thousands of polling units where Candidate A has a lot of supporters, he may lose the election to candidate B who may have less number of total votes; less cancelled number of votes at the council polling units and may actually end up the winner of the election because the polling units where he had more votes were not cancelled. Nigerians watch the BVAS.

“More importantly, number of total votes, plus invalid votes and voters must tally not only in the BVAS but also in the manual records. Nigerians watch the INEC officials.”

Advising party agents to be vigilant, she said: “You wonder what the party agents are doing at the polling units- if the number of votes and voters do not tally in the INEC records, you should complain immediately. We don’t want what happened in the Osun election to happen in our general election this February. This is to both voters and our party representatives.”

Mark Amaza, who works with Yiaga Africa, said that the problem in Osun did not emanate from BVAS.

Read also: Osun tribunal judgement questions BVAS ahead elections

He said: “BVAS is unfairly blamed for the over-voting in Osun, and it stems from a lack of understanding of what it does. The BVAS is designed for accrediting voters – making sure they are registered voters before they vote – and for uploading results after the voting has been concluded. It is not designed to flag over-voting. However, the Electoral Act empowers presiding officers of polling units to cancel results in that polling unit when there is over-voting, which is simply defined as when the total votes cast exceeds number of accredited voters. This is what should have happened in Osun – those results were not supposed to have been uploaded in the first place. The BVAS is not the problem.”

A few days ago, the gubernatorial election petition tribunal in Osun State sacked Governor Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on grounds of over-voting observed from the votes scored by the candidates and declared that Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the election, having polled 314, 921, while Adeleke’s score came down to 290, 266.

The tribunal had directed the INEC, to withdraw the certificate of returns issued to Adeleke and his deputy, Kola Adewusi.

The BVAS was designed to enhance the credibility and openness of the nation’s electoral process; however, in the last few days Nigerians have continued to raise questions about the reliability of the device ahead of the general election.

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