Controversies have continued to trail the conduct and outcome of elections in Nigeria. They did not start today. They have been part of Nigeria’s history since independence; the situation has worsened in the last two decades.
Electoral malpractices have become more widespread, while the conduct of election in Nigeria has become increasingly difficult and cumbersome.
Thus, incidents such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing them with ballot papers, pre-written election results, violence and intimidation of eligible voters are rife.
Pundits say the trend has hindered credible candidates from winning elections and has also scared away those with genuine intention to serve the country.
A recent study revealed that as of 2019, 24 percent of male and 19 percent of female respondents said they were offered money or non-monetary favours in exchange for their votes.
The signing of the amended Electoral Act into law in February by President Muhammadu Buhari, empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to introduce several innovations to strengthen the conduct of election in Nigeria was well received by stakeholders and Nigerians.
After years of agitations for changes to the nation’s electoral law and manner election is conducted, the signing of the newly amended Electoral Law was seen as a victory for democracy across the country.
Among the innovations introduced by INEC was the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
BVAS is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters using the voters’ fingerprints in order to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.
BVAS usage entails either scanning the barcode/QR code on the PVC/Voter’s register or entering the last six digits of the Voter Identity Number or typing in the last name of the voter by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO 1) to verify and authenticate the voter.
BVAS also acts as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) during voter registration. Its usage has also eliminated the use of incident forms during accreditation on an election day.
In recent months, INEC has consistently said that the deployment of BVAS was the way to go in checking election rigging and other electoral frauds which have characterised elections in Nigeria.
Stakeholders and election observers have described BVAS as an upgrade of the smartcard reader, which was used in the 2019 general election.
When it was first deployed in the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021, some presiding officers complained that the machine had difficulties capturing the thumbs and faces of some of the voters, especially the aged.
Similar lapses were noticed in the Anambra gubernatorial election last year, in several polling units in which BVAS was used.
But it appears the commission has overcome the initial challenges that marred the effective use of BVAS, which was seen in the manner it was used in the recently conducted Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections.
“When the commission introduced BVAS last year, the compact device was intended to achieve two objectives. First is the verification of the genuineness of the PVCs and the fingerprint or facial authentication of voters during accreditation.
“Secondly, to replace the Z-pad for uploading the polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on election day,” INEC Chairman, Mahood Yakubu said.
According to INEC, more than 2,000 BVAS would be deployed across 176,000 polling units across the country for the 2023 general election.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, speaking recently, said the machine would be in all the polling units to help check fraud and to guarantee free and fair polls.
“We will have one BVAS reserve in every Registration Area Centre (RAC) to ensure immediate intervention in case of any failure,” Okoye said.
Okoye further said that Technical Officers would be on standby at every RAC to attend to any technical issues that could arise in the course of the polls.
Observers speak in tandem that despite its robust preparations, the INEC faces a huge task next year in its quest to conduct a free and fair poll, acceptable to Nigerians, the candidates and international community in 2023.
They have also expressed fears about INEC’s readiness and capacity to utilise BVAS to effectively conduct general election next year due to the difficulty noticed with the machines and infrastructural deficit in the country.
They said that BVAS malfunctioned in the recent elections, and prevented several eligible voters from voting, fearing that similar situation may repeat, considering that it is nationwide election which INEC May be structured.
“There is no doubt that BVAS would check fraud just like we used to see in previous elections. People just sit somewhere and vote out the entire population, I witnessed such in my state in 2019. Some people rented hotel and they selected some few people to do their will inside after paying them heavily.
“Part of my concerns is lack of infrastructure, electricity is not there in several remote villages, what about network to send the results? I pray this does not impede us.
“It appears that the politicians are always moving one step ahead and they must be careful,” Segun Olowo, public affairs commentator, said.
But the electoral umpire, INEC has touted the BVAS as an unbreakable system that prevents any form of electoral malpractice.
However, like every other technology out there, the BVAS is not without its loopholes.
Also, the loopholes associated with the voting system can affect the credibility of an election.
Speaking on why BVAS keeps malfunctioning, an IT expert, Damilola Akinsola, said the device required regular software updates and serviceable broadband access, requiring 4G technology for convenient download.
According to Akinsola, “Quality internet access is a major challenge as several areas (especially remote locations) within the country don’t have 4G network coverage.
“For instance, MTN, the leading carrier in the country with 38 percent market share, currently reports only 60 percent 4G penetration.”
Political Analyst, Kunle Okunade said the introduction of BVAS into the electoral process is a welcome idea that would shape the face of the polity and elections in Nigeria, stressing that it helped in reducing electoral fraud in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
“It is a fact that the political elite may not be comfortable with the use of BVAS because they are used to the old ways of prosecuting elections which were extremely fraudulent and satanic.
“The electronic intrusion into the system has given hope to the electorate that their votes would count and that the process would be credible and fair to make their choice to win.
“BVAS has shaped and will continue to shape the electoral process so that the electoral umpire does not lose guard to the manipulative machineries of the political elite.
Speaking recently on the usage of BVAS and its impact on the 2023 general election, former Minister of Aviation Osita Chidoka, called on INEC, to review its Biomodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
Chidoka said Nigerians increasingly believe that the system is free and fair and that their vote would count.
He said that INEC coming out to say that it was cleaning the register, with over a million people removed from the voters’ register, showed a problem.
“So long as there is the possibility that people can upload accredited voters without a proper accreditation happening, then it puts all the elections in the air.
“Fundamentally, we need INEC to appoint one of the four leading consulting firms in Nigeria to review the INEC system to ensure it meets the standard and has integrity.
“We need INEC to subject their system to a third-party evaluation. I am making that call again because there is a need for INEC to have a third-party validation of their technological process,” he said.
He further added that Nigerians have started to have trust in the electoral system.
“If the elections have to be free and fair, then voting has to be done. Nigerians were saying they would come out and vote; people increasingly believe that the system is free and fair and has integrity. If people think their vote will not count, then we would not have this number of people registering for the elections,” he said.
Also, INEC’s national commissioner and chairman, information and voter education committee, Festus Okoye, promised that the commission would expand the base of the training of its ad-hoc staff to acquaint them more with the workings of BVAS and other technological innovations of the commission.
Amid reports in some quarters that INEC would jettison the use of BVAS in next year’s poll, the commission stated that the use of BVAS was backed by law, and there was no going back on its usage.
The commission stated that Nigerians have accepted the use of BVAS and that the commission will not relent on its commitment to improve the electoral process via technology.
“The BVAS is domiciled within the confines of the Electoral Act of 2022 and we do not have any fear whatsoever in relation to the validity and legality of the BVAS and other technological and electronic devices we are using for elections.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has given INEC the exclusive right, power and mandate to organise, undertake and supervise elections that are captured within the confines of the constitution”, Okoye said.
Read also: Buried PVCs probe report out soon – INEC
Opposition mounts against BVAS
Despite the possibilities seen in BVAS, there are politicians who believe the technology would spoil things for them and they are said to have gone to court to halt its deployment in 2023.
Speaking on Channel Television Sunrise Daily programme on Monday, October 3, 2023, Mike Igini, a former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Akwa Ibom State, said that those who have gone to court over BVAS wanted to return the country to the ugly past.
Recall that the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) had recently told the nation that some politicians were doing everything within their powers to rig the 2023 general election.
The CUPP alleged that there were moves to use secret court action to stop the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machine in the 2023 general election.
Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, spokesperson of the group, while speaking to journalists in Abuja, said their vigilance team following credible intelligence discovered the suit at the Owerri Federal High Court where it was filed since August 24, 2022.
The CUPP also displayed extracts of the National Voters register which it claimed were part of the over 10 million fake registrations done by some chieftains of a political party aimed at rigging the election.
The group alleged that the names on those displayed registers were sourced from both within and outside Nigeria including some African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Guinea, Gambia and countries outside the continent.
Ugochinyere also announced that some of the dates of birth of those whose names were upload on the INEC data were 1900; and other impossible dates; and that in some of the newly created polling units in a state, all the people whose names appeared on the data had same birth date. There were also mismatch of names and pictures, as according to him, male pictures were used against female names and vice versa.
He also said that the INEC chairman was under pressure to announce a change to the Commission’s stance on the compulsory use of BVAS machine for accreditation; adding that plot was afoot to sack Yakubu through the court.
“The intelligence CUPP intercepted which has led to the discovery of the suit filed seeking to nullify the BVAS and exposure of the massive compromise in the voter register cannot now be wrong that the third leg of the plot is to sack the National Chairman through a suspension as the plotters know they cannot get the required numbers from the National Assembly for an outright sack,” he said