BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Explainer: BVAS and reasons for failure

Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) is a device that replaced the smart card reader, which was used in 2015, with the dual capacity for fingerprint and facial authentication.

With its first outing during a by-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021, according to reports, some presiding officers complained that the machine had difficulties capturing the thumbs and faces of some of the voters, especially the aged.

However, the Anambra election is the most consequential outing so far of the BVAS and the first time it was deployed in a state-wide contest, where it also failed and led to extension and postponements, in some cases.

These casualties caused by the BVAS machines are what the adoption of the technology is trying so hard to fight against, including the slow and manual process of voting, which consumes time, amidst other factors.

Reasons for BVAS’ failure

From the Area Council elections conducted in February in Abuja, BusinessDay found that the machines malfunctioned at first and didn’t pick up thumbprints as well as face identification until election officers received some workings from technicians around.

For Emmanuel Yemgbe, a voter who participated in the said election, the machine picked his thumbprint on the second try. He also complained about how slow it took for the machine to respond in capturing his data.

The machine is able to check rigging at 100 percent.

Mode of technology

BVAS is a technology solution based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and is only as good as both the age of the data and the training that the algorithms receive.

For example, in the Anambra election, voters who had registered in INEC’s Continuing Voter Registration (CVR) were the most easily accredited because their data were current. However, older voters or voters whose permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) were a few years old reported serious problems with accreditation, mostly because their features had changed in the years between data capture and accreditation.

While this may lead to disenfranchisement, Nigerians ask questions about both the source of the algorithms and their training, as well as more information about the parameters that need to be known.

Functional connectivity

BVAS requires strong and functional connectivity to function effectively. This also has to do with the level of broadband penetration in the country. Broadband penetration refers to the amount of the internet access market that high-speed or broadband internet has captured. It allows internet users to load content quickly as online content grows more bandwidth.

A report released by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) on industry statistics shows that broadband penetration in Nigeria stood at 40.88 percent as of December 2021. This implies that broadband in Nigeria covers only 40 out of 100, which poses a challenge in areas where there is no access to a strong internet connection for the BVAS machine to be used.

According to the report, Nigeria needs three times more fibre infrastructure than it currently has to reach the National Broadband Plan (NBP) target set by 2025, designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria with effective coverage available to at least 90 percent of the population by 2025.

Read also: Nigeria Decides 2023: How elections are stolen (1)

Experts say the urgent deployment of fibre infrastructure is critical to the success of upcoming national elections, especially where INEC intends to introduce e-voting in 2023. In Dunukofia, Anambra state, most of which is covered by 3G networks, presiding officers had to enlist local motorbike providers to take them to neighbouring communities where they could access the 4G network to download BVAS updates.

Training

While looking out for the major areas to fix for a successful election using the machine, there is also a need to educate and give enough training to persons who handle the machine. Many electoral personnel cited lack of training as the cause of the malfunction of the BVAS in the places where it was deployed.

In the Anambra ballot, human agency deficits were evident. According to reports, many electoral and presiding officers had little or no training on how the BVAS machine works.

Faith Nwadishi, executive director of Centre for Transparency Advocacy, noted after the FCT council election that the council observed the malfunction of the BVAS machine could be attributed to lack of proper knowledge of the machine by personnel and staff handling the machine.

“We found out that some of the ad-hoc staff were not used to the BVAS; so they had to wait for the technician, and I can give you an example from unit 014 in Gwari where I was personally,” Nwadishi said.

Paddy Ezeala, a public affairs analyst, said INEC should go back and review the technology again in order to achieve success in the forthcoming elections. He said INEC must invest so much in training the staff that would be in charge of machines before the conduct of the elections.

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