With more than 80 million Nigerians registered to vote in 2023, the electoral commission will require 40 times the capacity deployed in the just concluded Anambra State governorship poll to achieve the 2023 general election.
This follows the conduct of the Anambra governorship election that had less than 2.5 million voters registered but lasted for three days as a result of hitches encountered using the Biometric Voter Authentication System (BVAS) machine.
Out of the 2.5 million voters, 253,388 voters were accredited and only 249,631 votes counted. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has yet to confirm the number of BVAS machines it deployed to the 5,720 polling units, it is safe to say about 5,000 machines were used in the election.
BusinessDay learns that the electoral body lost some machines to attack by hoodlums days before the election. The available machines were manned by about 26,000 ad hoc staff.
Multiple voters including the gubernatorial candidates monitored by BusinessDay experienced difficulties with the BVAS. Some of the challenges include facial recognition, authenticating voters’ fingerprints, which made the entire process slow and cumbersome. On average, completing the voting process took about 20 minutes per person.
Paddy Ezeala, a public affairs analyst, told BusinessDay that Anambra was a testing ground for the INEC machines in preparation for the 2023 elections. The electoral body would need to take lessons from the hitches as it prepares for the upcoming presidential elections in less than 16 months.
“I cannot condemn the application of technology because it is the way forward, so we have more than a whole year to apply both the resources needed, upgrade the technology and train the personnel working with the BVAS machine to make the e-voting more effective in the 2023 general election,” Ezeala said.
Abong Matthew, the presiding officer at polling unit 005 Ward 11, Otuocha1, Wri Primary School 2 Anambra, said voting started at 8:30 am on Saturday and most of the 756 total registered voters at the center experienced some form of challenge, sometimes due to the malfunction of the BVAS machine.
“The BVAS machine has been a major issue for us here, the machine cannot authorize fingerprints and facial recognition,” Matthew said.
The biometric voter accreditation system (BVAS) is a device that replaces the Smart Card Reader (SCR), which was used in 2015.
The BVAS has the dual capacity for fingerprint and facial authentication of voters. It was first deployed in the Isoko South I State Constituency Bye-election in Delta State on September 11, 2021. Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the INEC, declared the pilot as successful.
The goal of the BVAS, according to the INEC boss, is to guard against identity theft where one person uses another person’s Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) to vote using the incident form.
“With this development, the use of the incident form is abolished. No voter without genuine PVC will vote. No voter who has not been successfully accredited electronically using the BVAS will vote,” he said.
Another feature of the BVAS is a camera that enables it to capture Polling Unit level results and upload them to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal so that citizens can view results as the election is concluded in each Polling Unit. This eliminates the need for the Z-Pad since its functions have been embedded in the BVAS.
However, the BVAS deployment did not really live up to many people’s expectations. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, the governor-elect in the Anambra election, expressed concerns after his experience voting with the BVAS machine. In his case, it took nearly 40 minutes to conclude the voting process.
Vincent Ozigbo, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had his thumbprint rejected several times by the BVAS before he cast his vote at his polling unit. The Anambra election had to be completed in three days due to the hitches reported from different voting centers.
Ezeala wondered that “if it takes three days to conduct the Anambra election, which is just one state using the BVAS, then there is a need to upgrade broadband infrastructure and train personnel to enable effective use when it will cover the 36 states in Nigeria.
“This is just one state out of the states, if for instance, those malfunctioning happens in the 36 states, it will spoil the whole process. So, let them do the needful and look at the technology again, upgrade the technology where necessary, and train the personnel to work.”
Omorodion Odion, a public relations officer, said the challenges experienced in Anambra could have been mitigated if the INEC personnel were well trained on how to use the technology.
“If we get enough human resource training on this device and more personnel to work, we will have a more transparent and effective election in 2023,” Odion said.