• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Inside the ‘technical hitches’ behind BVAS failure

Lagos by-election: We ‘ll upload results on IREV-REC assures

The glitches that marred the elections held on February 25 have raised questions over the circumstances leading to the redeployment and replacement of Chidi Nwafor as ICT director of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

BusinessDay has obtained statements from multiple sources very close to the matter who allege that Nwafor was technically demoted because “the powers that be” could not induce him to shut down the INEC server and disrupt the upload of results on the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) ahead of the 2023 elections.

On August 16, 2022, INEC announced that it was redeploying Nwafor, the director of ICT at its headquarters, to the Enugu branch to serve as an administrative secretary, six months before the general election.

Although Nwafor was not the only director that was to be redeployed – seven other directors and two resident electoral commissioners were affected, his removal raised eyebrows. He has not only supervised INEC’s technology deployment in two presidential elections – 2015 and 2019, and the first deployment of the BVAS technology in elections such as the Anambra State, Ekiti State, and Osun State elections, he was being replaced with Paul Omokore, who until then was director of planning and monitoring at the headquarters.

“It is the incomprehensible redeployment of a competent director of ICT whose team has recorded a string of credible elections in recent times. It makes absolutely no sense to change a ‘winning team’ except of course there is something more to this,” Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education in Nigeria, said at the time.

INEC, however, insisted that it was only following routine redeployment to ensure it conducts free and fair elections.

On March 1, the commission declared Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as the President-elect after an election many critics have described as the worst since 2007. This is due to the widespread breakdown of the technology, officials being given wrong passwords, inability to get the server running on time to enable the upload of results on the IReV portal from the polling units, multiple cases of officials thumbprinting on ballot papers, snatching of ballot boxes and violence on voters by hoodlums sent to disrupt the process.

Mma Odi, co-convener, Situation Room, said there was optimism when the Electoral Act was signed into law in February 2022, and the Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun elections, which saw at least 75 percent of election results uploaded latest midnight and boosted the confidence in INEC ahead of the 2023 polls. She, however, described the outcome of the presidential election as compromised following the inability of the umpire to upload results on time.

“Is it a compromised INEC personnel that made INEC not upload the results of the election on Saturday? The things we saw in the field yesterday ( Feb. 25) and we were getting reports from people who were not our observers, who thought there was a way we could help them, we were calling INEC to escalate the matter, but they were not picking up calls unlike in the past. When you saw what happened yesterday (Feb. 25) and you still go ahead to defend INEC, you are an enemy of Nigeria,” she said while appearing on a news programme on Arise TV.

Yiaga Africa, a civil society organisation, described the presidential election as a missed opportunity.

The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria said INEC’s lack of efficient planning in critical stages and effective public communication reduced trust in the process, including on election day.

“Uploading of the results using the BVAS did not work as expected and presidential election result forms started to appear on the portal very late on election day, raising concerns,” it said.

The Financial Times, in an editorial, also took a swipe at the outcome of the election, saying it was “badly mismanaged” by INEC.

BusinessDay found that as of 5:00 pm on Monday, five days after INEC had announced the winner of the presidential election, the commission had upload the results of 163,585 polling units out of a total of 176,846 on the INEC IReV portal.

INEC had on February 26 expressed regret over the delay in uploading the election results, blaming the setback on technical hitches.

Read also: BVAS: Demystifying the use of technology in interrogating the presidential election results

Nwafor and the BVAS system

Nwafor, who was born in Anambra and grew up in Enugu, has a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the University of Lagos. He moved on to Japan, where he studied computer programming. He also obtained an MSC in economics and an MBA in management.

“He developed this BVAS system, and has built systems in place to avoid what is happening now,” said one of the sources. According to one estimate BusinessDay saw, INEC spent N105.25 billion to acquire the BVAS devices for the elections.

BusinessDay was unable to ascertain which year Nwafor joined INEC; he was, however, the director of ICT during the 2015 election when the smart card reader was first introduced. The smart card reader is designed to read the information contained in the embedded chip of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) to verify the authenticity and also match the biometrics obtained from the voter on the spot with the ones stored on the PVC. It was a crucial innovative aspect of the 2015 general election.

A source said it was during the 2015 election that Nwafor earned his reputation when he refused to help the rigging of the election. Nwafor was again put to the test in the 2019 general election, when after allegedly ensuring that results were sent to the INEC server, the leadership of the commission denied that it used the server in open court. This denial contradicted the statements of 20 INEC officials who worked as presiding officers; they reportedly said they were told that there was a “central server in Abuja” where results were collated electronically. Their statements were confirmed by a manual issued to the electoral officials by INEC for the 2019 elections which showed that the “Communicate” icon on the smart card reader should be used to transmit the accreditation data to the central server.

One of the sources said Nwafor corroborated the existence of this server and threatened to resign, which forced INEC leadership to send him off to a conference, the 5th Annual Meeting of ID4Africa Movement in Johannesburg (from June 18 to 20). On the day he was to return from the conference, the commission issued a statement denying that he had resigned. BusinessDay was able to confirm that Nwafor did attend the conference.

After the drama of the 2019 election, Nwafor pushed for the BVAS to be accorded legitimacy in the electoral law and also canvassed for other innovations to help eliminate every loophole that will compromise the outcome of the election. Between 2020 and 2021, he was to champion the introduction of the Electronic Voting System, which features the Electronic Voters Register, Electronic Voters Authentication, Electronic Transmission of Results, and Electronic Voting (or Balloting) System.

“We are on the verge of introducing electronic voting as we perfect other variants of EVS,” Nwafor said at a workshop in December 2021.

Nwafor’s exit

The fierce opposition mounted by the majority of the leadership of the ruling party towards the use of the BVAS during the election meant that Nwafor’s plans would not materialise, even though the Electoral Act was passed and it made provision for the transmission of results electronically. The chairman of the party Abdullahi Adamu said in November that the country was not ripe for the use of the machine.

“First, I was privileged to serve as a senator. But our concern is how ready are we to deploy some of these technologies as regards transmission because we are taking a major step in transmitting election results in real-time,” Adamu said.

Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, at another conference in 2022 raised eyebrows when he seemed not to commit to the transmission of results electronically. He was, however, criticised, with accusations that INEC planned to abandon the electronic upload. The commission was then forced to release a statement affirming its commitment to transmitting results electronically.

Sources allege that Nwafor had to leave his position at the risk of his life.

An information systems expert who spoke on condition of anonymity told BusinessDay that glitches come because of a lack of resource planning and lack resource optimisation, adding that for them to occur on the BVAS machine it would take a couple of factors. These, according to him, include low bandwidth, low memory, software bugs, low data storage, slow processors, and poor software architecture. “This is why there should have been a load and stress test that would reveal any of these factors.”

“For a system this big, there should be benchmarks for various components of the system and they need to be published. It’s standard global best practices,” the expert said.