Will Nigerians ever trust BVAS again?

By Masara Kim

The rescheduled Governorship and State Assembly elections holding across Nigeria next Saturday the 18th of March may likely witness a low voter turnout compared to the 15 February polls. Loud protests have been heard across the country since the declaration of the election results which produced Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu as winner.
The elections have been described by local and international observers as lacking transparency. The European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) as well as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) among others have faulted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for failing to keep its words and display the election result tallies real-time on its website for public scrutiny.
At least two political parties have sued INEC for allegedly rigging the elections in favour of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) Party. A chunk of the Nigerian electorates and politicians have also lost confidence the State elections on Saturday would be any different.
“The way and manner they conducted the last election has completely destroyed the confidence which I had in INEC,” said the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Mr. Julius Abure. “I have a lot of doubts in the patriotism, commitment, truthfulness and integrity of this INEC to do what it right,” Abure told Vanguard on 9 March.
Officials at INEC had on 8 March shifted the Governorship and State Legislative elections initially slated for 11 March 2023 to 18 March following a ‘belated’ court ruling approving the reconfiguration of the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS), an important electronic voting device needed for the polls.
At least 176,000 units of the device previously used for the February 25 Presidential elections must be reconfigured and redeployed to voting stations at least 48hours before the next elections according to INEC. But the ruling coming less than three days to the elections made it impossible to meet deadline, INEC wrote in a statement.
“Consequently, the Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to reschedule the Governorship and State Assembly elections which will now take place on Saturday 18th March 2023. By this decision, campaigns will continue until midnight of Thursday 16th March 2023 i.e. 24 hours before the new date for the election,” wrote Festus Okoye the spokesman for INEC.
The commission had applied for permission to reconfigure the devices after the Presidential candidates of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi respectively had obtained a warrant to study the devices used for the elections.
Mr. Abubakar and Obi have alleged the elections were rigged to favour Mr. Tinubu who lost the polls both in his home state of Lagos and the federal capital Abuja. According to them, the results announced by INEC were not electronically transmitted and uploaded to the INEC server as mandated by the 2022 Electoral Act, making it less credible.
INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu on 4 March admitted bypassing the electronic result transmission process, but blamed it on technical “glitches”.
“The Commission has intensified the review of the technology to ensure that glitches experienced, particularly with the upload of results are rectified. We are confident that going forward the system will run optimally,” said Yakubu at a meeting state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) at the INEC headquarters in Abuja.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja on 8 March granted INEC’s request to reconfigure the devices but after the Applicants had inspected and carried out digital forensic examination of all the electoral materials used in the conduct of the elections. The court also ordered INEC to avail it the Certified True Copies of result of the physical inspection of the BVAS to the petitioners.
Counsels to Mr. Abubakar and Obi had argued the reconfiguration might erase data contained in the devices, thus compromising evidences. But INEC has argued to the contrary.
However, the commission has yet to explain how the machines it assured were perfectly ready for the elections failed suddenly, and chiefly for the Presidential elections which are regarded the most important.
Nigeria’s electoral system which has faced widespread criticisms for several decades appears to be evolving into the American type Electronic voting. In the United States, the process involves several types of machines: touchscreens for voters to mark choices, scanners to read paper ballots, scanners to verify signatures on envelopes of absentee ballots, and web servers to display tallies to the public. Aside from voting, there are also computer systems to maintain voter registrations and display these electoral rolls to polling place staff.
This system is new to Nigeria. The country which relies chiefly on paper voting which is collated and counted by hand started a gradual migration to digital voting as recently as 2015. Apparently due to technical hitches associated with the first set of voting equipment – Smart Voter Card Reader machines risking public confidence, officials introduced the BVAS which appears to mimic the American Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting equipment.
The DRE allows voters to mark their votes directly into an electronic device, using a touch screen, push buttons or a similar device. Where write-in ballots are permissible, an alphabetic keyboard is sometimes provided to allow voters to cast write-in votes. https://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/et/eth/eth02/eth02b/eth02b3/mobile_browsing/onePag
Voting with the DRE systems has no need for paper ballots. Voting data is stored by the electronic device, on a storage device which is sometimes copied onto multiple storage devices for backup and verification purposes.
When the polls close, the data from the various voting locations are amalgamated in a central computer, which calculates the vote totals according to Ace Project. Data can be transmitted to the central computer either on removable portable devices, or by a computer network which officials in Nigeria assured will be done with data from the BVAS but failed during the last elections.
Throughout the three-day collation of results, only a handful of polling units had their results uploaded and displayed on the INEC server. Among them, many had illegible result sheets or some other photographs uploaded in place of handwritten result sheets. Others had multiple hand corrections without the counter signatures of party agents.
INEC has assured all of these evidences will be backed up prior to the proposed reconfiguration. But the opposition is taking no chances.
“This is not the first time INEC will be telling us that they have a server, they will upload to their server and so on and so forth,” LP Chairman Abure told Vanguard.
“INEC will make a promise from one side of the mouth and then swallow their vomit from the other,” said Abure. “Recall that in 2019, INEC promised that it had a server only for those servers not to be available when litigants wanted to inspect the server that they claimed they had.
“INEC assured Nigerians again and again that [the February 25] election results will be uploaded from polling units to their server and that people are going to view these results from their server but you could see that when it was time for people to start [viewing] the results, INEC said it had a technical glitch even when they had explained to Nigerians that they had backup [server] that will roll off into work immediately the main server had a technical issue,” added Abure.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed similar

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