Despite the earlier threats by non-state actors that no election will be held in Anambra State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the support of security agencies and other stakeholders on Saturday successfully conducted the exercise without much hassle.
The election, held in 21 local government areas of the state with 18 candidates contesting, witnessed the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the exercise. While the BVAS had been used in Isoko South constituency 1 by-election, this would be the first major election where INEC deployed the BVAS and as explained by the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, it is a replacement of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) used in previous elections since 2015.
Mahmood had explained that the BVAS has the dual capacity for fingerprint and facial authentication of voters which will guard against voting by identity theft where one person uses another person’s Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) to vote using the incident form.
He added that with the BVAS, there won’t be need for the incident form and no voter without genuine PVC would be allowed to vote.
“The BVAS has the dual capacity for fingerprint and facial authentication of voters. This is to guard against voting by 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.
“At the same time, the BVAS is also equipped with a camera. Therefore, it has the capacity to snap Polling Unit level results and upload same to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal so that citizens can view results as election is concluded in each polling unit.
“Therefore, there is no need for the Z-pad since its functions have been embedded in the BVAS. I am glad to report that all the BVAS required for the election on Saturday have been configured and delivered to Anambra State. Election duty staff have also been trained on the use of the device and we have sufficient technical staff to respond to any glitches that may occur,” Yakubu had said.
However, during Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the major challenge encountered during the exercise was the malfunction of the BVAS machines at many polling units.
The Centre for Democracy and Development in its preliminary report of the election noted that the malfunctioning of the BVAS almost threatened the quality of the outcome of the exercise. It said, “In several instances, the BVAS failed to recognise voters’ faces and fingerprints, and those affected were asked to wait until the challenge was resolved.”
CDD’s observers also reported malfunctioning of the BVAS in Ayamelum LGA with three polling units affected. ….in some polling units, INEC officials resorted to the manual methods of accreditation and voting. This was observed in Awka South, Awka North, Idemili North, Idemili South, and Anambra West.
CDD observers further reported that in cases where the BIVAS worked, its pace was frequently slow, leading to longer wait times than necessary for voters. In several reported cases, frustrated voters were forced to return home without casting their votes.
The resort to manual voting will likely generate uncertainties about the validity of votes cast. This will likely also open up the election to petitions and questions regarding its legitimacy.
While INEC was able to resolve the BVAS glitches same day, some observers were of the opinion that the commission was not ready or still lacking in capacity to use electronic devices for election exercises.
“The failure of the BVAS on Saturday in Anambra governorship election has only shown one thing; it has confirmed the fear of the National Assembly that earlier rejected the section of the Electoral Act that called for electronic transmission of election results by INEC.
“The National Assembly felt that the country was not ready for such so if INEC could not prove us wrong with the use of BVAS in Anambra State alone, how can they deploy BVAS and other electronic devices in the general elections that’ll involve all the states of the federation and the FCT?” an Independent observer who pleaded anonymity asked Daily Trust in an interview.
While responding on whether the glitches observed with the BVAS in Anambra can in any way affect the credibility of the exercise, Saidu Hussaini, Director of Research, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) stated it’ll be too early for anyone to condemn the usage of the device but the electoral body can be urged to improve on it.
“I think it’ll be too early to say how widespread it would be but it is still an issue of concern giving that this was one of the main achievements of the commission that we highlighted leading up to the election. But it is worth noting that this is the first time this technology has been deployed so ordinary, there’ll be some issues,” he said.
While many analysts believe that INEC’s introduction of electronic means of voting is a significant innovation of deepening the transparency and credibility of elections and the electoral process in Nigeria, as there is evidence that communication technology does foster democratic consolidation, it has also been noted that e-voting has its downside as it is susceptible to fraud as hackers can easily compromise the process.
This has inclined some observers of the process to suggest a mix of traditional method with digital ones so that voters get the best of both systems.
One thing is certain that judging from the performance of INEC during the just concluded exercise, more still needs to be done to accomplish a near to perfect exercise in 2023 where the commission would be attending to a larger number of the electorate.
There’ll be a need for the commission to embark on a fresh training of its officials in the use of BVAS and other devices before the general election as a repeat of the drawback witnessed in Anambra may lead to the loss of trust in their ability to deliver a free and transparent election for the country.