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EXPLAINER: What INEC’s BVAS means and how to minimise its failure during elections

Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters – using the voters’ fingerprints –…

Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters – using the voters’ fingerprints – in order to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.

BVAS usage entails either scanning the barcode/QR code on the PVC/Voter’s register or entering the last six digits of the Voter Identity Number or typing in the last name of the voter by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO 1) to verify and authenticate the voter.

According to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, “When the commission introduced BVAS last year, the compact device was intended to achieve two objectives. First is the verification of the genuineness of the PVCs and the fingerprint or facial authentication of voters during accreditation.

“Secondly, to replace the Z-pad for uploading the polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on election day.”

BVAS also acts as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) during voter registration. Its usage has also eliminated the use of incident forms during accreditation on an election day.

Failure of BVAS

When INEC announced that BVAS was going to be deployed for the November 6, 2021 Anambra governorship election, a cross-section of Nigerians including observer groups and other critical election stakeholders, expressed their reservations as to the effectiveness of the machine.

When it was first deployed in the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021, some presiding officers complained that the machine had difficulties capturing the thumbs and faces of some of the voters, especially the aged.

But INEC dismissed their fears saying the machine had been test-run and proved by its IT experts to have the capacity to perform optimally during the governorship polls. It claimed that the challenges experienced during the bye-election had been resolved and the device enhanced to forestall future reoccurrence.

Despite the assurance, there were hitches during the Anambra governorship election as a result of BVAS malfunction. INEC, in a statement via its official social media handles, announced the extension of voting time from 2:30pm to 4pm due to challenges experienced at some polling units as a result of the BVAS malfunction.

During the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Election of February 12, 2022, there were lots of challenges caused by BVAS as evidenced in reports by voters and observer groups.

INEC FCT Resident Electoral Commissioner, Yahaya Bello, also admitted that there were glitches with the usage of BVAS during the election.

Reasons for malfunction

On why BVAS keeps malfunctioning, an IT expert, Damilola Akinsola, said the device required regular software updates and serviceable broadband access, requiring 4G technology for convenient download.

According to Akinsola, quality internet access is a major challenge as several areas (especially remote locations) within the country don’t have 4G network coverage.

For instance, MTN, the leading carrier in the country with 38 per cent market share, currently reports only 60 per cent 4G penetration.

How can BVAS failure be minimised?

It is sometimes assumed that biometric systems always work correctly and without failure. In reality, biometric technologies and related matching processes cannot be expected to work with 100 per cent accuracy.

The electoral umpire, INEC, has touted the BVAS as an unbreakable system that prevents any form of electoral malpractice. However, like every other technology out there, the BVAS is not without its loopholes.

Also, the loopholes associated with the voting system can affect the credibility of an election.

The Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, noted a comprehensive audit of BVAS will prevent possible disenfranchisement of voters and inspire public confidence in electoral technologies being deployed by INEC for future elections.

Sam Amadi, an election analyst that monitored the Anambra governorship election, urged INEC to take immediate measures to enhance the infrastructure behind the technology and ensure adequate training for ad-hoc staff on the efficient use of the device going forward.

Kunle Okunade, a political analyst, also advised the commission “to train the ad-hoc staff early in how to operate BVAS for efficiency and smooth electoral process.”

Also, INEC’s national commissioner and chairman, information and voter education committee, Festus Okoye, promised that the commission would “expand the base of the training of its ad-hoc staff to acquaint them more with the workings of BVAS and other technological innovations of the commission.”
This explainer was done in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).

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