By Chukwudi Nweje
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), introduced a new technology called the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), into the 2022 Electoral Act, and told Nigerians that the innovation would eliminate rigging from the electoral process, many believed the electoral umpire and heaved a sigh of big relief that the 2023 general election would be free, fair and credible.
With the BVAS technology, election results would be transmitted directly to the INEC’s server from the polling units across the country once the elections are concluded and results declared at such units. Many Nigerians celebrated the innovation, boasting that INEC had introduced a game changer to the electoral process, and that the era of rigging and manipulation of election results were over.
However, Nigerians were utterly disappointed when the reverse became the case as could be seen from several cases of inconclusive elections across the country, resulting from over voting and results manipulations, which were the primary issues that the BVAS was originally meant to tackle.
Though the 2023 election has come and gone, noncompliance with the Electoral Act 2022 has created inconclusive election situations in some places, thus throwing the country back into the inglorious days that pre-dated the introduction of the BVAS.
More than three weeks after the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, some legislative elections have not been concluded. For instance, election for the Yobe South Senatorial zone was declared inconclusive by the INEC following the cancellation of results in some polling units.
The Returning Officer, Prof Shettima Abdulkadir Sa’idu said the total number of votes cast exceeded the number of accredited voters in the affected polling units. He also disclosed that the cancelled polling unit had 1,118 registered voters, and the total number of accredited voters in the polling unit exceeded the total number of registered voters.
In Sokoto State, the three senatorial seats elections were also declared inconclusive, due to cancellation of some polling units, over voting and disruption of election, according to the Returning Officer, Prof. Shehu Gulumbe. He noted that over voting and disruption of elections occurred in all the seven local government areas across the senatorial district.
The March 18 governorship election also saw cases of inconclusive elections cutting across Abia, Adamawa, Enugu, and Kebbi States respectively. While results for Abia and Enugu were finally declared on Wednesday, March 22, four days after the election; Adamawa and Kebbi are still hanging in the balance.
The case of Adamawa particularly is interesting because the candidate of the APC, Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed (Binani) was initially projected to be leading the PDP candidate, Gov Ahmadu Fintiri.
In fact, she was even reported to have received an early congratulatory message from the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing; a development that suggested she was coasting home to victory.
Laing wrote on her verified twitter handle, @CatrionaLaing1: “Great news! Huge congratulations to Aisha Binani. I hope you will be a trailblazer for other elected female Governors.”
However, when the official INEC results came in, Fintiri scored 421,522 votes to defeat Binani, who received 390,275 votes.
The INEC Collation/Returning Officer for the election, Prof Muhammed Mele, stated that the margin of win between Fintiri and Binani was lower than the number of the collected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in places where the elections were not held.
Meanwhile the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have continued to trade blames, with the PDP accusing INEC and APC of attempting to alter the results in favour of Binani.
Several legislative elections, including the House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly are also inconclusive. Records suggest that INEC is yet to declare the winners of about 100 House of Representatives seats across the country.
It is worthy to note that majority of the polls were declared inconclusive because of infractions, disruptions and over voting
Even as the electoral commission said supplementary elections would be conducted in the affected areas, it is pertinent to know how there could be over voting in an election conducted with the BVAS technology, which must accredit a voter before he or she can cast a ballot.
Elections in Nigeria since 1999 have been very contentious. Several cases of rigging, over voting, ballot box snatching, and manipulation of results, while on transit from the polling unit to the collation centres, had become commonplace occurrence.
In fact, the signing of the Electoral Act 2022, which had in its kitty the introduction of BVAS and other technology to the election process, raised the hopes of Nigerians such that they believed that the 2023 election cycle would be markedly different from the previous elections.
Commenting on the BVAS, a human rights lawyer and advocate for good governance, justice, and equity, Liborous Oshoma, said: “INEC told us that BVAS will perform dual functions of authenticating voters’ card and their biometrics. The BVAS technology was introduced after the card readers used in past elections proved inadequate in checking over voting.”
Despite rampant cases of inconclusive elections, Oshoma still believes that the BVAS has helped, especially in checking over voting.
He said: “Section 51 of the Electoral Act recognises over voting as the number of actual voters exceeding the number of accredited voters. This sharply contrasts the provisions of the old Electoral Act that described over voting as when the number of actual voters is more than the number of voters on the register. If there were no BVAS, it would have been difficult to prove over voting. It was the use of BVAS that exposed over voting.
Condemnations trail process
President General of the Cultural Credibility Development Initiative, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said that INEC adopted a cavalier attitude towards the preparation of the 2023 elections.
He said the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and the INEC Commissioner in-charge of Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, were effusive in the media communication, that all was going according to plan, but lamented that their promises were all a fluke.
“Most of the young and young at heart believed INEC that their votes will count. But, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. The competence of the INEC staff is questionable.
“Our best brains have left Nigeria in search of greener pastures. This brain drain has affected everything in the Information Technology (IT) world. I am not aware that INEC has taken steps to ensure that the staff quality is high,” he said.
He scored the electoral commission low in the performance of its duties and noted that Prof Yakubu, the only INEC Chairman to have superintended over two general election cycles since the return to civil rule in 1999, could have done a better job.
He added: “Prof Yakubu is the first and only INEC Chairman so far to be reappointed to the head of INEC since 1998. It’s not too much to expect that the erudite Prof would have learnt from the mistakes of his first tenure and the previous election years.
“The tendency to appoint people who are tainted with political party affiliation into INEC admin structure is condemnable. An example is the Sokoto gubernatorial seat aspirant who joined INEC despite the protests from the media and Sokoto people. The mentality of partisanship will never leave an INEC staff. The public will never accept the neutrality of such a staff.”
Many Nigerians have expressed disappointment with the INEC, saying the conduct of the 2023 general elections fell below expectation.
The Joint Election Observer Mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), led by former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, said the polls were marred by incidents of political violence; a development that prevented a substantial number of voters from participating in the election.