Polithinks — On The Neck of INEC: Getting it Right
Technology was promised to be the game changer in the 2023 general elections; it however failed as the most crucial issue of how polling unit result will be transmitted was…
●19th April 2023
Nigeria’s electioneering, particularly, the management of elections, which lies squarely on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has come a long way from 1999 when voter registration was done manually, with the details of registrants written manually with a pen on a form provided by INEC officials. There was no database of registrants, thus cases of double registration and the credibility of the electioneering process was cast in a lot of doubts. After 1999, election management – from voter registration to actual voting – has gone through different technological leaps. The Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) technology was used to register voters in 2003; and in 2007, the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) using the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) with Automated Fingerprint Identification System and Electronic Voters’ Register (EVR) was introduced (with no technology used in voter accreditation, voting, sorting, counting and result collation); a similar technology was deployed in the 2011 elections.
However, in 2015, INEC went further to introduce the technology for voter accreditation by deploying the Voter Authentication System (VAS) and the Smart Card Reader (SCR), and Election Transparency and Administration and Collation (e-TRAC) for result collation; which was similarly used in the 2019 elections. In 2023, INEC introduced two crucial technologies that should aid in election management – the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Results Viewing Portal (Irev). While the BVAS was supposed to be the technology that will ensure that voters are properly accredited on Election Day by reading the polling unit information on their PVCs, it was also supposed to be the technology that will be used to take snapshots of the polling unit result sheet and transmit same to the IReV “in real-time on Election day”. This is to ensure transparency and increase voter confidence. While the BVAS may have worked in voter accreditation and snapping of result sheets, it failed to live up to the hype of “real-time” transmission of results to the IReV for the results of the presidential elections, thus increasing voter suspicion and dashing faith in INEC of some voters.
At a recent press conference in Washington DC, the minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed said, among other things, that the reason INEC did not upload some of the results of the presidential elections on the IREV portal was because it suspected the IReV portal was going to be hacked. This insight was different from the reasons given by the electoral body itself. On February 26th 2023, a day after the presidential elections, as questions heightened about the inability of the electoral body to transmit results from the polling unit to its IReV portal, the commission on its verified Twitter handle stated that the reason it could not upload the presidential election result in real time was because of “technical issues related to scaling up the IReV from a platform for managing off-season, state elections, to one for managing nationwide general elections.” It further stated that “the challenges are not due to any intrusion or sabotage of our systems, and that the IReV remains well secured”
The Chairman of INEC Mahummud Yakubu had previously stated in a Press Briefing in November, 2022 in Abuja that elections results from the polling units across the country will be transmitted to the IReV in real-time, and that “a story emanating from a section of the media that the commission has decided to jettison the uploading of polling unit level results in real-time on election day… should please be disregarded as fake news.” Although this promise (of real-time upload of the presidential elections) was not fulfilled, the reasons given by the commission are clear and at variance with the one given by the minister of communication.
In the light of the foregoing, those saying INEC had not matched its actions with its rhetoric should not be shouted down. In a country where trust in public institutions is low, where public institutions have abused the powers and privileges they have, and given an event as crucial as a general election, INEC should have done more than it did.
However, INEC can still get it right. The National Assembly in amending the 2022 electoral law can codify the term “real-time” into the law. This way, the electoral umpire and its managers will be careful about what they say they will do, and be conscious that they can be held to account if their words do not match their actions. In section 60(5) of the 2022 electoral law as amended, it is stated that “The presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission.” This section may be less open-ended by prescribing the actual manner in which the commission transfers the result collated at the polling unit. The ambiguous nature of how the transmission of electoral results should be done leaves room for possible manipulations, and will continue to raise allegations of manipulations if not checked.
Technology was promised to be the game changer in the 2023 general elections; and while the BVAS has made it almost impossible for over voting to take place, the most crucial issue of how polling unit result will be transmitted has not been answered by technology. Interestingly, in a country that prides itself as the tech start-up capital of Africa, it should not be difficult for tech to help us cross this huddle in our electioneering. It is important to keep the pressure on INEC to make electioneering better in Nigeria. Law makers can help them with relevant amendments to the electoral laws; INEC can help itself by being open to help from the vast ocean of tech talents in the country,