Election Tech Could End Voting Malpractices In Nigeria, But Not Yet

Photo Credit: "2023 Elections in Nigeria 20" by Yemi Festus, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
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Ndubuaku Kanayo is a writer, digital strategist, and communications personnel based in Nigeria. He studied Sociology and Anthropology and he aims to use storytelling to communicate the impact of societal growth and development.

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LAGOS, NIGERIA: Adaeze Ejiofor, who used her voting privileges for the first time in February 2023, claimed that her decision to vote in the presidential and parliamentary election on February 25 was driven by the need for political power to be shifted away from the two major political parties in Nigeria. 

Ejiofor, however, admitted to The SolutionsPaper that she did not anticipate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral umpire, to hold a free and fair election before the vote. She acknowledges that technology increased the reliability and transparency of the general elections in 2023, but she contends that there was a high level of opaqueness on the side of electoral officials. 

“In my opinion, there wasn’t a problem with the BVAS technology, it was not the BVAS itself. If anything needs to be improved on, I think it’s the officials. They need to be more transparent,” she disclosed. 

The quality and integrity of elections in Africa have become increasingly important for ensuring the legitimacy of government and the facilitation of local and international support. According to the Electoral Integrity Project report, the degree of threats to electoral integrity is more intense in Africa when compared to other parts of the world.

Many African countries have deployed technological solutions in the conduct of elections to improve the quality and integrity of polls. According to biometrics experts, GenKeys, around twenty-five (25) African countries have adopted election technologies. 

In Kenya, the 2013, 2017, and 2022 elections witnessed the introduction of several aspects of electoral tech consisting of electronic transmission of results, biometric registration, and identification of voters under the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) to strengthen the transparency of elections.

Solving Nigerian Electoral Woes with Tech

With challenges around electoral malpractices, fraud, vote buying, ballot box snatching, rigging, and manipulations of results, the 2007 general elections in Nigeria were marred with electoral violence and political thuggery. 

Furthermore, hundreds of lives were lost following post-election violence after the 2011 presidential elections in Nigeria, displacing thousands of people and destroying properties.

Consequently, Nigeria introduced new technology into its electoral process in 2015 when INEC debuted the permanent voter card (PVC) with an embedded microchip containing voters’  biometric information, and the electronic smart card with fingerprint scanners. 

The biometric voting system was continued in the 2019 general elections despite issues around a proper understanding of these technologies by the electorate as well as its seeming failure to eradicate electoral violence, vote buying, electoral corruption, manipulation, and rigging. 

INEC, empowered by the electoral act of 2022, introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (iReV) to guarantee transparency and curb electoral malpractices, manipulation, fraud, and corruption. 

While the BVAS is an electronic gadget with an Android operating system designed to authenticate eligible voters, the iRev is an online platform that allows registered Nigerian voters to view election results in real-time as they are being uploaded from polling units nationwide. 

The BVAS authenticates a voter using the last six digits of the Voter Identification Number (VIN), the device can also use manual search to fetch the data of a voter from the voter database, or the device can choose to scan the barcode at the back of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). 

When the voter data is found, the next step is fingerprint biometric accreditation where the voter would use his/her finger on the BVAS machine. If the system fails to read the voter’s fingerprint, the facial recognition feature in the BVAS can also be used to accredit the voter.

After accreditation, the voter collects copies of the ballot paper from the Presiding Officer (PO) and then proceeds to vote. After every voter in the unit has cast his/her vote, the PO would then proceed with the sorting, counting, and announcement of the election result. 

Furthermore, the electoral officers in the unit record the scores in a result sheet, after which party agents present would then append their signatures. 

The PO would have to sign and stamp the result sheet, providing a copy of the sheet each to the party agent. Then the presiding officer is expected to take a picture of the original result sheet with the BVAS machine and upload it to the iReV. 

The BVAS and iReV were used in successfully accrediting voters and uploading results in the Ekiti and Osun states off-cycle governorship elections of June and July 2022 respectively. 

In Ekiti, election observers reported that the BVAS was functional in at least 76 percent of the voting locations and the iReV portal had gone live early enough with 45 percent of the polling unit results uploaded as of 5:00pm on election day and 98 percent by 9:00 pm.

Using a parallel vote tabulation statistical methodology to verify the accuracy of election results, Yiaga Africa, a non-profit election civic hub confirmed that the official announcement of the votes cast for the 2022 Osun State gubernatorial poll tallied with its election observation findings.

The BVAS and iREV technology was also used in the 2023 presidential, legislative, and governorship polls and deployed in over 105 election centres involving 16,694,461 registered voters. INEC maintains that over 170,000 election results have been uploaded to the iReV since the 2023 general elections.

Lessons from the BVAS and iReV Deployment in Nigeria’s 2023 Elections 

Although the introduction of electoral technologies like the KIEMS in Kenya and the BVAS in Nigeria has helped in the verification of citizens’ identity and reducing multiple voting, impersonation, and vote buying, the challenges around institutional corruption and weak cybersecurity apparatus continue to hinder the successful deployment of technology in the electoral process.

Despite the deployment of electoral technology in the 2017 Kenya general elections, multiple discrepancies led the Kenyan Supreme Court to nullify the 2017 election results and order fresh polls.

The 2022 Kenyan presidential election winner also had to be decided by the Supreme Court due to allegations of electoral misconduct despite the maximum use of electoral technology.

In Nigeria, the BVAS and iREV technology underperformed in its first national deployment as the BVAS machines failed to capture several voters, and presidential election results were not uploaded to the iRev in real-time during the 2023 presidential and national assembly elections nationwide. 

When the INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmoud declared a winner for the 2023 presidential election on 01 March 2023, a significant percentage of the presidential election results nationwide were yet to be uploaded onto the iReV. Manipulated result sheets as well as images of a young lady were also uploaded in place of election results on the iReV. 

While speaking to The SolutionsPaper on the condition of anonymity, an INEC ad-hoc officer narrates why he did not upload the presidential election results in his polling unit during the 2023 general election. 

“When you are done snapping and you go to the portal to upload the results, the presiding officer is expected to sign on the BVAS with his name and then submit. We did it for the House of Representatives it went through, we did it for the Senate, and it went through, but when we tried uploading the Presidential results, the portal returned an error message as it kept saying server down. And that was why most polling units were unable to upload directly online for the presidential election.”

He further disclosed how a voter in his assigned polling unit who encountered problems with the BVAS verification system was unable to get accredited and consequently did not vote during the elections.

Another ad-hoc staff during the 2023 general election, Egbe Blessing told The SolutionsPaper that she was only able to successfully upload the February 25th 2023 presidential election result sheet onto the iRev the next day. 

“I kept trying from the polling unit but was finally able to finish the uploads at about 2 am on the 26th of February, 2023,” Blessing noted. 

INEC has blamed technical glitches for the partial failure to upload election result sheets from polling units in real-time during the 2023 presidential election after its server recorded over 12 million cyber attacks during the February 25 2023 presidential and legislative election.

However, Emmanuel Udebuani told The SolutionsPaper how his polling unit at Awada primary school, Anambra state which serves over five thousand registered voters suffered deliberate disenfranchisement from INEC.

”I got to my PU exactly 9:15am and met a large crowd, with no INEC official onsite. Waited for what seemed like forever and they later arrived at almost 4pm with just one BVAS machine and left before 7pm the same day. A lot of us were told to come the next day as the process will continue but none of that happened’‘ Udebuani said.

Analysts posits that sociocultural influences on technology adoption and tech-driven development in developing countries like Nigeria and Ghana vary significantly from that of developed countries like the UK and the US due to cultural and social norms, differences in infrastructure, and institutional support.

Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive Officer of Connected Development (CODE) agrees that technology has improved the electoral process but emphasized the need for strengthening social institutions to guarantee accountability and reduce human interference in adopting electoral technologies. 

“We have seen how technology can improve the process. We saw it play out in increasing civic participation; 11 million new registered voters. However, we also saw how human interference can render technology useless. So yes, the deployment of the election technologies was brilliant, but several factors were at play that made Nigerians not benefit from such a critical investment,” Lawal concludes.

Editing Credits

Editor: Chinonso Kenneth

Sub-editor: Precious Ewuji

This story received funding support from the Media and Communications Development Foundation, a non-profit, nonpartisan NGO working in the intersection of technology and journalism to spur civic engagement


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