All eyes are fixed on Nigeria’s 2023 elections. Nigerians have high hopes that their votes will count against what’s been perceived in the past; critical election stakeholders are anticipating free and fair elections across the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory and international bodies are watching the Independent National Electoral Commission closely.
With 93.46 million eligible voters, the election is said to be a defining moment for the over 200 million citizens who have experienced bouts of challenges under the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari come May.
The electoral umpire (INEC) is poised to deploy technologies to conduct a credible and efficient election. Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS) is at the forefront of technologies INEC will deploy for the forthcoming general elections come February 25th and March 11th governorship elections.
BVAS is an electronic device designed to authenticate voters’ Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). It does this by using voters’ fingerprints and facial identity matches it with existing information on the voters’ register. This is done to confirm that a voter is eligible to cast his/her vote at a particular polling unit.
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.”
Among other things, it is believed that BVAS will eliminate PVC fraud and salvage ballot snatching that has marred elections in the past.
Basically, the BVAS is an upgrade to the use of Smart Card Readers (SCR) which has been used in previous elections to verify voters’ identity by scanning the microchip embedded on Permanent Voters’ Card. But the difference between the less smart SCR and BVAS is that, while SCR verifies the card presented and registered in a polling unit regardless of whether it is being used by the rightful owner, BVAS ensures that the actual PVC bearer is the one being verified.
The device also synced with INEC technology that was used to register voters in the first place, that is the Voter Enrolment Device (IVED).
Technically, BVAS and IVED are the same thing.
How BVAS Fared At Off Cycle Elections
In 2021, when the machine was deployed for Anambra State governorship election, a cross-section of Nigerians including election stakeholders expressed their reservations as to the efficacy of the machine.
So far, INEC has deployed the device in three off-cycle governorship elections (Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun elections) as well as the FCT Area Council elections.
It was also reported that BVAS had difficulties capturing the thumbs and faces of some of the voters, especially the aged during the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State.
But INEC reassured voters that its IT experts had tested the device in a mock election and reasserted the machine’s capacity to function well.
Despite INEC’s assurance, there were hitches during the Anambra governorship election as a result of BVAS malfunctioning, and voting was extended from 2:30pm to 4pm at some polling units.
And for the forthcoming polls, INEC will be deploying a total of 176, 846 BVAS machines across the 176,846 polling units in the country.
The electoral umpire further said the commission would provide 17,618 BVAS machines for back-up, with two devices per registration area.
But How Confident Are Nigerians In INEC’s Technology?
While there are mixed feelings of hope and doubts about BVAS effectiveness, Twentyten Daily created a survey to measure how confident the electorate are in the INEC’s technology.
Out of 63 respondents to the Twitter poll which lasted for three days, only 22% are highly confident on BVAS to deliver free and fair elections; 32% are confident; 21% have no confidence and 25% of the respondents are indecisive.
However, a first time voter, Wale Adekola told Twentyten Daily that BVAS does not guarantee a free and fair elections. “Bimodal Voter Authentication System can only reduce the level of vote (rigging) decadence; I don’t believe it can absolutely make elections free and fair as long as Nigeria is concerned”.
Also, Tijani Abdulkabeer, stated that BVAS will reduce election violence inspired by ballot-snatchers.