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The Independent National Electoral Commission’s recent admission of irregularities in logistics, election technology, and conduct of personnel during the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections may have justified the allegation by the opposition parties that the electoral umpire failed to deliver on its promises, Adedayo Akinwale writes
For many people, the recent presidential election was supposed to be different in view of the presumed experience of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the previous elections. INEC was supposed to have learnt from the challenges from the previous elections and made adequate preparations to ensure those problems were not encountered again. But this was not to be.
The promise by the commission to conduct credible elections was largely responsible for the approval of N305 billion for INEC by President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for the 2023 election. The budget was the highest budget for the electoral body so far. INEC had received N234 billion in 2019, while N18.8 billion was used to execute the similar presidential and National Assembly elections in 2015.
The budget for the 2023 elections also meant that INEC’s budget for each voter was the biggest at N3,263 compared to the past four previous elections. In 2011, the voter per capita was N1,671; it dropped to N1,569 in 2015 but rose to N2,841 in 2019. The N305 billion is almost 15 times the amount of money the South African Independent Electoral Commission is getting for the 2024 election. The country has approved an equivalent of N20.01 billion for its next election.
In the face of massive protests by Nigerians and international observers over the blatant irregularities witnessed during the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, INEC, perhaps in an attempt to save face, recently confirmed that indeed there were glitches in the poll. The electoral umpire blamed technical hitches with its result viewing portal (IReV) during the general election in Africa’s biggest economy.
In a statement signed by its National Commissioner on Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, the commission said it was aware the IReV had been relatively slow and unsteady. While assuring Nigerians that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) would be used in the forthcoming governorship and state legislature elections, it further noted that its technical team was working assiduously to solve all the outstanding problems.
“The commission is aware of the challenges with the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IREV). Unlike in off-season elections where the portal was used, it has been relatively slow and unsteady. The problem is totally due to technical hitches related to scaling up the IReV from a platform for managing off-season state elections, to one for managing nationwide general elections. It is indeed not unusual for glitches to occur and be corrected in such situations.”
“We also wish to assure Nigerians that results from the polling unit copies of which were issued to political parties are safe on both the BVAS and the IRev portal. These results cannot be tampered with and any discrepancy between them and the physical results used in collation will be thoroughly investigated and remediated, in line with section 65 of the Electoral Act 2022,” Okoye explained.
Also at a press conference, the INEC Chairman, Yakubu, last week admitted that the challenges of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, and the attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in the elections.
Yakubu explained that the commission had intensified the technology review to ensure that glitches experienced, particularly with uploading results, are rectified.
He said a recent meeting aimed to review the commission’s performance during the presidential and National Assembly elections and assess preparations for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.
“No doubt, the national elections raised some issues that require immediate, medium, and long-term solutions,” he stated. “The planning for the election was painstakingly done. However, its implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen.”
Yakubu said the commission appreciated the sacrifice and doggedness of Nigerians and the dignity and maturity displayed by political leaders even in the context of divergent views about the election, saying many lessons have been learnt.
The chairman noted that of immediate concern to the commission was how the identified challenges could be addressed as it approaches the concluding phase of the general elections involving the largest number of constituencies –28 state governorship elections and 993 state Houses of Assembly seats.
“On Election Day technology, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) will once again be deployed for voter accreditation and result management. The deployment of BVAS has gone a long way to sanitise voter accreditation as can be seen from the result of recent elections,” he said.
Many analysts feel that four years was enough for INEC to build and strengthen the application and software it needed to conduct seamless elections in 2023. However, the presidential election was only about 35 per cent tech-driven and more manual. They wondered how INEC would allow Nigerians to suffer so much; from the laborious process of getting PVCs to be identified as eligible to vote, to spending a day waiting for accreditation and voting.
Beyond getting voters to register and printing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) for 93.5 million eligible voters, capturing their faces before they vote, the rest of the process was largely manual. Most of the BVAS failed to connect either because the official said there was no internet or the network was malfunctioning or there was approval that needed to be obtained. Most of the results had to be taken by an INEC official to the collating centres, where they were computed by senior INEC officials.
Experts say the failure INEC recorded was not due to the breakdown of the machine but from avoidable human errors, poor training of officials, and deliberate sabotage. It is also important to note that the chairman of INEC, had shown reluctance to the idea of results only being transmitted electronically.
In early 2022, he raised eyebrows when he admitted that the commission would transmit election results electronically and collate the same manually.
“The law does not require that collation be done on the basis of uploaded results, but on results manually transferred to the collation centres. But where there is a contest, the uploaded result supersedes,” Yakubu said during an interview.
The BVAS, according to an expert who wanted to remain anonymous to speak freely, was supposed to provide a record of accredited voters because it houses the list of all voters who passed accreditation. It was also supposed to provide a record of the results – that is, a picture of the signed result sheets. The BVAS then uploads the results for the different elections.
According to multiple sources, the BVAS experienced a shutdown for nearly seven hours, preventing polling units from transmitting the results electronically. In 2022, a Vanguard report showed that the results could go through intermediaries known as Registration Area Technicians or RATECHs, who operate at the ward levels. The job of the RATECHs is to review election results (Form EC8A), uploaded from the polling unit under the ward before transferring them to the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV). Some experts have wondered why the BVAS cannot transmit simultaneously to both the INEC server and the IReV.
INEC, however, said that the challenges it faced were not due to intrusion or sabotage of its systems, and the IReV remains well-secured. It said its technical team was working assiduously to solve all the outstanding problems, adding that users of the IReV would have noticed improvements. The commission did not address the question of who informed their officials at the polling units not to upload results.
“Election result databases are not even supposed to be sophisticated. A simple spreadsheet is enough to manage election results. What is very clear is that N305 billion was spent on incompetence,” Okoye said.
This is why the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, described Yakubu’s promise to deliver credible governorship polls as “medicine after death.”
Speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communication, Phrank Shaibu, Atiku said Yakubu, had in a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners promised to ensure the strict use of BVAS.
He quoted Yakubu to have said: “All staff found to be negligent, whether they are regular or ad-hoc officials, including collation and returning officers, must not be involved in the forthcoming elections. RECs must also immediately initiate disciplinary action where prima facie evidence of wrong-doing has been established,” the INEC boss stated on Saturday.”
Atiku further described Yakubu’s assurances as “worthless and unconvincing.” He added that the INEC chairman was only trying to save face after conducting the worst elections Nigeria had ever witnessed since independence. He asked the INEC boss not to try to deceive Nigerians again after the shambolic performance of INEC in the February 25 poll.
The former vice president also commended the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, for admitting that the elections were far below the expectations of Nigerians.
He stated: “The INEC chairman is nothing but a hypocrite. After promising to upload the results from polling units in real time, he allowed himself to be used, or he used himself in subverting the will of Nigerians. It will shock you to note that seven days since the election ended, the full results have still not been uploaded on INEC’s result viewing portal. The election was so bad that it failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians as restated by several foreign media outlets and observers as well as Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard of the US. Rather than apologies, the INEC chairman is trying to shift the blame. After INEC’s abysmal performance at the scam election of February 25, he is now trying to save face, insisting that errant staff would be punished and would not be deployed in the March 11 governorship poll. This is arrant nonsense.”