All Eyes on Mahmood Yakubu

After failing many Nigerians who voted in the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections by not utilising the Independent National Electoral Commission’s technological advances to ensure that the results of the elections were transmitted and published online in real time, the commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu had another opportunity yesterday to improve on the commission’s previous poor performance, Ejiofor Alike reports

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, provoked the ire of the majority of Nigerians who voted in the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections when the commission failed to effectively utilise its new technology to enhance the transparency of the election results.

Out of the 24 million Nigerians whose votes were declared valid by INEC, only 8.7 million or 36.6 per cent voted for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), while the majority of the voters, who accounted for 63.4 per cent, or 15.3 million voters, had rejected the APC at the polls.

Many who did not vote for the APC believe that the results of the polls, which did not favour their candidates, were manipulated due to the INEC’s failure to deploy its improved technological innovations in the conduct of the exercise.

The failure of the commission to use its technology to conduct the elections tainted the credibility of the elections and dragged Yakubu’s reputation to the mud.

Before the elections, Yakubu had raised the confidence of Nigerians and the international community in Nigeria’s electoral system with INEC’s technological innovations.

The two technological innovations – the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) are crucial technological advances for enhancing the transparency of the election process and the delivery of the results.

The commission had noted that these technologies, which gulped millions of dollars, would address the 10 most prevalent flaws in the management of the process of delivery of the country’s election results.  These flaws, according to the commission include: Alteration of votes at polling units, distortion of number of accredited voters, collation of false results, mutilation of results and computational errors.

Others include: Swapping of results sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of results sheets, obtaining declaration and return involuntarily, making declaration and return while result collation is still in progress and poor recordkeeping.

According to the commission, the BVAS is a technological device used to identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting.

 This technology is also used for capturing images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet online.

On the other hand, IReV is an online portal where polling unit level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published in real time.

These technological innovations had raised the confidence of Nigerians and the international community in the country’s electoral process.

Yakubu had repeatedly vowed that the commission would deploy these technologies to deliver credible elections that would be acceptable to all the parties.

With the improved confidence in the electoral system, it was not surprising that the number of registered voters increased from the 84 million recorded in the 2019 general election to 93.5 million before the February 25 elections.

INEC’s assurances to conduct free and fair elections using its technological advances were said to be responsible for the renewed interest of Nigerians in the electoral system.

However, strong indications that the leaders of the APC were not comfortable with these new innovations emerged in November 2022 when the National Chairman of the party, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and the party’s National Organising Secretary, Ambassador Suleiman Argungu kicked against the technology when the duo received a delegation from the Commonwealth Election Observation Mission.

Receiving the team, Adamu reportedly said: “First, I was privileged to serve as a senator. Our concern is how ready are we to deploy some of these technologies as regards transmission because we are taking a major step in transmitting election results in real time.

“To transmit results, every part of the nation Nigeria I’m not sure that the network covers it, I know that even in parts of Abuja there is no network and we have from now till February when in substantial parts of the country there is no electricity.”

Argungu also made a similar argument, insisting that the electronic transmission of results of the general election would not work.

The APC leaders’ position was a red flag, which fuelled suspicions among Nigerians about the sincerity of INEC to deliver credible elections.

It also raised doubts about the sincerity of President Muhammadu Buhari to bequeath a legacy of free and fair elections for the country, as he promised.

But following the public outcry that greeted his comments, Adamu had quickly made a U-turn at a press conference addressed on his behalf by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Felix Morka, where he argued that he did not kick against INEC’s planned use of its technology to conduct the 2023 general election.

Also in a spirited attempt to douse the tension, Yakubu also stated in a statement that the commission would not reverse its decision to use BVAS and the IReV for the elections.

“As I have said repeatedly, the commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria. Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on Election Day. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 General Election,” Yakubu reportedly explained.

Unfortunately, the commission failed Nigerians on February 25 when it jettisoned its own technology.

Yakubu, who had deceptively used the INEC’s technology to earn the respect and confidence of Nigerians and the international community, declared the results of one of the most controversial elections in Nigeria’s history and challenged the losers to go to court.

However, following the reputational damage he suffered, he later acknowledged the obvious flaws at a recent meeting he held with all state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) at the INEC headquarters in Abuja, in preparation for yesterday’s polls.

Addressing the RECs, Yakubu reportedly stated: “No doubt, last week’s national elections raised some issues that require immediate, medium, and long-term solutions. The planning for the election was painstakingly done. However, its implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen. 

“The issues of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, the attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in which elections are usually held in Nigeria.”

While noting that many lessons have been learnt, he also used the occasion to preach again to Nigerians that BVAS would be used in yesterday’s polls.

 “Since last week, the commission has intensified the review of the technology to ensure that glitches experienced, particularly with the upload of results are rectified. We are confident that going forward the system will run optimally.”

However, many Nigerians who were disillusioned in his conduct of the February 25 elections, received his latest assurance with a pinch of salt.

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