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Nigeria, a country in search of effective solutions to electoral irregularities

History has shown that the conduct of general elections in Nigeria is far from an ideal standard, but the country’s electoral umpire is making serious efforts to get it right.

Nigeria, a country in search of effective solutions to electoral irregularities. (BizWatch Nigeria)

INEC has time and again expressed its commitment to a violent-free poll that would be a departure from what Nigerians have seen in previous election cycles.

Since the most populous black nation on earth returned to democracy in 1999, the electoral commission has conducted six presidential elections, none of which can be said to be 'free and fair' in the real sense of the words.

The 1999 general election, conducted under the supervision of a military Head of State, General Abdulsalaam Abubakar, remains the closest to a free and fair electoral process since the annulled 1993 election which was dubbed as the best in the nation’s history.

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The subsequent elections were riddled with all forms of electoral malpractices that include snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes, shooting, maiming, falsification of results, vote buying, and disruption of the voting process on election days by hired hoodlums and sometimes, state security personnel.

The 2003 election for instance was characterised by widespread manipulation, rigging, thuggery, and assassination of perceived political opponents, and in 2007, it was a do-or-die affair — quoting the statement of the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo.

In its post-election report, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development submitted that “The Nigerian elections of April 2007 were judged by most observers to fall a long way short of the standards for credible, free and fair elections and to be the worst in Nigeria’s post-independence, electoral history.”

The 2011 and 2015 elections were not better, there were pockets of violence here and there.

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While these issues are recurring decimals in Nigeria’s elections, the INEC has over the years been making efforts to address the challenges and minimise the incidents of electoral malpractice in the country.

Tackling the issues

Ahead of the 2015 general election, the national electoral body headed by Prof Attahiru Jaga introduced the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) and card reader, a machine designed to accredit voters and verify rightful owners of voters’ cards.

To a large extent, the deployment of the machine in the 2015 election helped in eliminating issues regarding impersonation and voting by proxy.

According to Bill Sweeney, the President of the Internal Foundation for Electoral Systems, the 2015 election was a positive harbinger for democracy in Nigeria and Africa at large.

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The organisation attributed the positives recorded by INEC in the 2015 general elections to the commission’s investments in biometric technology which consequently reduced voters fraud.

Although the election under review wasn’t a flawless exercise, it was a marked improvement on the 2011 general election which was largely marred by violence and mayhem leading to the death of approximately 800 people while 65,000 were displaced from their homes.

The biometrics technologies used for the 2015 election were also deployed for the 2019 general elections, but the exercise did not go without the attendant irregularities that characterise elections in Nigeria.

The 2019 general election showed that INEC still has a lot of ground to cover if it were to conduct a free and credible election.

The election which brought President Muhammadu Buhari back into the office for a second term in 2019 was riddled with regrettable irregularities. It was reported that 626 people were killed during the exercise.

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What’s INEC doing now?

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the INEC has reiterated its commitment to improve transparency and boost public trust in the electoral process.

The INEC’s resolve to conduct a credible election in 2023 with widely acceptable results is strengthened by the 2022 Electoral Act which allows the electoral umpire to introduce more technological instruments into the process.

Some of the new innovations in the Electoral Act include the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IRev).

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The BVAS is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters using both their fingerprint and facial recognition.

Unlike the card readers deployed for the 2015 and 2019 elections, the BVAS can capture images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and upload the image of the sheet on INEC’s Election Result Viewing platform (IReV).

IReV is an online portal where results from polling units are uploaded, transmitted, and published for the public.

The portal also allows members of the public to create personal accounts to gain access to polling units’ results uploaded on the platform as PDF files.

All of these are enshrined in the Electoral Act not only to provide a legal framework for INEC’s operations but also to ensure the 2023 election process is clean and transparent.

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The deployment of these devices according to the Chairman of the commission are solutions to some of the weaknesses in Nigeria’s electoral management

BVAS tested…

The BVAS has been tested in off-season elections in Ekiti, Osun and Anambra states.

The use of BVAS for the July 16 gubernatorial election in Osun state received remarkable comments from observers as it took a maximum of two minutes to accredit a voter at polling units.

According to a report by Daily Trust, the performance of the BVAS in terms of the turnaround time in the Osun state governorship election was by far better than in Ekiti and Anambra states.

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It is believed that the deployment of the device in the Osun election indicated that the BVAS would positively impact the 2023 general election to make it free and fair.

Interestingly, one major problem the BVAS will address in the forthcoming election is the falsification of election results as the machine cannot be bypassed or manipulated.

Other efforts aimed at conducting credible election

Technology will play a big role in the 2023 general election and the INEC is ready to work with telecom companies and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Nigerians have expressed doubts about the possibility of using the BVAS in poor network areas as the machine depends on telecommunications networks to function.

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But the INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has assured Nigerians that there would be a seamless transmission of results in the 2023 elections even from communities not covered by telecommunication networks.

In an interview in November 2022, the Chairman of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude confirmed that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has started working on rural telephony.

Also, areas that do not have the Internet will be able to use SMS technology to send results in real time.

Furthermore, as part of efforts to discourage vote-buying, which is a popular practice in Nigeria, the Federal Government deems it fit to deploy operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor elections and arrest any politician or party agents caught inducing voters with money.

Section 127 of the Electoral Act, 2022 allows EFCC operatives to go after any person offering or accepting money to vote.

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The section says any person who "directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, gives, lends or agrees to give or lend, or offers any money or valuable consideration" is liable to punishment of N500, 000 fine or 12 months imprisonment or both upon conviction.

The section further states that any person who "directly, or indirectly, by himself, or by any other person on his behalf receives any money or valuable consideration on account of any person having voted or refrained from voting, or having induced any other person to vote or refrain from voting"... is liable to punishment of N500, 000 fine or 12 months imprisonment or both upon conviction.

During the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti State, EFCC operatives were deployed to the state to arrest vote traders.

Limitations

The deployment of the BVAS for the off-season elections recorded some positives that sought to solve some problems associated with elections in Nigeria, the operations of the machine itself slowed down the process.

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In the Osun election, there were reported incidents of low battery power and instances of BVAS failing to authenticate voters by fingerprints at some polling units.

Also, during the off-season elections, there were instances where INEC officials were reportedly unable to operate the machine.

Furthermore, in a country where over 70 percent of the people are poor, the deployment of anti-corruption officials to discourage vote trading may not completely deter voters from accepting cash from anyone offering it.

Finally, in order to enhance its data recovery centre, the INEC has vowed to upgrade all its platforms to forestall attacks from political actors and hackers.

*This story was with the support of the Nigeria Health Watch and the Solutions Journalism Network as part of the Solutions Journalism Africa Initiative.

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