"The system of using the BVAS for the conduct of elections has come to stay. There’s no going back," Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, says.
In a month's time, an estimated 95 million registered voters will be at 176,846 polling units distributed across the country's 774 local government areas to vote for new political leaders, including a president, 28 governors, and 1462 federal and state legislators.
This will be the first general election that will be conducted under the new electoral law introduced by INEC. Technology is one of the key innovations that was introduced to the new law.
According to the electoral law, the use of electronic devices such as smart card readers, electronic voting machines and other technological devices, is allowed in the accreditation process for voters and the general conduct of elections. Furthermore, the new Act provides for the electronic transmission of election results in accordance with the procedure determined by INEC.
The INEC Voter Enrollment Device (IVED), Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) are three technological innovations that will drive the 2023 general elections in Nigeria—they were also used during the 2022 governorship elections in three states in South Western and South Eastern regions of the country.
“To a large extent, BVAS and IReV will eliminate voting by proxy,” Paul James, Head of Elections Projects at Yiaga Africa, a leading civic organization promoting public accountability in Africa, told Benjamindada.com. “They will also enable the tracking of the actual turnout of voters during the elections. It will serve as a check for INEC, political parties, the media and election observers.”
James believes that the technologies will bring “sanity to Nigeria’s electoral process”, he also credits the surge in voter registration, especially amongst youth to the introduction of the technologies.
Although several civil society organisations have commended the electoral body for this innovation, some political parties have faulted the credibility of BVAS and IReV. “Every technology comes with its challenges which sometimes include human errors. However, it will bring sanity to the process; the good will outweigh the challenges,” James added. With the previous usage, of electoral technologies in 2022, INEC is expected to learn from the inadequacies of the devices.
“We have identified the challenges associated with the BVAS system during voter accreditation,” Prof Yakubu said in 2022, assuring Nigerians that the technology won't fail again.
Recently, INEC disclosed that it will carry out mock accreditation at selected polling units to test the integrity before the general elections. “We had issues with the BVAS in Anambra and FCT when we deployed it in November 2021 and February 2022. We went back to the drawing board and we have found the solution,” the INEC Chairman said during a presentation at Chatham House on January 17, 2023.
Explainer: What's BVAS and IReV?
Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) is a device that is used for both voter accreditation and e-transmission of results for collation, with the dual capacity for fingerprint capturing and facial authentication. It is a replacement for the smart card reader, which was used in the 2015 elections.
The BVAS technology is an artificial intelligence solution. The machine does not require an internet connection to function during election day.
According to Prof Yakubu, “the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal is a dedicated web portal for the public to view polling unit results as soon as they are finalised on election day. This has been employed in several elections conducted by the Commission in the past few years.”
“In particular, the uploading of Polling Unit results on the IReV portal has been deployed in 105 constituencies where the Commission conducted off-season elections since August 2020. The result can still be viewed on the portal, making the IReV an invaluable repository of election results in Nigeria,” he added.
To further ensure accountability at the forthcoming elections, last year, Nigerian tech startup, Stears Insights relaunched Stears Elections, an open data project designed to organise all of Nigeria's election data.
"This first version of Stears Elections was designed to allow voters to find the candidates vying for their votes. With data on candidates from the Presidential elections down to the State Houses of Assembly, we’ve made it possible for users to sign up to monitor specific races. There is no existing product in the market that allows for this granularity," Preston Ideh, Stears CEO, said in a statement shared with Benjamindada.com.
Recall that in 2019, the company built Nigeria's first real-time election database to solve the challenges around inaccurate and rudimentary data.