The BVAS challenge and political integrity question


In far-away Washington DC, United States of America, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that he has given the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the resources needed for the conduct of the 2023 general election. While Buhari was in his known element in not taking responsibility for failure even under him, he sounded that note early with regard to the 2023 election. “I made sure they (INEC) were given all the resources they asked for because I don’t want any excuses that they were denied funds by the government.”

However, beyond resources, Buhari did deliver a more valuable legacy by assenting to the Electoral Bill (now the 2022 Electoral Act) which near rig-proof efficiency is giving politicians sleepless nights. Now part of the electoral Act and guidelines, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and Electronic Transmission of Results to INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV) are truly the game changers.

BVAS, the new sheriff in town is what is giving politicians nightmares. They are now running from pillar to post in an attempt to undermine INEC through complaints, harassments and even destruction of INEC facilities in a bid to cast doubt on the integrity of the 2023 general elections.

Politicians are now wishing for the return of the dark days of the card reader and its accompaniments like incident forms which had in the past aided rigging and convoluted an entire democratic process. Indeed, politicians are jittery; in addition to condemning BVAS and its corollary like the IRev, they have resorted to harvesting or buying of voters’ cards, with the hope that it would serve their interest on election day. In my opinion, the only thing INEC will have no control of on election day is voter inducement. This agelong method of buying voters’ conscience was applied massively during the primary elections of all the major political parties.
Time will tell if the same idea can be exploited to gain advantage during the general election where millions of people are involved.

Complaints by contenders and interest groups are also indications that they (politicians) are not at ease with the deployment of technology in the election. For example, it is on record that the APC hierarchy and the candidate himself, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu have expressed reservations about BVAS and IReV. At Chatham House, Tinubu said, “we are still building confidence in our democratic and voting system. INEC is yet to assure us during this election that electronic transmission—the technology being used for accreditation and the total vote count is reliable, dependable and assuring in our democratic process before we introduce a complicated element of balloting counting”.

National Chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu on his part had earlier expressed his concern on how ready we are “to deploy some of these technologies as regards transmission because we are taking a major step in transmitting election result in real time. To transmit results, every part of the nation Nigeria, I am not sure that the network covers it…and there is no electricity. INEC must assure us 100 percent that as and when due in transmitting results, they are ready…”. But having deployed these two computer systems in governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states and the FCT with near perfection, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and the. National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye have consistently reiterated the efficacy of BVAS and IReV and have assured that these devices would not disappoint Nigerians. And it does appear that the voting populace and CSOs are excited about these innovations that may change the narrative of election forever in Nigeria.

Although incumbency also plays a major part in election in Nigeria, the 2015 election that saw the exit of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan; the recent election of former Vice President William Ruto of Kenya against an incumbent-backed Raila Odinga, are examples of decreasing influence of incumbency on the outcome of election.

Again, while there are allegations of rigging and manipulation of INEC by the presidency in favour of the incumbent President Buhari in 2019, the president has assured otherwise this time, and his body language so far shows some level of neutrality.

Meanwhile, the big elephant in the room is the incessant violence and security breaches around INEC facilities resulting in some casualties, even as election is a little over 60 days away. Figures available show that there have been almost 50 attacks on INEC facilities in about 15 states in the country. This does not inspire confidence in the system and might discourage voters from exercising their franchise. The South east is the hardest hit among the regions where INEC facilities have been attacked.

Destroying voting materials and creating violence in an otherwise peaceful environment can at best lead to mutual suspicion and lack of trust among members of communities and other stakeholders, especially as no arrest has been made in all cases of violent attacks visited on INEC. This does not speak well of our much-vaunted security architecture and their roles in election conduct.

Political parties have also complained about attacks and killing of their members. In the forefront is the PDP, which campaigns were attacked in Kaduna and Borno states recently. Kaduna state has also recorded the killing of a Labour Party candidate in the Southern part of the state. The women leader in Kaura Local Government Area of the state Victoria Chintex was reportedly attacked and killed in her home, and her husband was equally injured. Like the Kaduna state woman, a candidate of the party in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo state, Christopher Elehu was killed by assassins, and his property set ablaze. In all these cases, no arrest has been made. Election related violence generally is an old phenomenon in Nigeria, but we ought to have outgrown it in the 21st century of technological interventions.

The issue of Naira redesign and its revision, allowing only N100,000 cash withdrawal in a week is the latest headache for politicians. Frankly speaking, I think 20,000 cash per day is too little an amount in cash to withdraw in a day. The CBN’s far-reaching reform is also close to election, but many, who have no stolen stashed funds can still do their transactions electronically without worries.

Politicians are however losing sleep because election spending can be curtailed through the new policy. Since the CBN announced the Naira redesign policy, the cat has been let out of the bag. As many a politician is jittery, so are new discoveries of stashed funds that have become powdery and useless, in a country of 130 million multi-dimensionally poor. Therefore, the resistance from the political class is understandable, but as long as the CBN and INEC policies are in the interest of Nigeria, and ultimately cleanse the system of fraud and money laundering; give credibility to election and stabilise our economy, it should be encouraged.

Instead of complaining and condemning every attempt at making our election credible, transparent, free and fair, politicians should concentrate their energies in convincing the electorate on concrete plans to change their lot. You don’t seek to change the rules because you cannot beat it. So, whether it is BVAS today or any other technological innovations tomorrow, players in the political arena should seek to play by rules and standards set to improve a process that has been abused and battered over the years.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist. She chairs Blueprint Editorial Board. She can be reached on [email protected]