" ITREALMS: INEC: How not to induct Nigeria into technology hall of shame - ITREALMS

Saturday, March 04, 2023

INEC: How not to induct Nigeria into technology hall of shame - ITREALMS

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Despite avalanche of promises  and hopes now dashed on inability of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to offer Nigerians the much pledged free, fair, credible and transparent exercise. REMMY NWEKE in this piece describes as shameful the scene 1 of how not to adapt technology for democracy.

“Let me draw your attention to the fact that the use of electronic devices such as Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), INEC Results Viewing Portal (IRev) and other technological devices, are now legally allowed in the accreditation process for voters, collation of results and in the general conduct of elections” - INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
INEC: How not to induct Nigeria into technology hall of fame - ITREALMS
About November 2021 while reviewing the Anambra State Governorship election with a section of the media, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had declared the resolve to deepen the use of technologies in electoral processes in the country. For many political observers, this was a welcome development as he also commended Ndi Anambra for peaceful conduct during the governorship election in the state. He stressed why they introduced some new innovations especially via technology deployment to intensify the use of technology and reduce human intervention in the critical stages of the electoral process. He went on to list a few of these pioneering efforts to include the submission and processing of nominations forms and other applications online to drastically discourage human intervention in the electoral process.

Since the 2019 general elections, Yakubu emphasized that some of the commission’s activities are now conducted either partially or entirely online through dedicated portals, which included the “Voter pre-registration; Nomination of candidates for election by political parties; Submission of list of polling and collation agents by political parties; Accreditation of national and international observers for election; and accreditation of media organisations for elections.”

Equally, Prof. Yakubu pointed out that with INEC’s Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) and launch of online registration portal they undertook fresh registration of eligible voters with every general election until 2010 when the first reliable biometric register of voters was compiled, thereafter, the practice has been to undertake intermittent registration of voters on the eve of major elections.

“In our determination to serve Nigerians better and in response to repeated calls by stakeholders, the Commission introduced a dedicated portal for online registration on 28th June 2021,” which allows intending registrants to commence the process online via filling the forms, uploading their pictures and required documents, and then make an appointment on the web portal for a date and time to visit an INEC State or Local Government Area (LGA) office to give their fingerprints and complete the registration. Thereby affording those who are already registered as voters can carry out all the other activities such as transfers, correction of personal details and replacement of damaged or defaced Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) online.

INEC: How not to induct Nigeria into technology hall of fame - ITREALMS

Nigerians taking advantage of INEC portal:

“Nigerians have fully embraced and are taking full advantage of the services available on the portal,” he declared, maintaining that INEC has been updating Nigerians every week on new development since the CVR started. Stressing that "As of 22nd November 2021, the CVR platform had recorded a total of 4,297,494 fresh registrants while 1,856,771 registrants have validated their application."

On the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), he said, in June 2021, INEC introduced a special gadget designed in-house by the Commission’s Engineers but fabricated abroad. It performs a variety of functions including physical registration of voters, fingerprint and facial authentication on election day and uploading of the polling unit result sheets to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal. He explained that IVED was used at the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration in June this year, it first was deployed for the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the Isoko South 1 State Constituency bye-election in Delta State on 11th September 2021 and later for the recently concluded Anambra Governorship election.

“In both elections, the equipment performed the functions of the Smart Card Readers (SCR) and the Z-Pad,” he further declared, saying that IReV was introduced as the Commission’s efforts to engender transparency in the electoral process, to make available for public view copies of the polling unit election result sheet, known as Form EC8A on Election Day.

Uncommissioned evangelists:

As said by Yakubu, by clicking on http://inecelectionresults.com and creating an account and password, any interested Nigerian could have access to the portal and view polling unit results as they are uploaded live. The Nasarawa Central Constituency bye election held on 8th August was the first to have its polling units’ results uploaded to the portal, followed by the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections.

Equally, ITREALMS gathered that before the introduction of IReV, the Commission had, during the 2017 Anambra State Governorship election, introduced the pasting of Form EC 60E, also known as the “People’s Result Sheet” at Polling Units, where citizens could view the result of each polling unit.

With the above narrative, almost all participants at that meeting went home happy, because there is hope anchored on technology for the delivery of free, fair, credible and transparent elections in the future, especially in the 2023 general elections. In fact, with this, some of the participants was later gathered became INEC uncommissioned evangelists; convincing Nigerians that come their ways that with what is available, that votes will count, citing instances of the Anambra, Edo and Ondo governorship elections to name a few.

INEC’s New Year Message:

Post-dated January 2023, INEC’s obvious new year message to Nigerians was that it has taken delivery of the last consignment of the BiModal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), according to the National Commissioner & Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee at INEC, Festus Okoye Esq, who confirmed this to ITREALMS penultimate Wednesday, saying, this was in furtherance of preparedness for the 2023 General Elections, that they on Tuesday, 3rd January 2023, received the last consignment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation (BVAS) machines with 52 days to the election.

The Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, National Commissioners and senior officials, Okoye said, were at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to receive the BVAS. While officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and airport security were at hand to receive the INEC team, stressing that to facilitate the smooth delivery of the machines, INEC created four airport hubs in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt.

Okoye also said that over the last four months, several flights delivered the BVAS to the designated airports for movement to States of the federation ahead of the elections. And with the arrival of the last consignment in Abuja, INEC has now taken delivery of the required number of the BVAS for all the polling units in the country and extra machines in line with contingency provisions for all critical election materials. Hence, INEC appreciated the support of all Nigerians "in its determination to conduct free, fair, credible, transparent, and inclusive 2023 General Election facilitated by the deployment of technology."

Master trainers for election technology:

Speaking in October 2022 at the third quarterly meeting with political parties for the year at INEC Conference Room in Abuja, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu revealed that they have successfully implemented nine of the 14 activities linedup for the general election, thereby making a steady progress in other critical areas of preparation for the election, including the provision of sensitive and non-sensitive materials, the recruitment of staff and planning for the movement of personnel and materials for the election.

"Only last week, we commenced the training of master trainers on election technology to ensure a seamless process. Beginning from tomorrow (October 27, 2022), we will commence the same training at zonal level and subsequently train all the ad hoc staff for the 176,846 polling units nationwide. On this note, let me once again reassure Nigerians that there is no going back on the deployment of BVAS for voter accreditation. There is no going back on the transmission of results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on Election Day. There will be no Incident Form that enables ineligible persons to vote using other people’s Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) during elections. We are committed to ensuring that the 2023 General Election is transparent and credible, reflecting the will of the Nigerian people.

The critical foundation for credible election, Yakubu reiterated, is the voters’ register, recalling that the CVR which started on 28th June 2021 lasted for thirteen consecutive months until its suspension on 31st July 2022. During that period, INEC gave Nigerians regular weekly updates showing the progress of the exercise nationwide, including analysis of the distribution of voters by age, occupation, gender and disability for planning purposes and for public information. "At the end of the exercise, 12,298,944 Nigerians successfully completed the registration as new voters. All along, we have repeatedly assured Nigerians that our process of cleaning up the register is robust. After a rigorous cleaning-up of the data using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), a total of 2,780,756 (22.6%) were identified as ineligible registrants and invalidated from the record, among them double/multiple registrants, under-aged persons and outrightly fake registrations that fail to meet our business rules. Consequently, the number of valid registrations (post-ABIS) is 9,518,188.

In terms of demographic distribution, 7.2 million new voters or 76.5 per cent, he said, were young people between 18-34 years, while there is a slightly higher number of female (4.8 million or 50.82 per cent) than male (4.6 million or 49.18 per cent) voters. Whereas in terms of occupation showed that 3.8 million (40.8%) were students.

INEC affirmed deployment of thousands of diligent staff for the CVR exercise and the vast majority of them discharged their duties conscientiously. Unfortunately, a few of them did not. The fictitious registrations were carried out by some of our Registration Officers involved in the field exercise and could easily be traced. Each registration machine is operated using an access code tied to a dedicated e-mail assigned to a staff. There is therefore an audit trail that gives the total number of persons registered by each official involved in the registration exercise. In some cases, some of them made as many as 40 attempts or more to register one fake voter. As a result, the Commission has so far identified 23 Registration Officers involved in this unethical conduct and disciplinary action has commenced. We shall continue to protect the integrity of our voters’ register. It is pivotal to credible elections. It is also a national asset and easily the largest database of citizens in Africa and one of the largest in the world.

What happened to our PVCs:

The 9,518,188 new voters, he said, have been added to the existing register of 84,004,084 voters. The Preliminary register of voters in Nigeria now stands at 93,522,272. It is preliminary because Section 19(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2022 requires the Commission to display the hard copies of the register of voters for each Registration Area (Ward) and Local Government Area (and simultaneously publish the entire register on the Commission’s website) for a period of two weeks for scrutiny, claims and objections by citizens not later than 90 days to a General Election. Consequently, between Saturday 12th and Friday, 25thNovember 2022, INEC printed 9,352,228 pages of the register, including the hard copy which were displayed for each of the 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) and 774 Local Government Areas nationwide while the entire register was published on its website for claims and objections as required by law.

INEC also claimed it worked hard to ensure the completion of printing of remaining PVCs for new voters as well as those that applied to transfer or the replacement of their lost or damaged cards. Assuring that detailed plan to ensure a seamless collection of the PVCs was unveiled, thereafter, which pointed out that INEC was aware that Nigerians expect an improvement in the procedure for PVC collection since the end of the CVR in July 2022.

2023: Get used to new Electoral Act:

Not done, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, urged political parties before now to endeavor to study and get used to the provisions of the new Electoral Act passed into law by President, General Muhammadu Buhari, retired, in February 2022. This, he said, is because INEC was determined to scrupulously apply the provisions of the new electoral laws in conducting the 2023 general election without fear or favour and ensure a free, fair, credible, inclusive and transparent election come February, 2023.

While delivering the keynote address at the 4th Abubakar Momoh Memorial Lecture with the theme “Electoral Act 2022: Imperatives for Political Parties and the 2023 General Election”, held on Wednesday, 3 August, 2022 at Auditorium of The Electoral Institute (TEI), Abuja, Yakubu represented by board Chairman, TEI and National Commissioner, Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, tasked party chairmen and members present to be committed to ensuring that the 2023 General Election is devoid of deliberate infractions to the 2022 Electoral Act essentially by allowing the electoral process to run smoothly thereby growing a rich democratic culture and acceptable election outcome.

Know new Electoral Act:

Further, he harped on the need for parties to know and understand the provisions of the new Electoral Act, as the 2023 general election draws near, it is imperative for all stakeholders especially the political parties to note the major features introduced by the new Electoral Act 2022 and the possible implications of these changes on the upcoming elections: the happenings that accompanied the recent party primaries attest to this. These changes include amongst others, the conduct of early Party Primaries by political parties, technological changes in the electoral process, the Commission’s power to Review the decision of Returning Officer and Over-voting based on the number of accredited voters. These initiatives as contained in the Act served as the bedrock for the reviewed Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections 2022 released by the Commission on 24th May 2022. This in turn dictated the review of the Manual for Election Officials, 2022.

Speaking on the legal backing the new Electoral Act gave INEC‘s technological innovations, INEC Chairman asserted “Let me draw your attention to the fact that the use of electronic devices such as Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), INEC Results Viewing Portal (IRev) and other technological devices, are now legally allowed in the accreditation process for voters, collation of results and in the general conduct of elections. Please be assured that these innovations are intended to deepen the Electoral Process in our Country and their optimal performance in the just concluded gubernatorial election in Ekiti and Osun States is an eloquent testimony to their electoral value. We shall only do more to consolidate their deployment in our election. Once again, I wish to assure you that INEC has no preferred party or candidate. We shall only ensure that valid votes count and the winners are decided solely by the voters.”

The TEI Director General, Dr. Sa’ad Umar Idris, said the theme of the lecture was carefully chosen considering the necessity and requirements for conducting the 2023 General Election under a new law and the implications of the new electoral law for not only the Commission, but also in particular, the 18 political parties that will be fielding candidates for the various elective offices in the General Election. Describing as unfortunate preponderance the many legal cases arising even from the pre-election period up till after the conduct of the elections, which indeed have at many times brought a lot of challenges to the electoral process and Nigeria’s political development at large, hence it was hoped that with this lecture and training for party executives, due influence could be brought to bear and reduce the swift race to the courts that has characterized our political space in the last 10 years.

What happened on Friday?

Yes, what happened to the alleged plot to abandon the transmission of polling unit results to IREV portal, which INEC on Friday, November 11, 2022 vehemently denied on its behalf by Mr. Festus Okoye, claiming that their attention was drawn to reports in a section of the media on plot by the Commission to rig the 2023 General Election by abandoning the direct and real-time electronic upload of polling unit results to the INEC REsult Viewing (IREV) portal by the Registration Area Technical Support Staff.

"The claim is patently false,” Okoye had declared, insisting that INEC repeatedly reassured Nigerians that “it will transmit results directly from the polling units as we witnessed in Ekiti, Osun State governorship elections and 103 more constituencies where off-cycle Governorship/FCT Area Council elections and bye-elections were held since August 2020. The results can still be viewed on the portal," Okoye declared, insisting that Nigerians should ignore such reports that BVAS and IREV have come to stay for voter accreditation and uploading of polling unit results in real-time in Nigeria. If this was a prophecy, it has come to pass so soon and literally said to be a day before a Saturday, just like one non-governmental organisation warned of Ides of March.

So, what is technology adaptation and technology:

Industry observers have posited that original intent of using a technology or service is often to change or adapted by people or organizations in practice, is for the good and betterment of the people and society at large. Experts at the University of Missouri, said that "Adaptive technology refers to special versions of already existing technologies or tools that provide enhancements or different ways of interacting with the technology. The adaptation helps individuals with a disability or impairment, for instance, to accomplish a specific task” thereby showcasing an improved process like in democracy, which fundamentally is a form of government for the people and by the people, which affords people to elect among themselves, some as governing officials.

As often noted in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, identifiable are some five stages of the technology adoption curve, comprising innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Its now left to INEC to choose where it has placed Nigeria in the map of adaptation, although most youth would quickly say laggards and that is why a few of them have started taking own lives as reported in Plateau State, within the week, while a few vowed never again to queue or participate in electoral process in Nigeria.

Major threats of BVAS on technology adaptation:

Major threat to the use or adaptation of technologies is human person or what some cyber experts described as insider threats. With above assurances and reassurances, its obvious the human element in Nigeria with “insider threats” which INEC purportedly tried to avoid hitherto eventually sufficed because from field reports, despite that there were three elections same day, namely the president, senate and house of representatives, only that of the now controversial presidential result could not be uploaded effectively to IREV for over 48 hours, of which that of Senate and HOR went up seamlessly across the nation.

And even in some cases where presidential results were eventually uploaded same Saturday, they could not be accessed on IREV until about March 2, 2023. This is definitely against the new Electoral Act which specified that polling unit results must be uploaded from the unit after agents have signed and this goes to confirm that event the purported ones uploaded were actually offline and stands the chance of being deleted at will.

Another concern has been that of threats of non-indigenes unlimited and uncontrolled by the ruling party elites. This is condemnable, specially targeted at Ndigbo; a group of Igbo ethnic from the south-eastern Nigeria reputed for enterprising, independent and adventurous nature with establishments across Nigeria and beyond. This is despite the civil war they fought with Federal forces for three years between 1967 to 1970. The scares of June 12 has not completely disappeared and should serve as a reminder for those who are in the habits of threatening other tribes, mostly Ndigbo bearing in mind that Ndigbo are not the only tribe in Lagos, for instance, but for every little provocation, they are made object of targets for violence including personal attacks.

Electoral Act 2022 and failed letimus test:

As the aggrieved parties head to court led by the Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Abubaka; its important that Nigerian judiciary should wake up and raise to the occasion by showing and demonstrating hope for the future of the country as they say in local parlance, that judiciary is hope of common man. This is because many youth are anxiously waiting, especially as their political flag bearers are all calling for peace and calm until judiciary through the court of law adjudicates, looking at the natural evidents, moreso on violations personally afflicted by INEC upon itself.

For INEC to be the law breaker of its letimus test of Electoral Act and overnight reversal of all the promises and pledges made to Nigerians over 24 months, the commission like some observer remarked, should be inducted into a “hall of shame.” And as noted by another industry observer, INEC’s leadership lacks the final political will to deliver on its promises, has sent Nigeria 20 years backward; as if the country never tasted any election or democracy before now.

Some of the field reports, especially audio suggested that all the BVAS were technically locked and where they were not, Polling Unit officers were merely given offline access to save them from mob attacks by angry voters who insisted in seeing their PU results uploaded, in addition to supervisors inability to assist PU officers when needed, which smells conspiracy.

In some other instances, reports suggested that some state governors and even local government chairmen physically went to either collation and/or polling centres to ensure the results were changed for a particular presidential candidate. Whereas, in some other places, thugs were deployed to burn ballot boxes and take away polling officers to unknown places even in Lagos for manipulations, accompanied with sporadic gunshots.

But asked "Given what transpired during the last Saturday's elections whereby National Assembly (NASS) - Senate/House of Reps results were uploaded successfully and Presidential could not but was blamed on technical glitches, do you think technology or INEC failed Nigerians and why?" the oracle of Information Technology industry, Chief Chris Uwaje puts it succinctly, "Simple: Nigeria failed technology and will eventually pay an unquantifiable price to future technology ecosystem and human development history."

Garbage in, garbage out desires ICPC, EFCC attention:

Another political observer responded that its garbage in, garbage out and eventually the election "reflected the hearts of those that conducted the election." Also for another, whatever happens to Nigeria from today, please hold Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his officials responsible for this dark side of our history. The security agencies are also complicit. Just as one respondent declared "Yakubu Mahmud will go down in history as the principal destroyer who destroyed Nigeria by refusing to let our votes count, revolution is coming."

Yet, for some Nigerians, that presidential election may be their last until INEC is fully inducted into the hall of shame for this scene one absurdity of electoral process, they have no business voting in Nigeria. Others said the act is another reasons for increased japa syndrome. Japa is local parlance for migration for greener pasture abroad. Demanding that the duo of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have roles to play here to ensure that the Yakubu-led INEC must account for every kobo spent from the N305 billion approved for the conduct of the 2023 general elections by the National Assembly, to give meaning to future generation on accountability.

Maybe its high time for Nigeria to highly consider regional elections staggered at various times of the season and fully electronic voting so as to accommodate those in diaspora and largely automate the electoral system in the country, so that the little hope on reserve can be sustained to growth.

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