Should the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for 2023 polls?

Bimodal Voter Accreditation System
Photo Credit: BBC Pidgin News

The bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS) has dominated the headlines ahead of the upcoming general elections scheduled for next month. INEC, the electoral body, has assured Nigerians that using the device will help ensure that the polls are free and fair.

While many Nigerians have welcomed the introduction of BVAS, the device’s efficiency has been questioned many times by different factions. On Friday, the Osun State Election Tribunal overturned the 2022 BVAS-assisted Osun gubernatorial election results because of over-voting.

The Centre for Democracy and Development reported that the device was used in at least 92 per cent of polling units during the Osun election, and Its use enjoyed wide acclaim and commendation. However, According to the tribunal, the state recorded over-voting in 744 polling units.

What is the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters, using their fingerprints to prove they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.

BVAS usage entails scanning the barcode/QR code on the PVC/Voter’s register, entering the last six digits of the Voter Identity Number, or typing in the voter’s last name by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO 1) to verify and authenticate the voter.

Can the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for the 2023 polls?

“When the commission introduced BVAS last year, the compact device was intended to achieve two objectives. First is the verification of the genuineness of the PVCs and the fingerprint or facial authentication of voters during accreditation.”

Secondly, to replace the Z-pad for uploading the polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on election day,” INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said.

This electronic device has caused lots of conversations, with political analysts giving their two cents on whether or not it will be a game changer in Nigeria’s electoral system, especially as INEC claims it is primarily designed to eliminate all forms of electoral malpractice.

Some other politicians doubt the technology and its effectiveness in the forthcoming election. Many members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) have voted against this device. Still, other political parties, stakeholders, and citizens believe the device must be deployed for the 2023 general elections.

How does the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) work?

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was first deployed during the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State on 10 September 2021. Despite the challenges faced at that time, it continued to be used even up to the governorship and other senatorial elections in Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun.

Can the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for the 2023 polls?

And how does it work?

Read Also: Can technology make Nigeria’s 2023 elections more credible?

The question of how the BVAS device works have made up most of the conversations. Since the biometrics of all registered voters are in INEC’s database, the BVAS device at every polling unit is already preloaded with voters’ data, making its usage seamless. It is also used from the start to the end of the electoral process.

  • Before Election, during registration: This device is used during voters’ registration. It serves as a voter enrollment device and captures the biometric data of voters.
  • During the election: On election day, the device will be used for the accreditation process for eligible voters. To do this, voters’ details will be used to authenticate the voter’s surname, the last digits of their VIN, or the QR code on their permanent voter’s card. Once this is done, the officer in charge will verify through biometrics or facial recognition.
  • After the election: It will send the results directly to get compiled and calculated, eliminating the idea of ballot box stuffing and snatching.
Can the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for the 2023 polls?

All these points towards the idea of a free and fair election, far from rigging and malpractices, that the INEC body is looking to have in the forthcoming election.

Read Also: 2023 elections: the BVAS question and why Nigeria can’t afford to lose in the age of tech

What else?

As a Nigerian, it is vital to be vigilant on election day. According to INEC, every BVAS device should read 0000 till the first person in the polling unit votes. Be aware of this.

Also, the device works offline. All electoral activities, from registration to accreditation, can be done offline. Although when transmitting the electoral result for the calculation to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), the device would need the internet for smooth transmission.

In cases where there is no internet service to transit the result, the result cannot be sent till the BVAS is well connected. Be attentive to where the Presiding officer is taking the BVAS for better internet coverage.

Like how it works offline, the device does not need to be charged to be powered up. The battery lasts up to 10-12 hours and comes with a backup power bank that can last for 4-5 hours.

For malfunctioned BVAS, there will be spare machines for each polling unit to continue the accreditation process. BVAS devices can also be replaced sometimes, especially as the data from one device can be transferred to another.

Can it be compromised?

But many Nigerians are still uncertain if they can entrust their votes with the device. Can it be compromised?

These questions have been brought to the forefront of Nigerians’ minds after the Osun State Election Tribunal, on Friday, declared that the state recorded over-voting in 744 polling units during the 2022 gubernatorial election.

Clearly, despite the device being tagged as a game changer, it still has its loopholes, which can affect an election’s credibility.

When the BVAS was launched in 2021, there were issues concerning its functionality as the device after its deployment. Since the device uses facial recognition and biometrics, the machine had difficulties capturing these details for aged voters as some of their features have changed over the years.

Can the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for the 2023 polls?

Another issue the BVAS device might have is the possibility of server failures in the course of the transmission of the election result. Even though it works online, it still needs good internet connectivity to operate, and in LGAs where the internet coverage, what will happen?

The BVAS device needs good broadband access, no doubt. Still, with the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) assurance, the e-transmission of results might be well done.

According to Ajibola Olude, the COO of ATCON, Short Message Service technology will deliver the results in real-time in areas with no network coverage.

Also, one of the challenges might be adequate knowledge by officials on how to use the device. But, it might not be that much of an issue as INEC is already sensitizing the officials who will be in charge and even the masses so they can be aware of the ongoing process.

In the early hours of Friday, INEC announced that it would conduct a nationwide mock voter accreditation exercise starting from February 4 to assess the BVAS ahead of the elections.

What should we expect for the 2023 election?

INEC has introduced many technological devices to promote credible elections over the last few years. From the Smart Card reader to the Z-Pad and now to the BVAS, a successor of both technologies and way more sophisticated.

However, the efficiency of the BVAS is being called to question following the overturn of the 2022 Osun gubernatorial election results because of over-voting. This is part of the problem that the device was supposed to prevent in the first place.

While INEC has solved some of the challenges, there are still some clear challenges the device has shown in previous usages, such as the lack of technical know-how, facial misinterpretation, poor internet service, and whatever caused the over-voting in Osun state.

Lastly, considering the limited hours for voting, how well can BVAS function in some of the largest states in Nigeria? The device has been used in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun, but the general elections will see the device used in much bigger states like Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna, and INEC might not be able to get away with the frustrations.

But let us all see. While we wait for February 25th, the election day, do well to get your PVCs.

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