On Thursday, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) communicated its decision to postpone the upcoming gubernatorial election, scheduled for the 11th of March, by one week to the 18th of March.
This was pursuant to its intention to be given “enough time” to reconfigure the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS) before the election, even as the court of appeal had granted permission to aggrieved political parties to carry out a digital forensic inspection of the BVAS machines used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential poll.
Remember that INEC had been included as a respondent to a suit filed by Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s (LP) presidential candidate. The suit requested a court order “restraining the 1st respondent (INEC) from tampering with the information embedded in the BVAS machines until the due inspection is completed and certified true copies (CTC) of them issued” in an application.
In its defence, INEC stated that “each polling unit has its own particular BVAS machine which we need to configure for the forthcoming elections. It will be very difficult for us, within the period, to reconfigure the 176, 000 BVAS for the election.”
“We have already stated in our affidavit that no information in the BVAS will be lost as we will transfer all the data in the BVAS to our backend server. Our backend server preserves the data. So, granting this application will be a clog in the process and disrupt the conduct of the elections“, they added.
In its judgement, the court of appeal refused to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from reconfiguring the BVAS ahead of the governorship and state assembly elections but permitted Peter Obi and LP to do electronic scanning and/or make photocopies of voter registration and ballot papers used in the election.
Since then, there has been scepticism expressed by Nigerians, particularly persons that associate themselves with the “Obidient movement” about the neutrality, transparency and trustworthiness of INEC to obey the court order or even deliver on its promise of having the said information on its server as claimed.
This article examines what the reconfiguration of the BVAS means, INEC’s claim for reconfiguration, the elections and what to expect as the outcome of the process.
Read also: Should the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) be trusted for 2023 polls?
Does the BVAS need reconfiguration?
For proper context, the need for reconfiguration of the BVAS arises because there is a need to maintain the credibility of the data collected. In the voting process, the BVAS is used to accredit voters – that is, to complete all necessary checks and matches against the voter’s previous biodata stored on the commission or country’s national identity system database.
A research paper titled Introducing Biometric Technology in Elections by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance explains the importance of managing biometric data of voters collected during elections. It says;
“While collecting data in the form of biometric templates is enough for matching algorithms, these templates can be proprietary to the system vendor. Biometric templates cannot be transferred back into the original images. To avoid vendor lock, storing the captured images and templates in the registration database is advisable.”
Also, reconfiguring a BVAS could modify the machine’s code or settings to change its functioning or behaviour. This can mean altering the machine’s settings, configuring the hardware differently, or updating the software.
Does INEC need to reconfigure the BVAS to conduct another election totally different from the first? Yes, they need to. Would the reconfiguration lead to losing essential voting data from the last election? Yes, but INEC has assured that all data stored on each BVAS device would be backed up to its server before reconfiguration.
Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, former director, Voter Education and Publicity at INEC, told Arise TV that BVAS has to be reconfigured to the specific date and time of the next election and “Reconfiguring the BVAS does not mean it will be tampered with as data contained in the BVAS can be backed up.”
Also, Festus Okoye, INEC national commissioner, said that the reconfiguration of the machine would not affect the data already uploaded in the machine, adding that it will be saved at the bank end before reconfiguration commence.
INEC’s server already received the transmitted data comprising images, information and fingerprints sent from the BVAS during the last election. And so, for storage, the Wavelet scalar quantization (WSQ) is a common format for storing fingerprint images. In case of a vendor change, this technology makes it possible to re-create new templates based on existing images without repeating the registration exercise.
2023 elections: the BVAS question and why Nigeria can’t afford to lose in the age of tech
Is the scepticism of Nigerians justified?
If there is anything history has taught us from previous elections is that the electioneering process in Nigeria is always marred by an atom of inconsistencies and irregularities that are man-made. As a result, the BVAS technology was introduced into the process to reduce the tendency for possible errors.
However, the recently concluded presidential, senate, and national assembly elections, which saw the BVAS technology used for a general election for the first time in Nigeria’s history, recorded hitches at various levels, and Nigerians have doubted its credibility.
So yes, the scepticism of Nigerians is justified given that what would have made the whole process smooth and hitch-free was a “failure” and is now to be “reconfigured” to ensure another election does not have hitches.
Although INEC has assured all Nigerians that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) will “run optimally” during the governorship and state assembly elections scheduled to hold across the states on March 18, the fear is even bigger when the electoral body “seems” not to be efficient and forthcoming with all the promises and assurances it gave initially before the elections.
As common with other elections in the country, electoral decisions have almost always ended up in the court. The failure of INEC to conduct a singular election in which a court case has not resulted in the end continues.
Indeed, losers in any election would always feel the need to reclaim their supposed lost mandate through court proceedings; INEC must do its best to be a bias-free umpire and run an electoral process that is transparent and credible enough for all to witness.
The probability and propensity for errors should be reduced to the barest minimum if truly court cases are to become a limited phenomenon in the Nigeria electoral process.
Read also: 2023 elections: the BVAS question and why Nigeria can’t afford to lose in the age of tech
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