Nigerians have expressed concern about the level of credibility expected in the 2023 general election.
The apprehension arose following the sacking of Ademola Adeleke as Osun governor last Friday by the state gubernatorial election petition tribunal.
The reported failure of the Bimodal Accreditation System (BVAS) to check over-voting in last year’s Osun State gubernatorial election, leading to the halting of the tenure of the governor by the election petition tribunal last Friday has continued to raise more questions about the use of the device ahead of the 2023 polls.
Since the judgment was delivered in the last two days, there have been different interpretations among Nigerians, lawyers and political leaders.
In the judgement, Justice Terste Kume had held that the election was not held with the compliance of Nigeria’s electoral Act. The tribunal had ruled that there was over-voting during the off-cycle gubernatorial election and consequently nullified Adeleke’s election. It also declared that Gboyega Oyetola actually won the election.
The tribunal directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of returns issued to Adeleke and his deputy, Kola Adewusi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The panel presided over by Justice Tertsea Kume also directed the certificate of returns to be issued to former governor Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In August 2022, Oyetola had petitioned the tribunal to challenge the victory of Adeleke, contending that there was over-voting in 749 polling units across 10 local government areas of the state.
The judgement has, however, raised questions on the reliability of BVAS ahead of the general election, considering the overwhelming optimism of Nigerians on the device to help check fraud and other electoral malfeasance in the general election.
Speaking on the implication of the judgement for Nigeria ahead of the general election, Moses Onodua, a public affairs analyst, said that there is still room for rigging and manipulation in Nigeria’s electoral system.
Onodua said the verdict obviously shows that the BVAS, which the INEC has been advocating to bring a refreshing change to the nation’s electoral space, has no relevance in the 2023 election.
“We are back to ground zero. Our hopes for credible elections on the back of INEC’s BVAS machines have been dashed into pieces. The credibility of INEC and the BVAS machine is seriously at question.
“These BVAS machines were fully deployed and used in Osun State governorship election. They were also previously used in Anambra and Ekiti but the turn of events as it relates to the recent verdict from the Osun State tribunal has left a sour taste behind.
“INEC has repeatedly stated that all results are entered and transmitted through the BIVAS. If there are discrepancies, it means the system can be compromised. Therefore, it may pose serious danger to the 2023 elections.
“How can there be over-voting in Osun when INEC confidently told Nigerians that the issue of over-voting is now a thing of the past with the advent of the BVAS machines. INEC has a lot to explain to Nigerians on what happened.
“How come there were still irregularities that the tribunal has to correct by their judgement?” Onodua queried.
He added: “To be candid, this judgement has dampened the spirit of many voters. The zeal and enthusiasm of many is going to be affected seriously. The confidence that is being displayed by INEC is now questionable. Many persons will lose faith in our electoral system. It seems we are yet to reach the place of celebration of a flawless electoral process.
“There is urgent need for INEC to address this issue immediately. This will go a long way in reassuring Nigerians of the credibility of the 2023 general election. If INEC is sure of the process during the Osun State election, then they need to appeal that judgment immediately and if the judgment still sustains at the Appeal Court, then INEC needs to do a re-evaluation of the entire electoral system before the election day in February.”
Seun Alafin, lawyer and public affairs analyst, said that having studied the judgment he realised that there was over-voting, which he said was not the fault of BVAS.
The lawyer also said that BVAS can only be used in accreditation and voting, adding that the device would help check over voting just like it did in the Osun gubernatorial election.
According to him, “I have studied the judgment very well. It is the operators of the machine, I mean INEC and security officials. The BVAS only helps in checking the accreditation; so that it would tally with the number of votes.
“What happened was that the number of votes surpassed what was accredited by BVAS and it was detected.
“BVAS helps to count the number of people accredited. The machine would work if the INEC people and security agencies are not induced to do otherwise,” he said.
A concerned citizen, who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, said that the realisation of the fact that the BVAS may not be the answer to electoral fraud contrary to the INEC assurances could injure many people’s interest in the election.
“If so much hope for 2023 is pinned on BVAS and we are now being told that it does guarantee fraud-proof election, does it mean we hoping against hope or we are standing on quicksand? Did BVAS really fail in Osun? So, does it mean that all the noise about technology going to help deliver a credible election will end up a pipe dream?” he said.
Idayat Hassan, director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said of the judgment: “I think there is a need for actors to actually first and foremost to review the court judgment. They have to read it; they have to digest it before we start making judgement. The question is the over-voting, was it on the BVAS because the law is clear. If the numbers on the BVAS supersede; if it is the BVAS, is it superseding the Form or is what is on the BVAS?
“Actually based on that judgement, I see the BVAS as a machine, something that is transparent that is now giving people the opportunity to not start over-voting simply compared to previously when people can do the manual voting as against the smart card reader or can check the number of accredited voters. We should know that any technology is not a silver-bullet but is still an improvement on what used to be applicable.
“What we should do as citizens, we should all do a thorough study of this judgement ahead of the forthcoming elections while also posing questions on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to further clarify the role the BVAS plays and how it works as a form of voter education for the people. The commission should come out and enlighten citizens as part of confidence building for the BVAS.”
Political analysts in parts of the Niger Delta say their trust in BVAS to make genuine votes count in the coming general election is unshaken.
Majority of the experts held their grounds on the side of the BVAS, saying the machine emerged unscathed, while they believe that it’s the human actions from officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that were exposed.
A Port Harcourt-based information and political communications consultant of longstanding, Blessing Nwikina, said the tribunal finding was rather a victory for the BVAS.
He said the only panic coming from the Osun tribunal ruling is because political parties rely on their rigging system called ‘deliver your ward’. For this, he said, political leaders brag about certainty of victory even before elections are close.
He said some politicians always planned to hijack electoral materials, where they sit and cook figures, and submit the documents for collation, but that with the BVAS revelation in the Osun election, the rug has been pulled off their feet.
He said the politicians still went ahead to rig in the Osun elections but that the BVAS figures eventually ruled. “It will take time for them to understand that BVAS is anti-rigging. So for now, there is no way to circumvent BVAS.”
On the mood in Rivers State now that the BVAS has spoken in Osun, Nwikina said: “What I think may happen here is that the bad guys will only allow voters loyal to a party to access the polling stations and thereby deny opponents votes.
“In the past, militants in the riverine areas were made to ‘flog’ voters from opposition parties away from polling units so that only a particular party voted.”
He, however, admonished INEC officials to ensure they avoided instances of issuing two reports on BVAS, so as not to be involved in ‘technical’ scenario advantage for a candidate.
In his private opinion, a political commentator and communications strategist, Chris Finebone, now Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, said Osun was a victory for the Electoral Act 2022 in the sense that Nigerians now have a legally recognized accreditation methodology that is recognized by law.
He went on: “Recall that the pitfall of the Card Reader was mainly because it wasn’t entrenched in any law, and this compelled the Supreme Court not to recognize it and that became the law.”
He, however, cautioned that the BVAS has not been put to use in a general election except for a few off-season elections. “We’re yet to gauge its dexterity when stretched to the limits. In theory, yes, it looks like the way to go but its trial at the next elections will tell us how good it is or otherwise.
“I have always had my skepticism each time INEC officials embark on media publicity blitz to hype what they consider a game changer. They did so for the Card Reader only to resort to Incident Forms following massive failure of the gadget as a tool for accreditation. The hype for the BVAS is on but if communication glitches become widespread on election day, then we’re in trouble. This time there’s no ‘Plan B’ like the Incident Form. For me, the enthusiasm over BVAS is hasty. Only time will prove things right or wrong.”
Jerry Needam, a Port Harcourt-based publicist and newspaper publisher, said: “The heavy trust the people have on BVAS remains intact, in my opinion.”
The publicity secretary of the APC in Rivers State, Darlington Nwauju, in his reaction, said, “For us in Rivers State APC, we still believe that the BVAS is a wonderful introduction to our electoral process that will discourage vote-padding and make voters the kings and queens of the electoral process.
“We still believe so because other off-season elections have successfully held after the Osun elections.”