There’s been quite some controversy around the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) being employed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the presidential and subnational elections in February 2023.
Some political parties have called on INEC to disregard the accreditation system, while others are in support of the bi-modal biometric method. Here is a breakdown of all you need to know about the new system.
WHAT IS THE BIMODAL BIOMETRICS METHOD?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Bimodal” means to have two modes. Biometrics on the other hand are distinctive, measurable characteristics which can be physical or behavioural, that can be used to digitally identify a person. Examples include; fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, DNA, palmprint, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odour/scent.
WHAT IS BVAS?
The Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device introduced by the INEC in 2021 to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters using both the voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition in order to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.
The device is also used for capturing images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet on INEC’s Election Result Viewing platform (IReV).
WHAT IS IREV?
IReV is an online portal where polling unit-level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published for the public.
The portal also allows citizens to create personal accounts with which they can access all uploaded results stored as PDF files.
This accessibility of polling unit-level results increases transparency and public trust in the process.
HAS THIS BEEN USED IN ANY COUNTRY?
Yes. A number of countries. On November 13, 2017, Somaliland during its presidential election, became the first country in the world to use the iris recognition-based biometric voting system; this is the scanning of the eye to verify the identity of registered voters before they are cleared to vote.
The general elections held in Ghana on December 7, 2020 was recorded as good success by Neurotechnology, a company that specialises in high-precision biometric identification and object recognition technologies. It revealed that its MegaMatcher Automatic Biometric Identification System (ABIS), were used for Ghana’s Biometric Voter Management System, which ensured voter registration, deduplication, adjudication, final voter list generation and verification.
Kenya and Angola also used the fingerprint biometric voting system to identify registered voters. The government of Liberia hopes to have a biometric voter registration system in place for its General Election in 2023.
THE ALL-IN-ONE TECHNOLOGY.
The multi-functional integrated Device has different acronyms for the different activities it is used for:
- Voter Enrollment Device (IVED) – used during registration
- Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) – used during voter accreditation
- INEC Result Viewing Device (IReV) – used during results upload
This device has replaced the Direct Data Capture Machine (DDCM), Smart Card Reader (SCR) used in the past.
HOW IS THIS BETTER THAN WHAT WE USED BEFORE?
The BVAS and IReV represent two crucial technological advances for enhancing the transparency of election results and upscaling public belief in electoral outcomes by addressing
They help solve 10 flaws in the nation’s election result management process:
- Alteration of votes at polling units
- Distortion of the Number Of Accredited Voters
- Collation of False Results
- Mutilation of Results And Computational Errors
- Swapping of Results Sheets
- Forging of Results Sheets
- Snatching and Destruction Of Results Sheets
- Obtaining Declaration and Return Involuntarily
- Making Declaration and Return While Result Collation is Still in Progress
- Poor Record-Keeping.
The major advantage is that it ensures the person voting is the real owner of the voter card, and it helps with results transparency from polling units to the final collation centre.
HOW DOES BVAS WORK?
The device works by scanning the barcode/QR code on the PVC/Voter’s register or entering the last six digits of the Voter Identity Number (VIN) or typing in the last name of the voter by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO 1) to verify and authenticate voters.
BVAS also works as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) during voter registration. Its usage has also eliminated the use of incident forms during accreditation.
HAS BVAS BEEN USED PREVIOUSLY IN NIGERIA?
BVAS has been used for at least three elections in Nigeria.
- On September 10, 2021, when it was first deployed for the Isoko South Constituency 1 bye-election in Delta State.
Challenges and Successes
There were complaints that the machine had difficulties capturing the thumbs and faces of some voters, especially the aged voters.
- On November 6, 2021, the Anambra state Governorship election
Challenges and Successes
There were complaints about the functionality of the device as the device failed to capture voters. It was clear that voters recently registered in INEC’s continuous voter registration (CVR), were the most easily accredited because their features were recent. However, older voters or voters whose PVCs were a few years old had issues with accreditation. In fact, the Anambra governorship election was extended from 2:30 pm to 4 pm because BVAS malfunctioned.
- On February 12th, 2022, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Election
Challenges and Successes
There were lots of challenges caused by BVAS as evidenced in reports by voters and observer groups. INEC FCT Resident Electoral Commissioner, Yahaya Bello, also admitted that there were glitches with the usage of BVAS during the election.
- On June 18th, 2022, the Ekiti state Governorship Election
Challenges and Successes
There were complaints that in some polling units in Ado Ekiti, Ilawe, Igede and Iyin Ekiti, the BVAS technology was slow and voters had to stay in the queue for long. In Oye Ekiti, it was reported that the machine malfunctioned for 30 minutes before it was fixed by the INEC officials.
- On July 16th, 2022, the Osun state Governorship Election
Challenges and Successes
In Osun state, there were limited incidences of non-functionality of the BVAS machine. Although there were issues with the fingerprint verification, the face capture worked very well in its stead. Also, as of 6 pm, 84.3% of polling units had transmitted their results via BVAS. Overall, BVAS in Osun recorded an 80% success rate.
CLAIMS AND CONTROVERSIES TRAILING BVAS AND IREV.
- There was an alleged suit filed at the Federal High Court Owerri against INEC, praying the court to declare the use of BVAS for the 2023 general election unconstitutional, and to suspend its use.
FACT: INEC IVEC Commissioner, Mr Festus Okoye said the use of BVAS for elections in the country is stipulated in the Electoral Act of 2022. Reassuringly, the INEC spokesperson said the commission is not scared of any legal action which may seek to challenge the legality of the use of BVAS adding that Nigerians have accepted its use and the commission will not relent on its commitment to improving the electoral process via technology. In his words: “The BVAS is domiciled within the confines of the Electoral Act of 2022 and we do not have any fear whatsoever in relation to the validity and legality of the BVAS and other technological and electronic devices we are using for elections. “The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has given INEC the exclusive right, power and mandate to organise, undertake and supervise elections that are captured within the confines of the constitution. We are accountable to the people of this country and the people have accepted the BVAS as a game changer in our electoral process.”
- A group on television alleged that there was a plan to remove the INEC Chairman.
FACT: The Presidency has promised Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari has no plans to remove INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, over the use of BVAS, in the 2023 general election. Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina also dismissed claims that INEC would be stopped from using BVAS in the next general election, recalling that the president had emphasised the need for technology in prosecuting a successful election and supports the course. In his words: “Recently, there was one group that said the Chairman of INEC was going to be removed because maybe they didn’t want BVAS. How many times has the President spoken about the role of technology in getting him into office? “So, how and why can the same person have issues with BVAS? I saw that group on television, alleging that there was a plan to remove the INEC Chairman and the media gave them that opportunity.”
- A claim that the APC and PDP are pressuring INEC to drop BVAS.
FACT: Significantly, the ruling APC and main opposition PDP have both denied applying pressure on INEC to drop BVAS. Last week, a spokesperson of the PDP Presidential Campaign team, Daniel Bwala, pointed his finger at the ruling party. In his words: “Those who are going against BVAS, I must say, are members of the APC. No members of the PDP would be campaigning for that. The whole gambit of an election is that whatever is decided at the polling unit should be final. It is a primitive and medieval age thing to kick against BVAS”. But the APC spokesperson, Felix Morka, stated that the party has confidence in the electoral process. “The All Progressives Congress (APC) has confidence in INEC’s capacity to conduct next year’s general election in compliance with the Electoral Act and its own guidelines,” he reportedly said.
HOW CAN INEC ENSURE MINIMAL FAILURE OF BVAS IN 2023?
- Conduct a comprehensive audit of BVAS – Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo
- Take immediate measures to enhance the infrastructure behind the technology – Sam Amadi, CDD election analyst
- Train the ad-hoc staff early in how to operate BVAS for efficiency and smooth electoral process – Kunle Okunade, a political analyst
The introduction of BVAS in the election makes it increasingly possible to reduce the risk of electoral fraud and other forms of manipulation. This technological development has no doubt strengthened the capacity of the electoral body, by providing a levelled playing ground for all parties and improving the hope of getting fair and credible results at the end of every voting exercise.
The BVAS, as with other technological devices, is not without fault, as various instances of its failures have been recorded. However, with continuous advancements, the BVAS will continue to improve but for now, it is a viable remedy for combating election fraud.