IDEAs Episode 117 – 3rd February 2023
Samson Itodo on the Integrity of the BVAS in light of the Osun Election Tribunal.
Chukwudi Ezugwu introduced the programme by referring to the outcome of the Osun State Election Tribunal, and the concern raised about BVAS – that if INEC looked at the numbers and declared someone the winner, why did the Tribunal declare that Adeleke cannot ‘buga’?
Ayo Obe said that as a very elderly person, she would leave aside the ‘buga’ talk, but that what she wanted to discuss with her guest Samson Itodo, was that in the light of the finding that there was over-voting in regard to some polling stations, what is the definition of over-voting? In the new Electoral Act, over-voting is what happens when the number of votes cast or declared is greater than the number of voters accredited at the polling station. In the previous law the definition had been when the number of votes was greater than the number of registered voters at the polling unit. The idea that there could be over-voting despite the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System was a bit alarming to voters.
She said that what she wanted from Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA, was either some reassurance, or to know whether there was indeed cause to worry about the Integrity of the BVAS. Was it really identifying vote-rigging and fraud, or was it not living up to expectations?
Samson Itodo said that first, the BVAS was living up to expectations in a lot of ways, and the judgment of the Osun State Election Tribunal did not in any way contradict the BVAS, because it is used for two things. First to accredit voters, i.e. to verify that a person who has shown up to vote is a person whose name is on the register of voters for that polling unit, either by fingerprint or by facial identity – the facial identity is relied on if the fingerprint method fails. Secondly, the BVAS is used to transmit images of result sheets at polling unit level to the INEC Election Results Viewing Portal. The BVAS stores information about the number of people who are accredited in a particular polling unit, so if you are not accredited through the BVAS, then your details cannot be captured as having voted. So it is important for voters to get accredited through the BVAS. After accreditation, ideally all that information is uploaded on the cloud – on the server online. The process of uploading that information to the cloud takes time – it does not happen immediately.
Samson explained that what happened with the judgment was that a political party requested for the information about accredited voters when the data on accredited voters had not been completely uploaded on the cloud. When the upload was completed some days later, INEC issued a final figure of accredited voters based on what was uploaded on the cloud. Even in the course of the trial, the BVAS machines were brought to the tribunal and the tribunal checked that the figures on the BVAS and the figures on the final report were consistent.
Samson said that it is important to note that not only did the judgment not in any way contradict the BVAS, it reinforced why the BVAS was needed, because if people go on to vote without accreditation, it undermines the Integrity of the process.
Ayo said that during the process of the trial, both INEC and the declared winner admitted that there had been some over-voting, although they said it was at only six polling stations, but this meant that over-voting could occur.
Samson said that what the public needed to know was that the accreditation process was electronic, but that the Polling Officer then had to record what is on the device onto the results sheet, which was filled out manually.
Ayo asked whether any discrepancy meant that people who had not been accredited had nonetheless been allowed to vote?
Samson replied that that had happened in about six or nine polling units.
Ayo said that this was what was the concern, because if that could happen in six polling units, what was there to say that it could not happen in others?
Samson said that the reason why we know that those people voted without accreditation was because there was a BVAS in the first place. So two things are important here. First is that the personal integrity of presiding officers matters a lot for successful elections (and INEC has a critical role to play in this regard). Secondly, the vigilance of citizens also matters. Anything could happen on Election Day, but citizens need to be vigilant because over-voting can occur at polling units. There have to be mechanisms to prevent over-voting from occurring because it could hurt the credibility of the election. Also, before a collation officer tallies the result at the collation level, they must check the results on the result sheet against what was transmitted online and resolve any inconsistencies as the Electoral Act requires them to do.
Ayo said that she appreciated what Samson was saying about it taking time for the data to be uploaded, but there was a difference between the transmission – what was sent from the BVAS – and the uploading received by the INEC. If the collation is required to look at what was transmitted, then it would be what was transmitted that was relevant, rather than what was at the INEC server.
Samson said that currently, based on the protocol, the accreditation data on the BVAS is not uploaded or published on the IReV (the INEC Election Results Viewing Portal) and this was why since last year there have been calls on INEC to transmit and publish the number of accredited voters as recorded by the BVAS on the IReV, so that once anyone goes to the Election Results Viewing portal they can see the figures from the BVAS as well as what is recorded by the Polling Officer on the Results Sheets (Form EC8A), and where there is a discrepancy, it can be clearly seen that there is over-voting. He stressed that this level of transparency was important because even ordinary errors on the part of the Polling Officer could not be ruled out, and that deliberate sabotage was also possible.
Ayo said that it was important to bear in mind that although the decision in the Osun Election Tribunal is on appeal and that the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court are likely to look into the details of when INEC came up with its synchronised result, that was not going to happen before Election Day. So for ordinary voters, they need to take to heart the point that Samson had made about the need to be vigilant, because if you are supporting Candidate A and at the polling station 200 voters show up of whom 150 vote for Candidate A, then whether by mistake, design or accident, if the number of votes declared is greater than the number of accredited voters, it means that all the 150 votes for the candidate you love are thrown away under the terms of the Electoral Act, so as at now, the watchword is Vigilance.
Ayo also asked Samson whether the BVAS transmitted any information about the rate of accreditation of voters so that it could be seen whether there was a last-minute attempt to stuff the number of so-called accredited voters despite the actuality of what is on the ground, or was that information not part of what INEC received from the BVAS?
Samson said that stuffing extra voters into the system would be difficult to do because the BVAS could be configured to work within a particular time, and that after that, the entire system would shut down and that could not be altered by anyone in the field. But he was of the view that INEC needed to provide more information to build confidence in the BVAS.
In closing, Samson stressed four things for voters to note:
- On Election Day please be vigilant and ensure that the number of accredited voters on the BVAS is Zero. The Polling Officer is required display the BVAS so that voters and observers can see.
- For the voter it is also important not to let any Presiding Officer issue you a ballot paper without your going through the BVAS, because if that happens, your vote may not count. Even if it is just one, it would amount to over-voting. So voters must insist on going through the BVAS.
- After the election has been concluded at the Polling Unit, an image of the result sheet should be taken by the BVAS – you should be vigilant that the original authentic result from your polling station is the image that is taken and uploaded on the portal.
- Before that, it is very important for voters to be vigilant and watch that in the course of recording the result, it is the actual number of accredited voters as per the BVAS that is what is recorded on the result sheet.
Ayo noted that “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”; that the Integrity of Democracy in Nigeria depends on vigilance. She thanked Samson for setting our minds at rest about the BVAS and its role in guaranteeing the Integrity of our elections.
What do you think? Have you noted Samson’s four things for Election Day? Are you reassured about the Integrity of the BVAS system, or do you still have concerns? Let us know.