We Opted for Technology Deployment to Make Nigeria’s Elections Credible, Transparent…INEC

We Opted for Technology Deployment to Make Nigeria’s Elections Credible, Transparent…INEC

…Says Manual Process Prone to Manipulation, Human Intervention, Fraud …Maintains Lack of Credible Voters Register Can Mar Electoral Process …Reveals Electronic Voting Will Soon Debut …Stakeholders Counsel Proper Tests Before Massive Rollout of Equipment The nation’s Elections Management Body (EMB), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has explained that it opted for continued deployment of technology

…Says Manual Process Prone to Manipulation, Human Intervention, Fraud
…Maintains Lack of Credible Voters Register Can Mar Electoral Process
…Reveals Electronic Voting Will Soon Debut
…Stakeholders Counsel Proper Tests Before Massive Rollout of Equipment

The nation’s Elections Management Body (EMB), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has explained that it opted for continued deployment of technology to make the country’s elections credible and transparent, arguing that the manual process is fraught with manipulation, human intervention and fraud.

This is coming against the backdrop of counsel by Stakeholders at a Roundtable on Electoral Technology for INEC to ensure proper tests of its equipments before massive rollout for any elections.

Dismissing the reported massive outcry over the failure of the newly introduced
Bimodal Voter Authentication System (BIVAS) during the Anambra governorship election held on November 6th, 2021, INEC says only 9 per cent of the machines failed, insisting no such complaints attended the rescheduled election in Ihiala Local Government Areas held on December 9th as all the problem areas had been fixed.

Outlining its introduction of the Electronic Voting System (EVS) which features the Electronic Voters Register (EVR), Electronic Voters Authentication (EVA), Electronic Transmission of Results (ETR) and the Electronic Voting (or Balloting) System, still in the works, Director, ICT at INEC, Engineer Chidi Nwafor, says this move is guided by the Commission’s commitment to improve the electoral process. “We are on the verge of introducing Electronic Voting as we perfect other variants of EVS,” he says.

Speaking at the Stakeholders Roundtable on Electoral Technology organised by Yiaga Africa under the European Union Support for Democracy and Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project, in Abuja, Mwafor asserted that technology has the ability to reduce human interference, produce credible processes, produce results from processes in a timely manner and improve the accuracy of the processes.

Stressing further why INEC opted for phased deployment of different components of the EVS at different elections cycle, he revealed that this has been informed by the core values of the Commission which is Credibility and Transparency.

From the introduction of the Electronic Voters Register which debuted in 2011 to the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) and the Smart Card Reader (SCR) in 2015, INEC experimented with the Electronic Transfer of Results in Edo and Ondo States governorship elections and the BIVAS in the Anambra governorship election.

From the handhelds and direct data capture machines (DDCMs) which captured single fingerprints and thereby open to manipulation of fingerprints and permutations by fraudulent voters – fingerprints from multiple persons and capturing of poor and still images, there was the need for conformity with FG directives on biometrics data capture.
So INEC cast lot for technology advancement and compactness of devices.

* The rate of successful voter authentication was also on the decline, so the need to recapture as many fingerprints as possible, using better fingerprint capturing software and hardware was important;
* The need for a bi-modal biometrics system – fingerprints + facials ;
* INEC database needs to conform in totality with the National Identity requirements for
citizens registration;

“With the plans to commence the use of EVM, it is important to update the register of voters to include additional biometric features like facials, as this will strengthen the integrity of the register.
There’s also the need to have additional fields captured – like email addresses, disability status – for those with disabilities, etc

“The INEC had to embark on online registration of voters because it was discovered that over the years, that the application of technology in the areas of voter registration and voter updates have been minimal.

“The existing methods were also not friendly and are very time consuming with intending voters having to wait in long queues and for days or weeks to enable them get enrolled or update their details.

“It was ideal to consider the use of technology in these areas, as this would make it easier for the voters and also the Commission’s staff that handle the processes. COVID protocols also contributed to the advent of the online portal

Both the registration of candidates by the political parties that used to be a very laborious process and the registration of observers and the media are now seamlessly done on INEC online portal.

The Commission commenced the pre-online Voter Registration exercise on Monday 28th June 2021, the in-person physical registration commenced on the 26th July, 2021.

Both the pre-registration (on-line) and in-person physical registration is expected to continue till 11th July 2022. The voters’ data would then be processed for production of the final copy of Register of Voter for 2023 General Elections.

Positing that the credibility of every election starts with the compilation of a register of voters that is said to be reliable, Nwafor explained that it is the foundation for the conduct of good Elections.

Contending that “Lack of an authentic voter register provides the necessary environment for electoral
vices to thrive,” he maintains that, “A voter register that is not credible can only compound the problems in the electoral process by making it difficult for the outcome of the election itself to be widely acceptable.”

“The process of registering voters and producing voter lists is one of the most important and time-consuming activities carried out by an Election Management Body (EMB).

“A credible voter register must ensure that a person only appears once in the register, hence can only exercise he/her franchise once.”

The register of voters is the bedrock of any credible election, hence the need to have a register devoid of irregularities has been the Commission’s desires;
• A good register of voters must ensure one-man-one-vote concept subsists;
• One of the activities that was recently improved upon is the de-duplication
• Hitherto, the Commission has always used only the fingerprints to detect multiple registrations, but recently, the facials has been added – introducing the Automated Biometrics Identification System (ABIS);
• So after the registration process, ABIS will remove all voters that were registered multiple times – leaving the earlier record and removing the new record – ongoing

The Commission, according to Nwafor, has also explored a mono-modal biometrics system with the use of SCRs, and has observed that not everybody has fingerprints – opening a loophole;
• With an additional biometric feature like the face, every human being has a face, therefore there is no loophole that can be exploited in the system;
• Facial Technology, which was pioneered in the 1960s, has efficiently advanced in the last 50 years and can be as much of 99.9% successful rate;
• Adding the facial technology to the existing fingerprint technology would ensure that all voters are authenticated by either of the technologies, or both of them;

With bi-modal authentication, no person can come to vote more than once, as the face of the person would have been captured during authentication; this further ensures one-person-one-vote.;
This brought about BIVAS – Bimodal Voter Authentication System.

The essential configuration of BIVAS include:
•Configure IVED for a Particular Active Election
•Set up the device for a Specific Polling Unit
•Download the List of Voters in that Polling Unit and
•Data Contains Biometric Templates (Fingerprints and Facials)

Results Viewing Portal (IReV)
• To improve the openness and credibility of elections, INEC decided to make available electronic copies of the PU Result Sheet (EC8A) for the General Public to view;
• This implies that the EC8A form filled and signed by each Presiding Officer (PO) is scanned or photographed and uploaded to a Public Domain which can be viewed by the General Public;
• This has been successfully deployed since the 8th August 2020 Bye Election in Nasarawa State till date, and it was also used in the 6th November 2021 Anambra governorship election.

The gains of this system include:
• Improved speed and accuracy
• Removed bottlenecks in the system
• Reduces cases of litigations against the Commission
• Reduces pressure on staff during submission of details – as all are done electronically
• Ensure that only identified Party Agents, Observers, Media personnel, etc can be deployed for elections.

While restating that the Commission’s desire of having credible election is sacrosanct, Nwafor says the gains of technology deployment over the years has been remarkable.

“Technology deployment has proven to be an effective tool in achieving this;
Speed, reliability, security, efficiency, convenience and capabilities are all increased with technology.”

Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, however says, “Increasing use of technology is good but it has to be adaptable and inclusive so as not to undermine the electoral process. We also need to build the trust of the people.”

While pointing to the manipulation of elections over the years in the country as documented by the Babalakin report, Prof Muhammed Kuna, special assistant to the INEC chairman, called for the gradual introduction of the use of technology in our elections, contending that “it is critical in the conduct of elections.”

Positing that there’s a “trust deficit” in person to person elections or what’s otherwise known as the manual process, Kuna says technology enhances trust.

Expressing worry at the high cost of acquiring technology against the backdrop of meeting other social costs, he fears this may trigger serious concerns in future, evoking the earlier proposals by the Prof Alaba Ogunsanwo’s ECONEC committee that other stakeholders like the private sector which benefits from peaceful conduct of elections, should also be tasked to fund the process.

Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, Prof Abdulganiyu Olayinka Raji, says the specific terrain of some of the local government areas in his area of operation makes it problematic for the electorate to access some of the local government headquarters for the purpose of data capture, explaining that some prefer to go to other states whose LGA headquarters are nearer to them to conduct same.

Raji called for an easier process like it’s done for JAMB and WAEC candidates who do not have to travel to the offices of those institutions in order to do biometrics and other data capture.

Stirring the hornet nests, Mr Gbenga Sesan, executive director, Paradigm Initiative wants INEC to throw its new technologies open to hackers to test the viability before rollouts. “Hackers will be able to detect the loopholes in the technology that INEC will need to block,” he says.

Some who felt opening INEC’s facilities to hackers could be disastrous, were not too warm to this suggestion. Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, likened the suggestion to engagement with bandits in the political process.

Sesan however countered, explaining that hackers are experts in computer software who are trained to identify loopholes in the technology equipment. “They are good people although a few can be bad but they’ll be useful to enable INEC detect loopholes in their systems.”

Buttressing the suggestion by Sesan, President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof Adesina Sodiya, who also maintained that hackers are good people and their work is desirable, calling for regular engagement between INEC and members of his organisation. He says that the NCS wrote series of letters to INEC on this collaboration but never got any replies.

Spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Bashir Ajibola, who represents Osun Central in the upper chamber, says, “Technology is good and has the potential for delivering fraud free elections but it can also be manipulated if proper safe guards is not taken by INEC.”

Ajibola, also a lawyer, wants the National Assembly to work on new legislation to deal with the new technology particularly those being used by INEC, saying that the regulations on the use of these technologies are inadequate to deal with what’s now in vogue. “We may have problems with the law of evidence if this is not done,” he counsels.

For Police Commissioner, Mr Frank Mba, every new technology comes with new crimes. Alluding to the Covid-19 era when many had to adapt to technology to be able to operate, he revealed that the criminals diverted their operations to the cyberspace. “We have to be careful with our new technology in order not to open new avenues to crimes,” he says.

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