Nigerians have raised concerns about the level of credibility expected in the 2023 general election.
The apprehension arose after the dismissal of Ademola Adeleke as governor of Osun last Friday by the state gubernatorial election petitions court.
The reported failure of the Bimodal Accreditation System (BVAS) to verify excess votes in last year’s Osun state gubernatorial election, which led to the election petition court halting the governor’s term last Friday has continued. raising more questions about usage. of the device before the 2023 elections.
Since the sentence was handed down in the last two days, there have been differing interpretations among Nigerians, lawyers and political leaders.
In the ruling, Judge Terste Kume had held that the election was not conducted in compliance with the Nigerian Election Law. The court ruled that there was an excess vote during the out-of-cycle gubernatorial election and consequently annulled Adeleke’s election. He also stated that Gboyega Oyetola won the election.
The court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the return certificate issued to Adeleke and her deputy, Kola Adewusi, from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
The panel chaired by Judge Tertsea Kume also ordered the return certificate to be issued to former Governor Oyetola of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
In August 2022, Oyetola asked the court to challenge Adeleke’s victory, alleging that there were overvotes in 749 voting units in 10 local government areas of the state.
However, the ruling raised questions about the reliability of BVAS ahead of the general election, considering the overwhelming optimism of Nigerians about the device to help control fraud and other electoral irregularities in general elections.
Speaking about the implications of the trial for Nigeria ahead of the general election, Moses Onodua, a public affairs analyst, said there is still room for fraud and manipulation in Nigeria’s electoral system.
Onodua said the verdict obviously shows that the BVAS, which INEC has been championing to bring a refreshing change to the nation’s electoral space, has no relevance in the 2023 elections.
“We are back at ground zero. Our hopes for credible elections on the back of INEC’s BVAS machines have been dashed. The credibility of the INEC and the BVAS machine is seriously questioned.
“These BVAS machines were fully deployed and used in the Osun State gubernatorial elections. They were also previously used in Anambra and Ekiti, but the turn of events in connection with the recent Osun state court verdict has left a bitter taste.
“INEC has repeatedly stated that all results are entered and transmitted through BIVAS. If there are discrepancies, it means that the system may be compromised. Therefore, it can represent a serious danger for the 2023 elections.
“How can there be overvoting in Osun when INEC confidently told Nigerians that the issue of overvoting is now a thing of the past with the advent of BVAS machines? INEC has a lot to explain to Nigerians about what happened.
“How is it that there were still irregularities that the court has to correct with its sentence?” Onodua asked.
He added: “To be honest, this trial has dampened the spirits of many voters. The zeal and enthusiasm of many will be seriously affected. The confidence that INEC is showing now is questionable. Many people will lose faith in our electoral system. It seems that we are yet to reach the venue for a flawless electoral process.
“There is an urgent need for INEC to address this issue immediately. This will go a long way to reassure Nigerians about the credibility of the 2023 general election. If INEC is sure of the process during the Osun State elections, then they should appeal that ruling immediately and if the ruling still stands in the Court of Appeal, then INEC must carry out a reassessment of the entire electoral system before election day. in February.”
Seun Alafin, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, said that by studying the sentence he realized that there was an excess of votes, 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 control voting just as it did in the Osun gubernatorial election.
According to him, “I have studied the sentence very well. They are the operators of the machine, I mean the INEC and the security officials. The BVAS only helps in accreditation control; to match the number of votes.
“What happened was that the number of votes exceeded what was accredited by the BVAS and it was detected.
“BVAS helps to count the number of accredited people. The machine would work if the INEC people and security agencies were not induced to do otherwise,” he said.
A concerned citizen, who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, said that understanding the fact that the BVAS may not be the answer to voter fraud contrary to INEC’s assurances could harm 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 guarantees fraud-proof elections, does that mean we are hoping against hope or are we standing on quicksand? Did BVAS really fail in Osun? So does it mean that all the noise about the technology that will help deliver a credible election will end up as a pipe dream?” he said.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) said of the sentence: “I think it is necessary for the actors, first of all, to review the court sentence. They have to read it; they have to digest it before we begin to pass judgment. The issue is the overvoting, it was in the BVAS because the law is clear. If the numbers in the BVAS replace; if it is the BVAS, is it replacing the Formulary or is it what is in the BVAS?
“In fact, based on that judgment, I see the BVAS as a machine, something that is transparent and that now gives people the opportunity to not just start overvoting compared to before, when people can vote manually in instead of the smart card reader or you can check the number of registered voters. We must know that any technology is not a silver bullet, but it is still an improvement of what used to be applicable.
Also Read: 2023: BVAS, Correct Use of PVC Solution for Election Fraud – Jibrin
“What we must do as citizens, we all must do a deep study of this sentence before the next elections and also raise questions to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to further clarify the role that the BVAS plays and how it works as a form of electoral education for the people. The commission must go out and enlighten the citizens as part of building trust for the BVAS”.
Political analysts in parts of the Niger Delta say their confidence in BVAS to make genuine votes count in the upcoming general election is unwavering.
Most experts sided with the BVAS, saying the machine escaped unscathed, while they believe it is the human actions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials that were exposed.
A longtime Port Harcourt-based information and political communication consultant, Blessing Nwikina, said the court’s finding was more of a victory for the BVAS.
He said that the only panic arising from the Osun court ruling is because the political parties rely on their manipulation system called ‘surrender to your ward’. That is why, he said, political leaders boast of the certainty of victory even before the elections are close.
He said that some politicians always planned to hijack electoral materials, where they sit and cook figures, and send the documents to be checked, but with the revelation of BVAS in the Osun election, the rug has been pulled from their feet.
He said the politicians went ahead to rig Osun’s election, but the BVAS figures ultimately ruled. “It will take time for them to understand that BVAS is anti-tampering. So for now, there is no way around BVAS.”
Commenting on the mood in Rivers state now that the BVAS has spoken in Osun, Nwikina said: “What I think can happen here is that the bad guys will only allow voters loyal to one party into polling stations and, therefore, deny the votes of the opponents.
“In the past, militants in waterfront areas were forced to ‘whip’ opposition party voters away from polling stations so that only one particular party would vote.”
However, he admonished INEC officials to ensure they avoid instances of issuing two reports on BVAS, lest they become involved in a ‘technical’ scenario advantage for a candidate.
In his private opinion, a political commentator and communications strategist, Chris Finebone, now Rivers State Communications and Information Commissioner, said Osun was a victory for the 2022 Election Act in that Nigerians now have a methodology legally recognized accreditation that is recognized by law.
He continued: “Remember that the card reader cheat was mainly because it was not entrenched in any law, and this forced the Supreme Court not to recognize it and that became law.”
However, he cautioned that the BVAS has not been used in a general election, except for some off-season elections. “We have yet to measure his prowess when he stretches to the limit. In theory yes, it seems the way to go but his judgment in the next elections will tell us how good he is or not.
“I have always been skeptical whenever INEC officials embark on a media blitz to promote what they see as a game changer. They did it for the card reader just to fall back on the incident forms after a massive device failure as a credentialing tool. The hype for the BVAS is on, but if communication breakdowns become widespread on election day, then we’re in trouble. This time there is no ‘Plan B’ like the Incident Form. For me, the enthusiasm for BVAS is rushed. Only time will prove that things are right or wrong.”
Jerry Needam, a Port Harcourt-based newspaper publisher and publisher, said: “In my opinion, the great trust that people have in BVAS remains intact.”
Rivers State APC Publicity Secretary Darlington Nwauju, in his reaction, said: “For us at Rivers State APC, we still believe the BVAS is a wonderful introduction to our electoral process that will discourage buildup. of votes and will make voters the kings and queens of the electoral process.
“We still believe so because other off-season elections have been held successfully after the Osun elections.”