From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
The Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA) has urged the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to increase voter awareness of the usage of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) devices as the 2023 general election draws near.
Faith Nwadishi, executive director of CTA, stated at a press conference on Monday in Abuja that the BVAS is an improvement over the previous card reader and will undoubtedly lessen electoral malpractice in Nigeria based on the organisation’s observations of the recently concluded INEC mock accreditation exercise.
Nwadishi suggested that more attention be given to potential flash points throughout the country and that security and party agents be made more aware of the dos and don’ts at polling places on election day as well as observers’ rights.
“As part of INEC’s preparations towards the 2023 general elections, a test run of the use of the BVAS was done through a mock exercise that was conducted on Saturday February 4 2023 in 436 polling units across Nigeria; 12 per state and 2 within the FCT.
“One hundred and sixty five observers were deployed to 165 selected polling units across the country including the FCT by The Centre for Transparency Advocacy to observe the process. Reports from observers indicated enthusiasm and confidence in the use of the BVAS.
“Reports from across the States indicate that, the accreditation exercise was peaceful and successful but more awareness needs to be created on those that were migrated to other polling units. Observers and voters that participated strongly believe that the deployment of the BVAS will greatly checkmate vote buying especially on election day. It is also believed that the B-VAS will eliminate the incidents of ballot snatching.
“The CTA noted that in most polling units that were observed, the accreditation process was peaceful and no chaos was recorded as most of the machines used worked very well. It took between 1-2mins for accreditation of voters. Upon the request from observers present at Area 10/Post office, the BVAS was subjected to a test of double accreditation and it was found that the BVAS can recognise any form of double accreditation, as the BVAS alerted that the individual had been accredited earlier.
“The CTA acknowledges that the BVAS is really an improvement over the previous card reader and undoubtedly will reduce electoral malpractice in Nigeria.
The process was generally smooth and peaceful but the turn out of prospective voters was relatively poor due to low publicity and mobilisation. Though there were cases of some that turned out to find out that their names were not among those slated for the mock accreditation.
“However, the INEC official explained that the BVAS had been configured to allow for 1250 voters per BVAS and in decongesting the PUs, Voters were moved to another BVAS which will be labelled accordingly.
“Some voters came out expecting to vote electronically but were disappointed with their expectations from INEC. For them, the BVAS should be an electronic voting machine, and not just an accreditation device only.
“Our observers across the states noted that some PVCs could not be accredited by the BVAS because the cards are already faded. That is, the numbers or pictures are already fading away and could not be captured by the BVAS.
“Interestingly also, in Tashamota Wushishi LGA of Niger State, some voters were of the view that the mock exercise was an actual election; that there was not going to be another election after the mock exercise.
“The CTA observers in Nassarawa, Benue and a few other states, reported that INEC officials and security agents did not allow observers access to the polling units and accreditation centres because they did not have INEC tags. For us, this was not supposed to be the case since INEC did not and have not issued tags for this exercise, rather the accreditation letters carried by the observers should have suffixed.
“The CTA , seriously noted that many people were not aware of the mock exercise leading to a low turnout in some areas. There was also a misconception that officials wanted to use the exercise to copy their PVC numbers so that they would not be be able to vote on election day. This should not have happened if there was adequate awareness creation in the communities.
The ED condemned the manhandling of one of their observers at Ika North East Ute-Okpu primary school by some suspected political thugs on the suspicion that she was a supporter of one of the political parties.
“Her phone was taken away, though later retrieved and the pictures deleted. The police at the PU did not intervene during her harassment. She was, however, saved through the intervention of the community elders who identified her as an observer. She went later to the clinic for treatment,” she recounted.