The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), an INEC-approved piece of technology which can accredit voters using fingerprint and facial recognition, is expected to achieve free, fair and credible elections in a few weeks through the prevention of over-voting. Despite the use of the BVAS in Osun State, there was over-voting in 744 polling units. This incident led to the verdict passed by the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on 27 January, which has sent ripple effects across Nigeria and raised questions not only about the removal of Governor Adeleke but also the effectiveness of the BVAS. Nigerians have started wondering whether the BVAS is, after all, impregnable and unable to flag over-voting. In addition, there are fears that unscrupulous politicians may bring about the cancellation of election results by causing over voting in opposition strongholds.
For the All Progressives Congress (APC), on the other hand, this feels like a vindication of the reservations expressed by its National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, about the use of BVAS in November. At the time, his comments drew so much criticism that he recanted while his party claimed he was misquoted.
However, the issue here is not the BVAS but insufficient knowledge of its usage and the improper application of the Electoral Act 2022. The Electoral Act 2022 outlawed the use of incidence forms, which in previous elections had been used when a voter’s PVC could not be read by INEC’s smart card reader. The use of incidence forms was heavily exploited by politicians and compromised election officials to allow unregistered voters to vote. Since the use of the smart card reader was not explicitly backed by any law or judicial pronouncement, manual accreditation was not in contravention of any law. It is this loophole that the Electoral Act 2022 closed by giving legal backing for the use of smart card readers, electronic accreditation of voters, and any other voter accreditation technology that INEC deploys. Without such accreditation, no voter can vote.
As such, the BVAS is only for the accreditation of voters before they vote, capturing images of the polling unit’s result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet online. The Electoral Act 2022, which defines over-voting as when the total number of votes cast in a polling unit is higher than the number of accredited voters, empowers the presiding officer to void the results of the election in the polling unit where over-voting occurs. In other words, the presiding officers of the 744 polling units should have flagged that over-voting had occurred and voided those results. They should not have transmitted them to the INEC Results Viewing Portal. This highlights the need for INEC to train the officers it will deploy for the upcoming elections as this would forestall such recurrence. Also, whenever election officials transmit false results, INEC should charge them to court under Section 64(9) of the Electoral Act, which delineates the punishments for such offences.
The BVAS is not the problem. If it were, there would have been issues arising from it in the November 2021 governorship elections in Anambra and the June 2022 governorship election in Ekiti. In essence, the over-voting that occurred in Osun should not be blamed on the BVAS but the failure of human judgement.