On Saturday, 4 February 2023, three weeks to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted a mock accreditation exercise. The exercise was a test of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a technological device used to identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting.

INEC set up 436 designated polling units across the 109 senatorial districts in the country; 12 in each state and four in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for the exercise. The BVAS was used in the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States’ off-cycle governorship elections in 2021, 2022 and 2022, respectively. However, this exercise was the first time the BVAS was tested in all the 36 states and the FCT.

The mock accreditation exercise brought to light the commotion that is being experienced in the Commission less than 2 weeks to Election Day. One example of this is the reassignment of voters to new polling units.

Across sampled polling units for the mock accreditation exercise, it was observed that some voters were reassigned to new polling units without their knowledge and so could not be accredited when they showed up in their previous voting units. These redirection of voters to new polling units, without their knowledge, can cause significant disruptions ahead of the general elections if INEC does not find a way of sending updates to registered voters.

In 2021, INEC created 56,872 new polling units. With this recent development, there will be 176,846 polling units for the elections on 25 February and 11 March 2023 against the initial 119,974 polling units that have been in use since 1999. Election observer groups said, “The exercise reveals underlying challenges with the relocation of voters to new polling units without notice to the voters. In addition, the BVAS machines could not recall biometrics of some voters that registered in 2011.”

They also said, “These twin challenges should be resolved to prevent disenfranchisement and discontent on election day…efforts must be made to inform the affected voters and assist them with locating the new polling units.” Elections have emotional underpinnings, and the commotion that will ensue if millions of registered voters are unable to locate their polling units and, by extension, disenfranchised is a powder keg that is waiting to explode on Election Day.