The Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) deployed a new Gizmo in #AnambraDecides2021. It is called the Dual Mode Voter Verification System (BVAS). Anambra is not the first time INEC has deployed BVAS. Its first promenade was in the Isoko South Constituency 1 by-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021. “Some chairmen... complained that the machine could not capture the thumbs and faces of some voters, especially Elderly people." Few people noticed.
Therefore, the Anambra election is by far the most important trip of BVAS, and it is also the first time it has conducted a statewide campaign. It will be deployed again in Ekiti and Osun's two 2022 governorship elections, where the territorial footprint will be higher than Anambra's 4,844 square kilometers, and the scope of rural expansion will be greater. The performance of BVAS in Anambra deserves close attention and review. The reason will soon become apparent.
Context is essential. Democracy is quantum arithmetic. In democracies, we count people, count their votes, count their money. Through the counting of votes, leaders gained the legitimacy of counting and accounting for the people's money. This simple proposition assumes the existence of political arithmetic skills and the institutional ethics of honest counting and accounting. More than 55 years ago, Wolfgang Stolper (Wolfgang Stolper) in the classic "Planning without Facts" (Planning without Facts) bad performance of Nigeria in all three efforts to count the number of people, votes and money Remember it in your heart. We are better at inventing numbers than counting. Therefore, for us Nigerians, democracy has never been honest counting and accounting. On the contrary, it is a "number game".
In elections, numbers that have nothing to do with actual voting are usually recorded across the country. Most of the judges and senior defenders (SAN) in Nigeria never need to use mathematics to wear wigs and gowns, and then deploy Latin to justify countless political ethics and make a lot of money. Usually, we have never encountered such a voting problem. Our problems are always related to collation and election litigation.
In 2015, INEC introduced a technical solution to verify permanent voter cards (PVC) in the form of a card reader, which narrowed the gap between voter identity verification and votes, and achieved the goal by using the device to authenticate voters. above 50. President election. As a result, for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s presidential elections, losers refused to prosecute. Overall, the proportion of elections that ended up in court fell to about 43%. Only eight years ago, in 2007, 86.35% of all disputed offices ended in court. In 2011, this proportion just exceeded 51%. In 2019, the proportion of voters certified by the INEC card reader has dropped to less than 20%, and the number of candidates who finally went to court rose to more than 51%. Linking effective technical solutions to election credibility does not require the superb skills of theoretical physicists.
In the by-election of the Nasarawa Central State constituency in August 2020, INEC launched the Z-Pad to test the successor solution of the card reader in voter certification. It encountered very complicated results. In the non-periodic election of the Governor of Edo next month, INEC mainly deployed Z-Pad as an interface to its new INEC Results View (IReV) portal, which is believed to help maintain the will of the people in the 24.22 competition% turn out.
BVAS is the successor product of Z-Pad and is hailed as integrating the basic functions of these solutions into one device, combining voter registration, voter authentication and result interface functions. In theory, this should close the gap between analog manipulation of numbers in elections. The voter authentication function combines fingerprint, iris and facial recognition technology, which is said to eliminate guesswork in voter identification and authentication. To prevent hackers from intruding, the application requires regular software updates and serviceable broadband access, and 4G technology is required to facilitate downloading. There are many problems here; I limit myself to four.
First of all, BVAS is a technical solution based on artificial intelligence. Its quality depends on the age of the data and the training of the algorithm. Given that the technology’s reputation is flawed and many pioneers are withdrawing from it, it is challenging to use this technology as a solution on the scale required for credible election management in Nigeria. For example, in the Anambra election, it is clear that voters who have recently registered in INEC's Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) are the easiest to gain recognition because their features are up-to-date. However, older voters or those whose PVC is only a few years old usually report serious problems with certification, mainly because their characteristics have changed in the years between data capture and certification. Thousands of people may be deprived of the right to vote. This raises reasonable questions about the source of the algorithm and its training. INEC needs to disclose more information about these parameters.
Second, technical solutions require complementary systems. The National Communications Commission disclosed in its "National Broadband Plan for 2020-2025" that the nationwide broadband penetration rate was about 37.8% early last year and set a goal of reaching 70% by the next general election in 2023. However, since these targets did not expand coverage, most of the telecommunications infrastructure in northwestern Nigeria has been shut down for purportedly more urgent purposes. MTN is the country's leading operator with a 38% market share, and currently reports a 4G penetration rate of only 60%. For example, in Dunukofia, Anambra, most of the areas are covered by 3G networks. For example, several host officials had to recruit local motorcycle suppliers to take them to neighboring communities, where they You can access the 4G network to download BVAS updates.
This raises the third question: BVAS relies on geographic space. Anambra is the second smallest state in Nigeria, with an area of 4,844 square kilometers, densely populated, and communities living side by side with each other. INEC will audition the next two states of BVAS before the 2023 presidential election, Ekiti (6,353 square kilometers) and Osson (9,251 square kilometers), with a total area of only 15,604 square kilometers, almost equivalent to that of Lagos State. The area is smaller than the smallest state in northern Nigeria, Gombe State (18,768 square kilometers). In comparison, Niger State, the largest state in Nigeria (northern), has an area of 76,363 square kilometers, which is two and a half times the size of Oyo State. Oyo State has an area of 28,454 square kilometers, which is the largest state in southern Nigeria, but it ranks nationally. No. 14. In Anambra, INEC can get rid of the BVAS election setbacks, but they are unlikely to do so in Zamfara, which has 39,762 square kilometers or 54,473 square kilometers in Taraba. However, despite the obvious geospatial sensitivity of BVAS, it will only be tested in three relatively small states in southern Nigeria before the 2023 election, and not in the north. To put it mildly, the situation that BVAS can only be deployed in southern Nigeria but not in the north in 2023 will be quite problematic. INEC should know this.
I did not mention network failures.
Fourth, in the Anambra voting, serious human agency defects are very obvious. Obviously, many election and presiding officials have received little or no training from BVAS. In terms of mitigation measures, INEC can claim that they have inevitable shortcomings in withdrawing well-trained election officials due to the loss of personnel due to the widely publicized pre-election violence. This excuse is unlikely to be useful in Ekiti and Osun.
The constant complaints about "voter indifference" in the election of the governor of Anambra will not take these factors into consideration, nor will they voluntarily provide those who are biased towards facial recognition technology than those who have suffered for a long time in Nigeria usually claim or have more. The number of feminists frustrated by smooth characteristics.
In the ecstasy after the election of Anambra, these issues are unlikely to receive the attention they deserve. It will be tragic. The voters of Azare or Rigassa are unlikely to be as patient with the setbacks of BVAS as we have seen among their peers in Aguata or Oleh. BVAS may become a potential game changer, closing the gap between electoral democracy as a political arithmetic enterprise and the Nigerian election as a cynical exercise of political witchcraft. Whether this will happen will depend on how seriously INEC treats Anambra’s apparent deficit and, more importantly, whether it is willing to do so.
Odinkalu is a lawyer and teacher, writing letters in Abuja.