With over 90 million registered voters, Nigeria has more registered voters than its West African neighbours put together.
Nigerians will go to the polls on Saturday and the head of the electoral commission, Mahmood Yakubu, a professor, has said he is determined to make the 2023 general elections ‘the best’ Nigeria has ever had.
With over 90 million registered voters and over 23,000 election duty staff, Nigeria’s election is a big endeavour. “It’s like conducting elections for the whole of West Africa and beyond,” Mr Yakubu said on numerous occasions. This is because Nigeria has more registered voters than all its 14 West African neighbours combined.
The elections have always been problematic and it is no different this time, with insecurity rife in four of the six geo-political zones of the country. Almost 60 attacks have been carried out on the facilities of the electoral commission, INEC, in the last four years.
While the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) denied plans of disrupting the elections, there is a palpable fear among voters in the South-east.
A recent ruling by the Osun State election tribunal has cast doubts on the integrity of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), a technology introduced to address over-voting and inflation of votes.
The scarcity of petroleum products and naira banknotes also poses a threat to the smooth delivery of the elections.
As the elections drew closer, rumours began flying of the possibility of a postponement. Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai alleged that a cabal in the presidency was plotting to scuttle the elections and install an interim national government.
It was before some of these rumours became mainstream that the political parties under the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC) warned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against postponing the elections.
When the INEC Chairman addressed the Federal Executive Council and the Council of State, he reaffirmed that the elections would be held as scheduled. “As far as we are concerned, we are ready to proceed with the elections as scheduled,” he told them.
With the deployment of technologies, including the BVAS, INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) and the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal, the commission, according to political parties and observers, increased confidence in the process.
Until 2022, when the amended electoral act was signed into law, there was no legal backing for the use of these technologies in voting and the collation of results. This, INEC believes, would increase the transparency of the elections.
Meanwhile, in perfecting the plans for the polls, Mr Yakubu has met with several individuals and groups to seek support for the electoral process.
From the Council of State to the Federal Executive Council, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and heads of the security and intelligence agencies, Mr Yakubu said he had been reassured of support in this enormous national assignment.
The INEC chairman has also met with the leaders of the political parties, labour unions and government agencies whose inputs to the election are considered important.
Throughout these meetings, INEC has raised concerns, made requests and sought partnerships.
Security of Voters, Election Officials
When he met with the heads of the security agencies at the Office of the National Security Adviser, Mr Yakubu’s demands were predictable; the assurance that the security personnel were prepared for the elections and the deployment of additional security to INEC offices nationwide.
He also requested a comprehensive plan for the deployment of security personnel, including their various duty posts during the elections.
At the meeting, all of the security, safety and intelligence agencies who are members of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security assured INEC of their readiness and commitment to keep election staff, voters and election materials safe.
The INEC Chairman extended these assurances to the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), Yusha’u Ahmed, a Brigadier-General, as well as the vice-chancellors of federal universities when he met with them a few days later.
The universities and the NYSC, he said, are to provide a large chunk of the over 23,000 election officials to be deployed for the elections.
Addressing logistical challenges
In addressing the logistical challenges, which he said have remained a perennial problem in Nigeria’s election administration, Mr Yakubu met with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to request the provision of more cash than the already stipulated withdrawal limit to enable INEC to pay for logistics during the elections.
When the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, hosted him, Mr Yakubu sought the partnership of the company to provide fuel for election duty vehicles.
Despite the scarcity of naira notes and petroleum products, Messrs Emefiele and Kyari assured the INEC chairman that provisions would be made for the commission. In locations where the NNPC does not have a filling station, it would partner with other filling stations to provide the products, Mr Kyari added.
Mr Yakubu would later disclose that a technical committee is already working on providing INEC with support nationwide.
The INEC Chairman also met with the members of the NURTW, and for the first time, the Marine Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) who are going to transport both the election officials and materials to the polling units. Election duty staff and materials must be at their polling units before the time scheduled for voting, he told them.
BVAS, IRev and the issues with them
After deploying the BVAS and IReV in three off-cycle elections, INEC is about to deploy them on a large scale for the first time.
The BVAS is a machine that accredits voters using any of their ten fingerprints or facial recognition technology. The machine uploads the total number of accredited voters to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) which can be accessed in real-time by anyone anywhere in the world. At the end of the voting process and the counting of results in each polling unit, the BVAS will be used to take the snapshot of the result sheet, as signed by all agents of political parties present, and uploaded directly to the IReV portal. That way, all citizens can see on the IReV portal, both the total number of accredited voters uploaded by BVAS -which cannot be modified- and the figure written on the result sheet. For the result of any polling unit to be admitted as credible, the figure must tally.
But these technologies appear to not be without their own challenges. While INEC is optimistic that there would be no hitches, some of the challenges experienced with these technologies during the mock accreditation that was held on 4 February are worthy of note.
According to the observation report of YIAGA Africa, there were cases of result discrepancies in some polling units where the number of accredited voters as uploaded by BVAS is different from what is on the snapshot of the result sheet uploaded.
The report also stated that the BVAS finds it difficult to accredit some voters who registered in 2011.
Meanwhile, despite the promise of eliminating over-voting and inflation of votes, the Osun state election tribunal recently sacked Ademola Adeleke earlier declared the winner of the election, stating that the BVAS, in fact, accommodated over-voting which spurred Mr Adeleke to victory. INEC and Mr Adeleke have, however, appealed the ruling.
Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe