In 2023, the list of national elections stretches so long across the globe that the countries that will hold them, from Andorra to Zimbabwe, almost flirt with covering the alphabet. However, not all of them have equal importance to the global scene. In Africa, all eyes are on Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy. It’s not only because the country is holding the most expensive election but also because this might be the nation’s most crucial election since 1999.
Since its return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral process has been a progressive experiment by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Each election cycle sees the electoral management body introduce new technological elements to improve its ability to conduct free, fair, and credible elections. One of the reasons this year’s election had such a hefty bill was that it was supposed to be Nigeria’s most innovative electoral process. However, what unfolded was pretty much the opposite.
Nigeria’s electoral system has undergone a series of transformations from the open ballot system used before 2007 to the permanent voter’s card and electronic voter’s register introduced in 2011. While these changes have helped improve the integrity of the electoral process, they pale in comparison to the transformative potential of the Electoral Act of 2022.
The Act addresses several challenges facing Nigeria’s electoral system, including logistical problems and the need to ensure greater inclusivity for persons with disabilities. It also grants the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to provide a variety of voting devices, from traditional ballot boxes to electronic voting machines, to facilitate the conduct of elections.
BVAS: Failing on the big stage
Perhaps most significantly, the Act introduces the Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS), a new technology that has already generated significant attention and debate. The success of the BVAS was meant to revolutionize how Nigerians perceived the elections. But over the weekend, it proved the pessimists right again.
The Bimodal Voter Registration System (BVAS) is a new technology designed to prevent overvoting and other forms of electoral irregularity in Nigeria’s democratic process. The system relies on a two-factor verification process to ensure the integrity of each vote.
The BVAS has had multiple chances to shine. But with each attempt, it has only made its light dimmer. It had its first chance during the 2021 Anambra state elections. However, too many hiccups made Charles Soludo, the emergent winner, call it a “complete failure.” The same comments followed its deployment for the 2022 Ekiti elections. Then it took an even bigger hit when the Osun state tribunal recalled the recent electoral victory. And over the weekend, it faltered on the biggest stage. Many Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, queried the failure of the BVAS during the general election.
Expensive yet inefficient
After conducting the polls, INEC faced another roadblock — uploading results. Nearly 48 hours after voting ended, most results were not seen on its portal. INEC made a press statement acknowledging technical glitches. But people weren’t impressed, and for a good reason. INEC claimed that its problems were because of “technical hitches attributed to scaling up the IReV from a platform of managing off-season, state elections, to one for managing nationwide general elections.” That sent a message that the INEC had not even stress-tested its website.
Challenges Experienced With The INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) pic.twitter.com/MbTFXIqugP
— INEC Nigeria (@inecnigeria) February 26, 2023
This announcement also raised concerns about INEC’s web hosting. Several tech enthusiasts claim that INEC is running its website on a rented server, despite its large budget.
Some others are worried about the website’s overall bad design.
Ironically, Nigeria is one of Africa’s foremost tech hubs. Over the past decade, most of the tech funding has gone to Nigerian startups. It also has a reputation for producing a large chunk of Africa’s top tech talents. Howbeit, it seems the public sector hasn’t found space for them.
Without a doubt, Nigeria doesn’t have a problem sufficiently funding its elections. But it has not found efficient ways to deploy these resources. With such a high budget and an acclaimed leaning towards innovation, it had better options.