The Nigerian Presidential elections took place on Saturday the 25th of February 2023 but three days later, we still don’t know who the next President would be. This is not peculiar to Nigeria alone but by three days after an election, there should be a clear indication of who could eventually win. The four main contender were Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
The election however was marked by widespread reports of failure in the country’s Biometric Verification System (BVAS), a technology designed to verify the identity of voters using biometric data. The BVAS idea was first mooted in 2015 to prevent voter fraud, was supposed to ensure a fair and transparent election process but it became a thing in 2019. However, its failure has raised serious concerns about the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic system.
The Biometric Verification System (BVAS) was introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria in response to allegations of electoral fraud during previous elections. The system is designed to enhance the integrity of the election process by verifying the identity of voters using biometric data such as fingerprints and facial recognition technology. By doing so, the BVAS aims to prevent voter impersonation, multiple voting, and other forms of electoral fraud.
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The BVAS was introduced as a way to modernize the electoral process and increase public trust in the democratic system. It was hoped that by using biometric data to verify the identity of voters, the election process would become more transparent and accountable, and that electoral fraud would be significantly reduced.
One of the key advantages of the BVAS is that it allows for real-time identification of voters. When a voter presents their voter’s card at a polling station, the electoral official scans the card and verifies the voter’s identity using the biometric data stored in the BVAS. This process ensures that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, and that they can only vote once.
The BVAS has been touted as a major step forward for election integrity in Nigeria. However, its implementation has been fraught with challenges. Technical issues such as malfunctioning card readers, network connectivity problems, and power outages have contributed to the failure of the system in some polling stations.
One of the challenges faced by the Biometric Verification System (BVAS) in Nigeria is the issue of fingerprint recognition technology. This technology is supposed to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote by verifying their identity using their fingerprints. However, some voters have reported difficulties with this technology, which has led to long queues and delays at polling stations.
For example, during the 2019 presidential election in Nigeria, there were reports of widespread failures of the machines in many polling stations. In some cases, the fingerprint recognition technology failed to match the fingerprints of voters, leading to delays and frustration among voters. Some voters reported having to wait for hours in long queues before being able to verify their identity and cast their vote.
In another instance, during a gubernatorial election in Kogi State in 2019, the BVAS was reported to have failed in many polling stations due to technical issues with the fingerprint recognition technology. This led to confusion and delays, with many voters being unable to cast their vote.
These issues highlight the challenges faced by the BVAS in Nigeria, and the need for continued investment in technology and training to ensure that the system is reliable and effective. Without a functional and efficient BVAS, the risk of electoral fraud and voter disenfranchisement increases, undermining the integrity of the democratic system and eroding public trust in the electoral process.
Despite these challenges, the BVAS remains an important tool in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria. As the country continues to grapple with issues of electoral fraud and voter disenfranchisement, the BVAS serves as a crucial safeguard against malpractice. By verifying the identity of voters using biometric data, the system ensures that only eligible voters are allowed to participate in the election, thereby reducing the risk of electoral fraud and enhancing public trust in the democratic system.
Despite the promise of the BVAS, the technology has faced numerous challenges since its implementation. In the 2019 presidential election, the BVAS failed in many polling stations, leading to delays, confusion, and disenfranchisement of eligible voters. Reports indicate that a similar situation occurred during the most recent election, with many voters being unable to verify their identity using the BVAS.
The failure of the BVAS has sparked concerns about the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria with some parties now calling for an outright cancellation of Saturday’s election while some say there should be a re-run-in areas where the BVAS machines failed. Even the late President Umaru Yar’Adua admitted that the process that ushered him into office may have been flawed in some areas. Without a reliable system for verifying the identity of voters, the risk of electoral fraud increases, undermining the legitimacy of the election and eroding public trust in the democratic system.
The BVAS failure is not an isolated incident, as Nigeria has a history of compromised election integrity. There have been reports of vote-buying, ballot-box snatching, and other forms of electoral malpractice in previous elections. These incidents raise questions about the government’s commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law.
To address these concerns, there is a need for urgent action to improve the implementation of the BVAS and strengthen election integrity in Nigeria. The government should invest in better technology and training for electoral officials to ensure that the BVAS is functional and effective. In addition, there should be greater transparency in the election process, including the publishing of results and the investigation of any reports of electoral fraud.
Improving election integrity requires political will and a commitment to democratic principles. The government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure free and fair elections by taking concrete steps to address the problems with the BVAS and other issues that undermine election integrity.
The failure of the Biometric Verification System (BVAS) in Nigeria’s recent presidential election is a serious issue that has the potential to undermine the integrity of the electoral process in the country. It is essential that steps are taken to address the technical issues with the system and restore public trust in the electoral process.
Investing in technology and training is critical to ensuring that the BVAS is reliable and effective. This can include upgrading the hardware and software used in the system, improving the network infrastructure, and providing training for election officials on how to use the system effectively. Regular maintenance and testing of the system can also help to prevent technical issues and ensure that the system is working correctly.
Conducting thorough investigations into any allegations of electoral fraud or voter disenfranchisement is also necessary to restore public trust in the electoral process. This can include reviewing the results of the election, examining any irregularities or discrepancies, and taking appropriate action to address any issues that are identified.
Additionally, there is a need for increased transparency and accountability in the electoral process in Nigeria. This can include measures such as allowing independent election observers to monitor the voting process, ensuring that election officials are held accountable for any wrongdoing, and providing clear and accurate information to the public about the electoral process.
Overall, addressing the technical issues with the BVAS and taking steps to ensure the integrity of the electoral process is essential for the stability and legitimacy of the government in Nigeria. By investing in technology and training, conducting thorough investigations, and promoting transparency and accountability, Nigeria can take important steps towards building a more trustworthy and effective electoral process.
To ensure that the democratic system remains strong and viable, urgent action is needed to improve the implementation of the BVAS and strengthen election integrity. Only then can Nigeria move forward as a stable and democratic nation.