2023: Questions INEC should, and must, answer

FROM outright snatching of ballot boxes, to attempting to snatch the same ballot boxes through the courts, Nigeria has made substantial progress in election management and electoral law reforms since 1999.

Yet, our politicians have never shed even an ounce of their desperation. At every turn of improvement, they quickly find a way to gain control of the system and confer undue advantages on themselves. Today, anyone who intends to tamper with the wishes of ordinary Nigerians needs not the services of thugs, but the services of ICT experts.

This is because, as the opportunity for manual rigging gets increasingly bleak, a new window of opportunity has opened up for technical rigging of the elections. That is why Nigerians must interrogate all the systems and processes that INEC relies on to process the voting decisions of Nigerians, so that such avenues for technical manipulation of the system are mitigated. Without further ado, these are the questions Nigerians must ask before casting the first ballot.

•Compromised voter register? Even after INEC announced the cleaning up of 53,000 additional fake, double, multiple, and underage registrants from the voter register, there is evidence that several of those fake and underage registrants are still on the final list of voters released to political parties a few days ago. Can INEC conduct sufficiently free, fair, and credible elections with a compromised voter register?

•For fake or underage registrants: can we withdraw access from the backend? The PVCs of some of these double, multiple, fake, and underage registrants have been printed and issued. Given the number of days we have before the elections, it will be unrealistic for INEC to attempt to recall those PVCs.

Given the hostile nature of some polling units, particularly those in rural and volatile areas; it is difficult, if not impossible, to expect INEC staff or agents of political parties to contest the eligibility of prospective voters on election day. They can successfully do this in urban and semi-urban areas. But the weakest link is in the rural areas, especially in the strongholds of establishment figures.

Given these considerations, is it possible for INEC to do another round of internal auditing of the voter register so it can take away the registration details of these fake and underage registrants from the back-end?

So that even if they show up on election day with the PVCs they managed to beat INEC’s systems to obtain, those prospective underage and fake registrants will not be authenticated by BIVAS. As long as their details remain on the system, the coming elections stand a great risk of being decided by fake and underage registrants.

•Can we subject these systems and processes to multi-stakeholder audits and integrity tests? INEC, through its Commissioner of Voter Education, Festus Okoye, initially told Nigerians that the new data capture protocol deployed during the last continuous voter register made it difficult to manipulate.

Yet, desperate politicians, working hand-in-hand with a few compromised INEC staff, found a way to beat the system and on-board fake registrants. This is evidenced by the displayed voter register and what is now referred to as “Omuma magic”. INEC again told Nigerians that the Automated Biometric Identification System, ABIS, will be deployed to detect and weed out those fake, double, multiple, and underage registrants.

Yet, those registrants found a way to evade the prying eyes of the ABIS and made it successfully to the voter register. The only ones that were cleaned after the display of the register were those that were successfully reported by Nigerians. Those who couldn’t be reported, given the limited window of redress, are still on the register and may possibly decide Nigeria’s future.

Since these irrefutable proofs suggest that these systems can either be compromised or are not as efficient as advertised, is INEC willing to subject these systems and processes to a third-party multi-stakeholder audit and integrity tests so as to really ascertain the fitness of these systems and processes, and as a way to mobilise the highest level of stakeholder confidence in the systems?

•Can we examine the geographic distribution of data enrolment devices during the previous CVR exercise? Is INEC able to publish the exact number of data-capturing devices it deployed for the June 2021-July 2022 CVR exercise, and is it able to publish a detailed breakdown (preferably a local government breakdown) of how those devices were deployed and the justification for such deployments?

This is important because deploying more devices in some regions allows them to complete more registrations and thus onboard more prospective voters than other regions. Given the enthusiasm of many young Nigerians to register, especially after the presidential candidates emerged, there is now a suspicion of foul play in the geographic distribution of data capture devices. How soon can INEC release that data, and will INEC commit to making such data publicly available during the next continuous voter registration exercise?

•Lopsided invalidation of registrants: What happened? After INEC concluded the June 2021–July 2022 Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, the data it released presented an interesting scenario. About 49.3 per cent of the 2.78 million invalidated registrations came from the South-East and South-South zones.

A critical analysis of INEC data reveals that there is a national invalidation rate of 22 per cent, a regional invalidation rate of 17 per cent for the three Northern zones and the South-West. Interestingly, that rejection rate spiked to 35.2 per cent for the South-South and the South-East. Mr. INEC Chairman Sir, why do you think, in your own analysis, these two zones presented such anomalies?

Some are already claiming a possible compromise of the elections through a technical suppression of votes from certain regions. How does INEC respond to that? As you answer the question, please be mindful that these lopsided invalidations were done using the ABIS software, which curiously onboarded a lot of doubles, multiples, underage, and outright fake registrants. Also be mindful that the regions with the highest prevalence of underage registrations had the lowest percentage of invalidations, while the regions with the lowest prevalence of these things had the highest percentage of invalidations.






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