2023: Eight questions INEC should, and must, answer before the first ballot is cast – Chima Christian
Without insisting on getting the right answers, the upcoming general elections stand a great risk of being technically compromised.
From outright snatching of ballot boxes, to attempting to snatch 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 the system and confer undue advantages on themselves. Today, anyone who intends to tamper with the wishes of ordinary Nigerians need 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;
Question 1: Compromised Voter Register
1) Even after INEC announced 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?
Question 2: Fake/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 recall those PVCs.
Given also the hostile nature of some polling units, especially those in the rural areas and volatile areas, it is practically difficult, if not impossible, to expect INEC staff deployed on election-day duty or agents of political parties to contest eligibility of prospective voters on the 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 the Election Day with the PVCs they managed to beat INEC’s systems to obtain, those prospective under-aged 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.
Question 3: Can we subject these systems and processes to multi-stakeholder audit and integrity tests?
INEC, through its Commissioner of Voter Education, Festus Okoye, initially told Nigerians that the new data capturing protocol deployed during the last continuous voter register makes 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 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 on the systems?
Question 4: Can we look at the geographic distribution of the data enrolment devices during the last 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 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 on-board 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?
Question 5: Lopsided Invalidation of Registrants: What happened?
After INEC concluded the June 2021 — July 2022 Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, the data released by INEC presented an interesting scenario. 49.3% of the 2.78 million invalidated registrations were coming from the South-East and South-south regions. A critical analysis of INEC data reveals that there is a national invalidation rate of 22%. A regional invalidation rate of 17% for the three northern regions and the south-west. Interestingly, that rejection rate spiked to 35.2% for the South-South and the South-East.
Mr. INEC Chairman Sir, why, in your own analysis, do you think these two regions presented such anomalies? Some are already claiming a possible compromise of the elections through a technical suppression of votes of people from certain regions. How does INEC respond to that?
As you answer the question, please be mindful that this lopsided invalidations were done using the ABIS software that curiously on-boarded a lot of double, multiple, underage and out rightly fake registrants.
Also be mindful that the regions with the highest prevalence of under-aged registrations had the least percentage invalidations while the regions with the least prevalence of these things had the highest percentage invalidations.
Question 6: Detailed explanation of how the ABIS works
Mr. INEC Chairman, could you provide a 12-year old a detailed explanation of how the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) works? Does it run the facials and fingerprints supplied to it through an artificial intelligence system to determine the age of the owners of those biometrics? Does it also run those unique IDs to ensure that they meet parameters already set up by INEC. For instance, INEC says all pictures on-boarded must be captured in real-time by field agents of INEC deployed on CVR duties. But we saw passport and scanned photographs on the system. Is ABIS equipped to automatically detect those flaws? Is the system also equipped to detect multiple iterations of the same fingerprints as was used by politicians to on-board fake registrants?
If the answers to these questions are in the positive, why then did the system fail to flag the multiple incidences of these things when the data was ran through the ABIS? If the answers are in the negative, what then are the features of ABIS that pre-qualified it to be deployed for such a sensitive assignment as auditing voter registration information?
Question 7: Are we measuring the success or fail rate of the BIVAS?
The BIVAS was first deployed in Issoko – Delta State, and afterwards in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun off-season elections. Using empirical data, do you know what the voter validation rate of the BIVAS is in those elections?
I ask that question because there were a lot of voters who presented their duly issued PVCs on Election Day, saw their names on the register displayed at the polling units, yet the BIVAS refused to accredit them using the two authentication modalities. If INEC does not have the exact number of failed authentications, can it at least do a minor software update on the BIVAS so it captures the number of unique voter authentication requests? This is important so that Nigerians can see the voter authentication success or fail rate of the BIVAS after the elections. Then they can subject that data to local government, state, regional and national analysis, to be doubly sure that no state or region had an irregular failed voter authentication rate. By having a failed voter authentication rate higher than the national average, the votes of a region or regions or even local government areas can be technically suppressed.
Question 8: How can political parties and their agents confirm data pre-loaded on the BIVAS?
Because of internet access considerations, the BIVAS relies on the information pre-loaded on it to process voter authentication requests. It only needs the internet to upload captured results. This is quite helpful because of Nigeria’s internet penetration rate, especially in rural areas.
The question now is, how can political parties and their agents be sure that the data of all eligible voters in any given polling unit were all pre-loaded on the BIVAS before voting commences in that unit? Secondly, even if the total number of loaded voter records matches the number on the physical voter register, how can political parties and their agents ascertain that ALL the loaded bio-data of prospective voters belong to actual voters in that given unit?
This is to avoid the issue of partially loading correct details of voters, and filling up the quota with bio-data from voters who are not eligible voters in that particular polling unit. In which case there will be high failed authentication rates. Also some of these failed authentications may not necessarily be as a result of compromise. It may also be because of honest mistakes. So, how can political parties track and make sure those mistakes are not made because the consequences of such mistakes are enormous?
There are concerns about security, PVC distribution challenges including lopsided PVC distributions where PVCs of people who bear certain names are withheld. There are issues of PVCs that were burnt or dumped in the gutters while they were still in the custody of INEC. Nobody knows what becomes of these voters who, by no fault of theirs, have now been disenfranchised, except INEC provides a remedy which may include authentications with the VIN on the temporary voter’s card. Nigerians, it is now left for us to add to the list of these questions if need be, and also demand answers before the first ballot is cast.
We also have to compel our favourite candidates and their campaign councils, especially those who stand to hurt the most from such irregularities whether they are aware of these issues, and how they can add their voices to those of ordinary Nigerians to draw attention to these issues and insist that they be resolved satisfactorily.
“The price for liberty is eternal vigilance.” Fellow Nigerians, the ball is now in our court.
Africa’s morning will come.
*Chima Christian is a good governance advocate and a public policy analyst.