From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), over the weekend, confirmed its readiness in terms of logistics to conduct a historic, transparent general election in a fortnight with the successful test run of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in a mock exercise held across the country.

From the North to South, the mock exercise was a celebrated success story apart from some areas where the exercise encountered some insignificant glitches that may not ordinarily pose any threat during the main election, starting with this month’s February 25 presidential poll.

Reports across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were replete with encouraging testimonies of the near-perfect efficiency of the BVAS machine from the smooth accreditation of the eligible electorate to the electronic transmission of the mock election results.

The information announcing the mock accreditation exercise released by the commission last month disclosed that it would take place in no fewer than 436 Polling Units (PUs) nationwide.

The commission went further to reveal that 12 polling units were designated in each state of the federation, four in the FCT based on the equality of the country’s 109 Senatorial Districts for the exercise.

To further underscore the validity and transparency of the mock exercise, the commission equally uploaded the comprehensive list of the Polling Units, including their names and Code numbers, as well as their distribution by State, Senatorial District, Local Government, and Registration Area (Ward) on its official website.

And in line with the promise that the mock accreditation of voters would be similar to the exercise carried out ahead of last year’s Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections, encomiums have already continued to pour in from every state across the country in confirmation of the satisfactory and successful nature of the exercise.

Appraising the exercise in his own words, INEC’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu said that; “though we are satisfied with the test of the BVAS carried out in our office, we however, need to test them again in the field in order to give Nigerians confidence on what we are doing to ensure that the elections are going to be free, fair and credible.”

Appraising the exercise further, Yakubu noted: “We are happy to see voters accredited and authenticated with the BVAS machines working accurately. There is no problem of any kind in the two Area Councils in the FCT we visited.

“Again, the results we got from the exercise nationwide gave us joy and hope that everything went on well. Our staff are on ground to attend to any machine failure in case of any unforeseen circumstances but thank God, we have not heard of any failure so far.”

As if that message of hope and assurances from the electoral umpire boss were not enough guarantee to several Nigerian electorate still apprehensive of the reliability and outcome of the machine on the main election day, additional reassurance came from the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Anambra State, Rose Agwu.

Speaking after monitoring the exercise in the State, she passed a vote of resounding confidence on both the BVAS machine and the management of the commission.

On her assessment of the exercise, she said that; “there is nothing INEC had done recently that gave me joy like this mock accreditation. We went round to all the 12 units under my state and I can confirm that the exercise was very wonderful. It is so real and natural that people came out enmasse. They were so happy, especially as there have been so much fairy-tale about BVAS that people don’t know what to believe any longer.

“But today, the people of Anambra and other states saw BVAS and testified to its functionalities. The accreditation went with the speed of lightning, attending to 20, 30, 50 persons in a few minutes as the case may be.

“It was a display of real-life joy and every electorate was enthusiastic to vote as if it was the real voting day.  Nigerians are happy because they don’t believe they could vote under few seconds. The technology is a very welcome development.

“I join the rest of Anambra people and Nigerians across the federation to thank INEC Chairman, and his entire management team because the soup they have been cooking is so sweet and Nigerians are happy about it,” she said.

Mrs Agwu was however prompt to acknowledge the insignificant hitches encountered during the exercise in the state, explaining that; “only one person was rejected. The reason was that he was normal when he registered, but now half of his face is paralysed which affected his fingers due to the accident he had some months ago. Apart from him, the exercise was full of success stories.”

She also argued that though the state encountered some teething challenges with BVAS technology during the 2021 governorship election, there are however greater improvements in the efficiency of the machines on ground ahead of the February 25 poll.

She said; “the exercise is a confirmation that we are ready and felt like conducting the real election the next day. Even when it is a mock exercise, people still troop out to be part of it. The old, young, women, men, and everybody confirmed that we are good to go. The election will be wonderful.

“Yes, in life, we cannot say that we have arrived because there is no arrival stage. Everything in life is a process. We will continue to fine-tune the system from time to time. However, I can confirm to you that the 80 per cent success rate can be adjudged well.

“Even though the BVAS is so advanced, as my staff confirmed, there is, however, still room for improvement. Unlike the ones we used during the 2021 Anambra governorship election, these ones are very fast in accrediting the electorate. It shows that technology will keep improving,” she acknowledged.

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Further confirmations and promises of hope also came from several states in the northern part of the country with the same insignificant glitches in accrediting certain persons.

The takeaways from the mock exercise are humongous and numerous. They ranged from the assurance from the commission of deployment of standby technical experts to fix any observed faults in the BVAS machine to the fact that in almost all the states, there were surprisingly no reported cases of malfunctioning of the machine and or the usual perennial anxiety that network hitches and power failure might affect the functionalities of the BVAS machine.

Of course there were still cases of complaints of voter apathy in several states, but it, understandably, could be attributable to lack of adequate publicity and the general economic challenges, occasioned by the biting monetary policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the country.

However, regardless of how palatable the good news from the success of the exercise might taste, considering the fact that the enthusiasm for the forthcoming elections revolve around the efficiency of BVAS machine, the success of the mock exercise may not be enough parameter to make a reliable conclusion that Nigerians should anticipate huge successful operation of BVAS during the presidential, National Assembly and other election.

In the consideration of many analysts, first, 436 out of the total number of 176, 846 Polling Units, and only 12 per state across the country cannot certainly be a reliable parameter to conclude that the success story will be replicated during the general election or that it is going to just be a stroll in the park.

Again, since over 70 million Nigerian electorate reside in the villages, considered blind spots for network and power shortage challenges, the mock exercise conducted in predominantly city metropolis may not actually give a true reflection of the perfection of the efficiency of the BVAS machines.

However, the good news trailing the successful conduct of the mock exercise may not have come at a better time than now when there is heightened despondency over the credibility and reliability of BVAS machine following the Election Tribunal ruling on over-voting in the Osun State governorship election.

The judgment, though subject to further litigations through appeals, really affected the enthusiasm of many eligible Nigerian electorate that are hitherto banking on the magic of the BVAS machine to ensure a true reflection of the votes they cast.

In the thinking of many Nigerians discouraged by the Tribunal ruling, there must be reassurances that the hope they reposed in BVAS will not be dashed through the usual previous circumvention of the system that saw the emergence of candidates contrary to their desire.

But, true to their thoughts, the fear of the deployment of BVAS machines has continued to cause ripples among members of the political parties that fielded candidates for the forthcoming presidential election.

In the ruling party, the APC, for example, the apprehensions that election results will no longer be easily harvested through electoral infractions or fraud have contributed to heightening the ripples in the party.

Speaking to Daily Sun in confidence recently on the crisis rocking the ruling party, a former member of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) said: “Look at the arrogance with which Tinubu has approached his campaign. He even told Mr. President that he will win with or without his support. Look at the allegations from Governor Nasir El-Rufai. I am not surprised by people like El-rufai because they have a determinist background.

“They are from the PDP that believes that the President will use his position to impose a candidate on Nigerians. But President Buhari is not like them that write election results in hotel rooms. They are just in politics for power’s sake. The governors are all dictators in their states. They are disturbed because they are afraid that the vote will count this time around with the use of BVAS machines.

“That is why they are paranoid about the president’s stand. They are afraid of the outcome of the election because of the BVAS machine. The truth is that APC will have to work hard to win this election, especially with the deployment of technology. It is not going to be an easy task because of the challenges confronting us,” the former NWC member argued.

Summing up the takeaways from the mock exercise, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, assured in a chat with Daily Sun that voters will have a pleasant experience during the 2023 general election.

His words: “Recall that for the 2015 and 2019 general elections, the beloved Smart Card Reader (SCR) was used. But the SCR authenticates only via the voter’s fingerprints. However, politicians found a way around it when the commission genuinely introduced the incident form to take care of what it believed would be a small percentage of voters who could not be authenticated via their fingerprints.

“Through the incident form, proxies were able to use Permanent Voters’ Cards belonging to other persons to vote. The BVAS has now eliminated that because of its two-step authentication process – fingerprint and facial recognition.

“The BVAS also performs other functions, such as registering voters during the Continuous Voter Registration and uploading the polling unit results sheet known as Form EC8A as well as the number of accredited voters to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV).

“The constant use of the BVAS for major and bye-elections has led to a better understanding of its dynamics. The mock accreditation that took place today successfully has further affirmed that the commission has addressed the initial challenges faced in the course of introducing the new technology.

“Poll officials are now better trained for longer periods about how to optimally operate the BVAS machine. There is no doubt that voters will have a pleasant experience during the 2023 general election,” he promised.

The discovery of multiple registrations in Imo state, low turnout of voters, the misinformation about disenfranchising the participants in the mock exercise during the main election, and rejection of blurred PVCs among other noticeable glitches during the mock exercise will be harvested by the commission to re-strategise ahead of the main election.