November 9, 2021

Anambra Decides: Yiaga expresses concern over INEC’s framework for adopting new electoral technologies

Yiaga Africa

…says BVAS fell short of expectations

demands INEC’s termination of contract with NURTW

urges voters in Ihiala to peaceful exercise their franchise

By Gabriel Ewepu

AS voters in Ihiala Local Government Area, of Anambra State go for supplementary election on Tuesday November 9 to elect their governor due to declaration of inclusive governorship election in that part of the Stated by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, an election observer, Yiaga Africa, Monday, expressed concern over framework for adopting new electoral technologies by INEC as a result of technical hiccups that affected functioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, in the election on November 6.

This was stated by the Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, during a press briefing, while delivering the ‘Preliminary Statement on the 2021 Anambra Gubernatorial Election’ along with Board Member, Yiaga Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu, and Director of Programme, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu.

He said: “In its situational midday statement released on Saturday, November 6Yiaga Africa raised concerns on late deployment if polling officials and election materials, delayed opening of polls, non-functioning of BVAS and non-opening of polling units concentrated in Ihiala and Ogbaru Local Government Areas, LGAs.

“By replacing Smart Card Readers with the BVAS, INEC intended to enhance the integrity of the electoral process by introducing additional checks to ensure only eligible voters could cast ballots on Election Day. The BVAS was used throughout the accreditation of voters in 95% of polling units.

“In 45% of the polling units, the system malfunctioned at some point during the accreditation. The BVAS was replaced in 1% of the polling units and fixed in 39% of the polling units. In 5% of polling units, the BVAS malfunctioned but was not fixed or replaced. In 3% of polling units, the presiding officers resorted to manual accreditation of voters in contravention of INEC guidelines and regulations.

“Yiaga called on INEC to tale necessary steps to ensure registered voters are not disenfranchised from voting to determine the next governor of Anambra State.

“Logistics heavily delayed the opening of polling units, despite innovations made in recent times to establish Super Registration Area Centres, RACs, close to the polling units to alleviate logistical problems.  

“BVAS malfunctioned and slowed down the process. Yiaga Africa notes that the commission did not adhere to this procedure in the polling units where the BVAS did not accredit the voters.

“Yiaga Africa expresses concern with INEC’s framework for adopting new electoral technologies, as the BVAS, though a valuable tool for electoral integrity, fell short of expectations.”

However, he (Itodo) affirmed that, “We support the BVAS device for electronic accreditation and transmission or upload of results we support that innovation.

“However, there are fundamental principles that govern the deployment of electoral technology. These devices are meant to improve the efficiency and transparency of the process.

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“Our position is you can surrender your democracy to machines, and if you not going to do that there has to be a hybrid, biovocated approach provide manual and electronic means of conducting election processes. The BVAS should be supported and we support it.

“There is a principle of transparency, when these devices were first introduced Yiaga Africa deployed observers to observe the Isoko North bye-election on September 11, 2021,there were two challenges we highlighted; the first was on the capacity gaps that we observed on the part of the operators and in this case the polling officials. The second were the tech-glitches, and in our pre-election statement we urged INEC to address those challenges.

“But were those challenges addressed? Based on what we observed that those challenges still linger and it raises critical questions and we hope that this audit are process that INEC should conduct will address these gaps but we have faith and we support the BVAS.

“INEC cannot be deploying technologies that disenfranchises voters and it questions its commitment to participatory democracy, and as an institution it should prioritize these issues; the issue of fingerprint authentification was an issue with the Smart Card Reader, you introduce a new device we expect that these gaps will be addressed but they have not been addressed, but as stakeholders we would continue to hold INEC to higher standards because that is the responsibility that Yiaga Africa and other Civil Society Organisations have and it is in the best interest of our country.

“But technologies or machines have vulnerabilities, we know that these machines are vulnerable but INEC needs to be more open with stakeholders to discuss these principles of integrity, transparency, accountability, efficiency, and these for us will be discussions that Yiaga Africa will lead over the next couple of weeks around the common the principles that should govern deployment of electoral technologies-issues on cost, infrastructure, digital security, public awareness in the use of technology.”

Meanwhile, on public access to election results, Yiaga Africa acknwoledged value of adopting new technologies to enhance the credibility of the electoral process, including the introduction of the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IREV) to improve the transparency of the results declared at the polling units.

“Yiaga Africa commends INEC for deploying the portal for the election and further recommends that INEC reviews the portal to make the interface user-friendly and provide electoral results data in a usable format to facilitate citizens’ monitoring of the announcement of election results”, he pointed.

According to him, Yiaga Africa observers reported incidents of intimidation, harassment or violence towards women voters, polling officials, security, party agents or observers at seven per cent of polling units observed. Yiaga Africa also notes that in 26% of polling units observed, there were no female polling officials. Female presiding officers were sighted in only 38% of polling units.

“Yiaga Africa implores INEC and security agencies to ensure safety for women voters and for INEC to ensure gender parity in its deployment of officials in electoral processes”, he said.

The Director of Programme, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, while reading recommendations contained in the statement, said on the Ihiala Local Government going for supplementary election on November 9, Yiaga Africa calls for transparency, and as a result INEC should publish total number of Permanent Voter Cards, PVC, collected in Ihiala LGA and also inform the public of number of uncollected PVCs.

 Sanction its staff accused on electoral malpractice and conspiracy with political actors; INEC should terminate contractual agreement with National Union of Road Transport Workers for breach of contract, and legally tackle erring commercial drivers who failed to deliver electoral materials.

“To enhance the transparency of the supplementary election, INEC should publish the total number of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) collected in Ihiala LGA and inform the public on the status of uncollected PVCs.

“INEC should undertake an audit of the BVAS and ensure all the technological glitches with the device are resolved ahead of the supplementary elections to prevent delays and possible disenfranchisement of voters.

“INEC should terminate its contractual relationship with road transport unions, especially those notorious for breach of contractual obligations. In addition to termination, INEC should seek legal remedies against transporters who are liable for breach of contract”, Mbamalu said.

“Security agencies: Maintain nonpartisan and professional conduct in the Nov 9, 2021 supplementary election; Against the background of security threats in some communities in Ihiala LGA, security agencies should ensure strategic deployment to flashpoints polling units in Ihiala to guarantee the safety of voters, polling officials and materials during the supplementary election.

“Investigate and prosecute all security personnel involved in gross misconduct and electoral fraud especially the involvement of police officers in the reported incident in Orumba North LGA”, she said.

However, Yiaga also urged the National Assembly to no more delay in concluding “the amendment to the Electoral Act and transmit the electoral bill to the President for assent.”