Ahead of the 2023 general election and rising fears in some quarters that the election will not be free and fair, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has, once again, assured Nigerians that the data on its Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BIVAS) would not be compromised. INEC’s deputy head of ICT, Lawrence Bayode, who made the disclosure, said the commission “had tightened every loose end towards ensuring that the BVAS was safe.” In other words, the BVAS would not be hacked during the exercise.
The assurance by INEC came a few weeks after the commission said it had fortified its portal and made it impossible for elections to be rigged. This is reassuring. INEC must ensure that this promise is kept. The outcome of the poll will be made to truly reflect the wishes of the voters. Any attempt to manipulate the outcome of the poll will destroy all the gains of democracy.
President Muhammadu Buharu has consistently assured Nigerians and members of the international community that the 2023 election will be free, fair and transparent in keeping with his avowed commitment to bequeath to Nigerians a culture of credible electoral system. Similarly, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has pledged to deliver the best election in the country with the 2023 exercise. Nigerians are aware of these promises and would not accept anything below expectation. Good enough, the government has allocated enough funds and materials for the exercise, which most Nigerians look forward to.
Therefore, the assurance by INEC for a credible poll is a welcome development, particularly coming at a time there are reported moves by fraudulent politicians and their supporters to manipulate the election. The commitment by INEC for a credible poll is in consonance with the recent call by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) on the electoral body to ensure that technology is transparently deployed to increase the confidence of Nigerians in the 2023 elections and not to apply same to rig the process. The bishops had warned against the technological innovations being used to rig the election.
INEC’s strive for a credible election is in line with the expectations of Nigerians. Until the recent developments in some off-cycle elections, elections in Nigeria had been characterised by malpractices such as ballot snatching, falsification of results, mutilation of the voter register, vote buying and selling as well as violence and intimidation of opponents, which cast doubts on the credibility of the process and outcome.
However, the conscious deployment of appropriate technologies such as the card readers, BVAS, INEC Result Viewing Portal (IreV) and electronic transmission of results, accounted for the obvious improvement in the conduct of elections, in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun governorship polls. With INEC’s sterling performance in these elections, there is hope that the electoral agency will do better in 2023. Nothing should be allowed to reverse these achievements. All eyes are on INEC to deliver on its promises. Nigeria has witnessed series of flawed elections in the past. Let the 2023 exercise be a point of departure from our sordid electoral history.
Beyond the declaration on the sanctity of the BVAS and other technological innovations, there is need for a follow-up. INEC should not rest on its oars in the assumption that its devices for free and fair elections are tamper-proof. There is need for routine checks to ensure that everything is in order.
We also urge INEC and its officials that the stakes are high and the expectations huge for 2023. Let the Commission begin to train its officials and ad-hoc staff early enough to avoid logistical errors. The place of adequate security before, during and after the exercise cannot be over-emphasised. The security agents for the poll must be properly trained and equipped for the onerous duty. The only way to sustain democracy, guarantee good governance and the continued existence of the country is to make the exercise free, fair and credible. INEC cannot afford to fail Nigerians on this.
Let politicians and their supporters play by the rules and eschew violent acts that may lead to the destruction of INEC’s facilities and election materials before, during and after the elections. Voters should not give in to any form of intimidation or yield to prodding by unscrupulous politicians to undermine the BVAS and other systems put in place by INEC.