Feb. 25 Elections: Who Kidnapped our INEC?

"With the BVAS and IReV, INEC was on the cusp of delivering Nigeria’s most transparent elections since the Option A4 model of 1993 presidential election"

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Nnanke Harry Willie

The February 25, 2023 elections, proudly organised by INEC,  have come but not gone.

Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recorded measured success in aspects of the National Assembly elections, what many believed would be a watershed of electoral transparency and credibility in the presidential election has become mired in a most avoidable controversy with the real intent of the electoral umpire and indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari being called to question.

This is no thanks to the strange morphing and transposition of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from a globally celebrated ‘transparency mode’ apostle to a timid, even subdued whisperer of dual-mode opaqueness and limited transparency. Just when the entire world was watching, INEC strangely gave us a mixed bag of transparency on the right with the usual Nigerian spread of opaqueness on the left.

INEC was so close to global fame and glory, so what indeed could have happened?

For reasons that can at best be suspect, the much-touted IReV uploads from polling units worked for the Senatorial and House of Representatives elections but failed completely with the presidential elections. But the eternal words of Joseph Stalin: “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes” rang true as the people’s real votes became irrelevant in many states across the country, especially for the presidential election.

Meanwhile, INEC had promised that results could no longer be manipulated in Nigerian elections because of the novel introduction of the BVAS and IReV. Indeed INEC stated proudly on its Twitter handle that: “A transparent election process helps to ensure that the will of the people is accurately reflected. This is why the Commission has resolved to use the IReV portal to upload the Polling Unit results in real-time for the #NigeriaDecides2023 election.”

What really went wrong with the real-time uploading of results from Polling Units by the Electoral Officers on February 25, 2023, which was going to be a game-changer, as promised to Nigerians by INEC?

IReV (INEC Results Viewing) is an online portal where polling unit-level results are supposed to be uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published for the general public to view even as voting is concluded across the 176, 606 units in the country. At the front end of the online portal, members of the public can create personal accounts with which they can gain access to all uploaded results stored as PDF files. Nothing could beat this level of transparency as real votes would ultimately produce real winners.

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The IReV is however meant to complement the BVAS. BVAS (Bimodal Voter Accreditation System) is a technological device used to identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting. The device is also used for capturing images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet online. During the February 25 election, the BVAS, did its job very well to an appreciable extent.

Thus, with the BVAS and IReV, INEC was on the cusp of delivering Nigeria’s most transparent elections since the much-celebrated Option A4 model of the 1993 presidential election. The strict application of both by the electoral body was guaranteed to promote the credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria. Its success had already been established in at least 3 state elections in Ekiti, Anambra and Osun states.

IReV was first introduced by INEC in 2020 when a by-election was conducted in Nasarawa State. The BVAS was also used in the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states’ governorship elections. Stakeholders and INEC applauded its success. Both technologies were later given legal backing with the signing into law of the Electoral Act 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The expected success of the process was supposed to boost President Buhari’s sagging profile and lift the morale of citizens to have faith in the power of democracy and belief in their country. INEC, in particular, was about to become a model institution in Nigeria where innovation, patriotism and selflessness were ingrained in its glowing creed. INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu was about to rewrite the script so that every chairman of Nigeria’s electoral body doesn’t necessarily have to leave the stage with a huge stain on his or her name.

The Presidential election of February 25, 2023, unfortunately, brought us crashing dangerously down from our near-euphoric expectations with inexplicable claims that there was a country-wide ‘inability’ of electoral officers to upload results from the polling units as specified by INEC guidelines. INEC has tried to give explanations and excuses but every discerning observer can only see ‘willful sabotage’ as the reason for this.

Some results uploaded by INEC (after the announcement of the results of the presidential elections) clearly show why real-time uploads is the only way to guarantee transparency. Defaced and questionable results have since been seen along with results of other polling units being uploaded in the wrong places.

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However, experts believe that there are deliberate attempts to discredit the IReV and BVAS interventions. According to them “It is extremely difficult for an external person to hack the IREV  with the   TLS/SSL certificate on the  APP on amazon cloud. The app is mapped to inecnigeria.org site. That is why the developers or operators of the app should be  interrogated.”

According to the experts: We know their guaranteed uptime for such servers is (99.99, at least), failover abilities. They come with inbuilt securities available on those server environments and they come standard with tight securities around data transmission to global hosts, like AWS. The experts confirm that “From a professional point of view, what happened could never be a hacker or bandwidth issue, It can only be an internal sabotage job – some authorized person(s) simply compromised, or switched off the servers at a chosen point!

Apart from trying to win the elections at all costs, apparently, those behind this heist want to give the impression that the process is too cumbersome, and unreliable, and thus the BVAS and IReV should be permanently jettisoned. It is a good old survival tactic where change is resisted even if it is meant for the greater good.

This writer however believes that INEC could never have developed a policy to sabotage itself by sabotaging the 2023 presidential elections. One or two or more officials must have been compromised, blackmailed or threatened. In other words, INEC behaved like a kidnap victim who had to do the bidding of its abductors in other to save its life.

So, the natural question is who might be interested in ensuring that elections are not as transparent as INEC wanted them to be?

To find the right answer to the poser above we need to first ask how transparent elections have been before now.

Elections, to a large extent, have been won through strategic rigging structures that include machinery for voter suppression (in opponents’ strongholds), voter inflation (in own strongholds), vote-buying as well as results manipulation at various levels including the judiciary. But, it’s about time to ensure that riggers are not winners in Nigeria!

From the above, it is easy to see that the majority of politicians of the old stock would be very uncomfortable with any form of transparency in key elections. Indeed, quite a few had justified their criminal acts by saying “You can only rig where you are popular”. Thus, the privileged politicians who hold sway at various levels of government would literally ‘kill’ to stop elections from being transparent as it would mean that they would be unable to determine the outcomes of the elections and thus further entrench their ‘Godfather’ status.

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We saw various aspects of this on full display in Rivers, Kogi and Lagos states where the state actors or their supporters used brute force, guile and money to disenfranchise voters through suppression and manipulation of results. Other incidences of cooked-up results where voting never took place are now surfacing from other parts of the country.

Thus, if this level of brigandage went on in the full glare of the public, it means that some privileged politicians at the federal level are responsible for the ‘kidnap’ of INEC and its strange behavior thereafter.

To find out who kidnapped our INEC, we just need to dig a little bit and answer the following:

Who was openly against the use of BVAS and IReV?

Who tried very hard to discredit INEC’s ability (without evidence) to successfully transmit results?

Who moved the former long-time INEC ICT Director, Chidi Nwafor, the brain behind the BVAS and IReV innovations out of Abuja to an Administrative Secretary position in Enugu?

Who worked relentlessly behind the scenes in 2022 to oust the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu?

Who claimed falsely that INEC Server had been hacked about 170 times?

Who ordered the Presidential election module/server on the BVAS deactivated on February 25, 2023

Who was desperate to win the 2023 Presidential elections at all costs?

A dispassionate look into these posers would give us an idea who has caused INEC, Buhari and Nigeria so much avoidable embarrassment and costs by showcasing yet another sad episode of corruption in our society to the world and putting our democracy on a tortuous trial.

I am however glad that the political gladiators have taken up the matter peacefully at the courts as prescribed by the law. Any further attempt at corrupting the process and results at that level will be a recipe for disaster. Riggers should never be winners!