The recent verdict of the Osun tribunal has put a damper on Nigerians’ hope, as the court judgement indicted INEC and BVAS.
The verdict of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal seems to have cast a shadow on the credibility of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) ahead of the 2023 general election.
Prior to the judgement, Nigerians tended to be optimistic that the deployment of the accreditation machine by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the forthcoming election would bring about a clean electoral exercise.
The ‘successful’ deployment of BVAS in the Anambra governorship election in 2021, Ekiti and Osun in 2022 somehow strengthened Nigerians’ confidence in the electoral system and INEC.
The use of the machine in the three off-season elections was widely applauded as the polls purportedly went smoothly with few reported cases of electoral violence and irregularities.
This is where many Nigerians drew the belief that BVAS would make a huge difference in hindering electoral malpractices in the 2023 general election.
However, the recent verdict of the Osun tribunal has put a damper on Nigerians’ hope, as the court judgement indicted INEC and BVAS.
The court’s verdict
On Friday, January 27, 2023, the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sacked Senator Ademola Adeleke as Governor of Osun State.
Recall that in the July 16 governorship election, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had purportedly polled 403,371 votes to emerge victorious, while Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) secured 375,027 votes.
Dissatisfied by the result, Oyetola dragged INEC, Adeleke, and the PDP before the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the poll. .
Ruling on the case, the court held that the election in the state recorded over-voting in 744 polling units across the state.
This means that, in those 744 polling units, the number of votes cast was way more than the number of voters INEC accredited for the election.
When this happens, the Electoral Act 2022 compels INEC to cancel all the votes in those polling units..
Section 51 (2) of the law stipulates that “Where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit, the Presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that polling unit”.
So, having established the fact that overvoting took place in those 744 polling units , the tribunal declared the votes in the affected polling units null and void and also deducted the figures secured from Oyetola and Adeleke’s total votes.
As a result, Adeleke’s votes came down to 290,666 votes, while Oyetola had 314,931 votes.
The court, therefore, ruled that the former Governor of the state, Gboyega Oyetola won the election and not Adeleke, who had only spent two months in office as governor of the state.
The court also asked INEC to withdraw the certificate of return from Adeleke and issue it to Oyetola.
What’s the issue with BVAS?
The issue of over-voting highlighted by the Osun tribunal got Nigerians asking questions about the credibility of BVAS.
Terste Kume, the Chairman of the tribunal while delivering the judgement accused INEC of tampering with BVAS.
He faulted the synchronisation of the machines by INEC after the election, saying the evidence before the court showed that the conduct of the governorship election was “done in substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.”
How did INEC ‘tamper’ with BVAS?
Let’s make it clear that the main purpose of BVAS at every polling unit is to accredit voters either through facial recognition or fingerprint capture.
By this, it means under normal circumstances, anybody who is not verified by BVAS should not be able to vote.
After elections, votes are collated and entered in Form EC8A, after which BVAS scans the result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploads it on INEC’s Election Result Viewing platform (IReV), an online portal where results from polling units are uploaded, transmitted, and published for the public.
However, before announcing a winner, it is expected of INEC to cross-check the number of votes recorded in Form EC8A and the number of accredited voters on BVAS.
If the number of votes on the form exceeds the number of voters accredited by BVAS, there is over-voting.
So, in the APC’s petition against INEC, Adeleke, and the PDP, it was established that there was over-voting in 744 polling units, and as earlier stated, when this happens, the law recommends the cancellation of votes in such areas.
But in its defence, INEC counsel, Paul Ananaba during cross-examination argued that the BVAS records the APC filed in its petition was incomplete because it was issued to them before the BVAS machines were synchronised.
Apparently, INEC issued two conflicting BVAS records to the PDP and the APC and both parties presented the reports before the tribunal to make a case for themselves.
In his judgement, the tribunal chairman dismissed INEC’s claim that the BVAS report issued to the APC was incomplete. He said even with the synchronisation of the BVAS machines, the results of the election were still not accurate.
He said, “The said ‘synchronisation’, rather than rhyme with each other, are inconsistent and contradictory. The said exhibits tendered by the Respondents have not rebutted the presumption of regularity in favour of exhibit BVR and the other documents tendered by the Petitioners in this petition,
“In other words, the defences of the Respondents are plagued with fundamental mortal flaws highly irreconcilable and unreliable, incapable of defeating the credible evidence tendered by the Petitioners in respect of the 744 Polling Units where over-voting has been established.”
Should BVAS be blamed?
BVAS was not responsible for over-voting in the Osun governorship election. Over-voting happened in 744 polling units because some INEC officials in the areas allowed non-accredited persons to cast votes. They should be held accountable.
Nigeria’s electoral system is obviously a work in progress and since the country’s voting procedure remains largely manual, desperate politicians will always seek ways to game the system.
As the 2023 general election approaches, one lesson politicians must learn from the tribunal verdict is that with IREV and BVAS, it will be difficult for election riggers to get away with electoral fraud.
And if this is the only electoral problem BVAS is solving for now, it’s a good start.