‘No electronic voting machines for Anambra guber poll’
Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) Commissioner for Voter Education, FESTUS OKOYE, in this interview with SODIQ OMOLAOYE, said the final word has not been heard regarding the introduction of electronic voting or transmission of election results.
How many officials is INEC deploying for the Anambra governorship poll?
It is difficult to determine the exact number of officials that will be deployed to Anambra State. There are too many issues and variables that will interplay and interface in the deployment of staff for the election and some of those variables are external to the Commission.
The Commission will take into consideration the security situation in the state, the COVID-19 pandemic, the deployment of new technologies, the newly created polling units and the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration exercise. As you know, Anambra State has a total of 21 Local Councils, 326 Registration Areas (Wards), 5,720 Polling Units and 2,447,996 registered voters. The number of registered voters will definitely increase at the end of the first phase of the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise. The Commission will be sure of the total number of registered voters at the end of the display of the register for claims and objections, the cleanup and the printing of the permanent voter’s cards of the new registrants and the integration of the supplementary voters register with the existing register.
Tentatively, the Commission will deploy a total of 5, 720 Presiding Officers to the 5, 720 polling units in Anambra State. The Commission will deploy 17, 160 Assistant Presiding Officers (1,11&111) and 858 Reserves. We will deploy 572 Supervisory Presiding Officers and 328 Registration Area Supervisors and reserves. We will deploy 326 Registration Area Collation Officers, 22 Registration Area Supervisors and Reserves, 21 Local Government Area Collation Officers, one Governorship Constituency Supervisor and one Returning Officer will be deployed. Tentatively, the Commission will deploy 25, 009 officials and this excludes electoral operation activities such as logistics, security, collation support, result verification and associated activities.
Not much has been heard of the state of the Z-pad technology. Will it be deployed for voter accreditation during the governorship poll?
The Commission will deploy appropriate and relevant technology for the conduct of the Anambra State Governorship election. The Commission will continue to avail itself of every available technology that will enable it to perform optimally and deliver on the free, fair and credible elections.
Due to the determination of the Commission to deepen democracy through the use of technology, the Commission has launched the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and achieved a certain level of technological convergence. The multifunctional device can be used for enrolment of new voters, review/update of details of existing voters, voter authentication, result upload as well as e-voting when circumstances arise.
A bimodal accreditation system involves the use of two models for efficient human recognition. It is a biometric verification mechanism that uses fingerprints or facials for efficient voter accreditation.
In order to ascertain the system’s readiness for full-scale deployment, which is a global standard, the Commission deployed the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for the Isoko South I State Assembly bye-election held on September 11, 2021, so as to verify its performance under a real-time operating condition. The Commission deployed BVAS to all the 84 polling units in Isoko South I State Constituency for the election.
Prior to the deployment of the BVAS, the Commission trained ad-hoc staff on the use of BVAS for accreditation of voters during the election. A total of 94 BVAS were deployed for the election, one each for 84 polling units, and two each for five Registration Areas to serve as backup.
The Commission identified specific interests to ascertain the performance and functionality of the system including the average time it takes to verify the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC); the time it takes to read the barcode at the back of the PVC; the average time it takes to authenticate a voter using either the fingerprint or the facial; the possibility of attending to all voters in a polling unit during accreditation hours/period; the life span of the battery during the exercise; the frequency of voter authentication failure; the efficacy of the transmission ability of the device and its general ruggedness during operation under various weather conditions; the extent of value or otherwise the device would add to the process of accreditation, and by extension, the process of election.
The system functioned and performed optimally incomplete voter authentication on election day and where the fingerprint authentication failed, facial authentication was done and vice versa; the system was able to guarantee the credibility of the voter accreditation by preventing the incidents of multiple voting; the system prevented the use of stolen PVC; the verification of PVC was swift and took less than one minute in all cases for BVAS to scan and read the barcode at the back of the PVC; the authentication of voters using the fingerprint or facial was less than two (2) minutes. Therefore, all voters who showed up for the election were attended to during the hours allotted for accreditation and the ruggedness of the device and the efficiency of the battery were noticed as no single BVAS was replaced due to run out battery throughout the exercise.
Even though the deployment of the BVAS for the Isoko South I Election was a huge success, there are few challenges that were noticed and encountered during the use of the BVAS. The matching of some voter live images against the voter image on the register was difficult due to the poor photo captured during voter registration and there is the need for sufficient lighting to beam on the face of the voter when taking the photo for the facial authentication. Since the deployment of the BVAS for the Isoko South I Election was meant to ascertain the functionality and performance of the system under a real-time operating condition, the notice of the salient challenge will be addressed by analyzing all data captured by the BVAS during the September 11 by-election. The analysed data will be used to further improve the system and make it robust as we prepare to deploy it during the Anambra State 2021 Governorship Election.
INEC had been making efforts to deploy e-voting machines for the 2023 poll, including plans to purchase over 200,000 electronic voting machines. With the rejection of electronic voting by the National Assembly, will the commission still go ahead with the plans or has the commission finally resigned to fate to retain the manual method?
The National Assembly has not rejected the introduction of electronic voting or electronic transmission of results. The National Assembly is still working on the Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act. The two houses of the National Assembly must harmonise their positions and transmit a clean copy of the Bill to the President for Assent.
Let me make it clear, the INEC is not in competition or confrontation with the National Assembly. Section 4 of the Constitution of Nigeria domiciles the legislative powers of Nigeria with the National Assembly and they have the right to make laws for peace, order and good governance in Nigeria.
However, section 78 and 118 of the same constitution gives the Commission the exclusive right and power to carry out the registration of voters and supervise elections. It is also the responsibility of the Commission to regulate its own procedure, confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions.
In performing their constitutional functions and discharging their assigned roles, all the organs of government must bow to the Constitution as section 1 of the Constitution affirms the supremacy of the Constitution over all persons and authorities. Therefore, if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution, the constitution shall prevail and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
The Commission is a creation of the Constitution and no individual or authority or organ of government can strip it of its powers without altering the provisions of the constitution. These are the powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not that of any organ of government. The Commission will remain on the shoulder of the powers conferred on it by the constitution and these are the power to organise, undertake and supervise elections.
Has INEC also foreclosed electronic voting and transmission of results for the Anambra poll?
The Commission will not deploy Electronic Voting Machines for the Anambra State Governorship election. Ballot boxes, Ballot papers and Result Sheets will be deployed for the election. The Commission has not finalised the procurement issues around Electronic Voting Machines and Nigerians will be informed the moment the Commission settles on the type and components of the machines that will be procured and deployed. The Commission will use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to upload polling unit results during the Anambra State Governorship election.
What new innovations will Nigerians see in the Anambra poll?
The Commission will continue to innovate and deploy relevant technology in the electoral process. We have pointed out that the Bimodal Voter Authentication System will be deployed. The Commission will carry out robust training of the officials that will operate this gadget in the 5, 270 polling units in Anambra State.
As you are aware, prior to the conversion of voting points into full-fledged polling units, Anambra State had 4, 608 polling units. During the conversion, the state gained 1, 112 polling units bringing the total to 5, 720. These new polling units will be used for the first time in Anambra State. New voters will vote for the first time in Anambra State and at 7 am on Monday, September 13, 2021, a total of 138, 795 people have completed their registration process. The Commission will clean up the register and print the Permanent Voters Card of the new registrants and integrate the supplementary voters register with the main voter register.
Vote-buying, despite efforts to curtail it, may have come to stay in Nigeria’s electoral system. What measures is INEC putting in place to curb the practice?
The conduct and delivery of a good election is a multi-stakeholder venture. No organ or agency of government can, without the assistance and cooperation of others, deliver on its mandate. The constitutional mandate of the Commission is to organize, undertake and supervise elections. It is the responsibility of the security agencies to secure the electoral environment. It is the responsibility of the political parties to operate within the ambit and confines of the constitution and the law, especially relating to the financial issues in the law and constitution.
The Commission will continue to reconfigure the polling units to guarantee the secrecy of the vote and will continue to work with the security agencies to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
What is the commission’s budget for the Anambra election?
It is difficult to determine the total amount that will be spent in the conduct of the Anambra State Governorship election. Issues are still evolving and costs are still being revised. For instance, if you are deploying one Presiding Officer to the 5,720 polling units and paying them N9, 000 each, it comes to N51, 480,000.00 and if you deploy Assistant Presiding Officers (1, 11&111) and paying the same amount it comes to N154, 440,000.00. Honorarium payable to election officials alone amounts to over 245,957,000.00.
The Commission must also pay for the movement of Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers including reserves and this comes to close to 72, 930,000.00. This excludes funds for the procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive materials. All critical departments in the Commission including Electoral Operations, ICT, Voter Registry, Voter Education and Publicity, Planning and Monitoring, Election and Party Monitoring, Legal Department, Health Services and training all have budgetary allocations and will play critical roles in the election.
Parties and candidates are said to be preparing to outspend each other in the Anambra poll. Is there a way to check the violation of provisions of the Electoral Act on campaign funding?
Parties must be careful with their approach to the election as the Commission will monitor and enforce the provisions of the constitution and the law relating to campaign financing. The law is clear relating to campaign spending and other issues. Our Election and Party Monitoring Department is tracking the expenditures and our officers have been properly trained.
Is INEC still receiving applications from associations seeking to be registered as political parties?
The registration of political parties is an ongoing concern. There are a few applications pending and they are going through the filtering and verification processes of the Commission. By section 78 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Commission is obligated to register political associations that meet the qualifying threshold in sections 221 to 223 of the Constitution.
The commission said it was targeting 20 million new voters at the end of the CVR exercise. What has been the challenges so far and with the current reality, how feasible is it to meet the target?
We are excited at the way Nigerians; especially the youths embraced our online pre-registration portal. For the 11th week since the commencement of the registration process, a total of 2, 953,094 have pre-registered. Furthermore, as of 7 am on Monday, September 13, 2021, a total of 4, 225,749 have gone through processes relating to voter transfer, requests for replacement of PVC’s an update for voter information records. Within the same period, a total of 931,768 have completed online and in-person registration.
We are hopeful that there will be a surge the moment we devolve and deploy to the Registration Areas in all the states of the federation. Presently, the Commission is carrying out registration in its 774 Local Government Offices and 37 State Offices of the Commission. It is only in Anambra State that we devolved to the 326 Registration Areas based on the Governorship election coming up on November 6, 2021. We are hopeful that the security situation in the country will improve before the second quarter of the CVR and the Commission will deploy to the Registration Areas.