Dr Offordile Fabian Onah was duly registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission to vote in the 2023 general elections. He had obtained his permanent voter card, and waited for Feb 25, 2023 to cast his votes.
Alas Dr Onah was rejected by the Bimodal Verification Accreditation System! The plight of Onah and his likes as well as the options left for them is the focus of this report by our correspondent.
Dr Offordile Fabian Onah arrived at his Ozalla Ezimo polling unit on 25th February, 2023 to exercise his franchise in electing a president of Nigeria as well as a senator for Enugu North zone and a House of Representatives member for his Udenu/Igboeze North Federal Constituency. He joined the queue, and waited patiently for his turn. At last it got to him.
He approached the INEC election official in charge of accreditation. Unlike other voters who easily got accredited and voted, Dr Onah’s first attempt was not successful. He tried again, and he was again rejected. He was later asked to wait for some time, probably it was a network problem. After copious trials without succeeding, Dr Onah left disappointed.
According to him, “The BIVAS machine rejected me over ten times. It was like a joke to me because I was prepared to cast my votes to candidates of my choice. The machine couldn’t recognise my face as well. My finger prints, both left and right, were all rejected. Nothing was recognised as many times as they tried to capture my data.
“They didn’t give me any reason, except that I couldn’t vote, and I didn’t vote. I was duly registered at Udenu INEC office. I never registered twice. I will go to the INEC office to complain. My impression is that since I was not able to vote, I wish the candidates that I wanted to vote for good luck. I am not holding any bad feeling against anybody because electronically anything can happen, and it has happened in my own case, and I thank God for that.”
What befell Dr Onah also happened to Mrs Elizabeth Ekebe. She had gone to cast her votes at her Mpu polling unit, located in Aninri LGA. After waiting for over two hours, it was her turn. “I presented my PVC, and it failed to capture. My finger print also failed to register. The same thing happened to my photograph. They told me to wait for some time for re-trial. Still it didn’t work.
“I don’t know what happened to my card because I had used it to vote before now. It has not expired, and my name is in the list. I complained to them that I should be able to vote because my name is on their database, but they didn’t listen to me. I went home very sad.”
Cyril Ani got the same disappointment at his Ogrute polling unit in Igboeze North LGA of Enugu State. According to him, “I don’t know what happened. I had been voting in previous elections. But this one is strange. They tried to capture me seven times, and each time, it failed. I didn’t vote and I am sad. I travelled all the way from Makurdi to exercise my franchise. Nobody has been able to explain to me what happened. I am not the only one.”
INEC Not Proactive
An INEC ad-hoc staff working at Amagunze in Nkanu East LGA of Enugu State, Othniel Chukwu, said two eligible voters could not cast their votes in his unit because they were rejected by BIVAS. According to him, under such circumstances, the attention of the supervisors ought to be drawn.
“I experienced about two of such cases,” Chukwu said. “By our training, we were to alert our supervisors. But the phone number of my supervisor was not connecting at that time. So there was nothing I could do. I told such people that their matter could not be handled. Most of them left with anger.”
Manipulation Might Have Caused Glitches – Official
Collins Arinze, an ICT expert, said the erratic nature of BIVAS might have been caused by efforts of the electoral umpire to manipulate some results at all cost.
“There was tension during the last exercise,” he stated, adding that, “I don’t think it will happen again for obvious reasons. If you observed well, transmitting presidential results was somehow not working effectively but that of the National Assembly worked well. So the system might have experienced some unique glitches, which might have affected even the accreditation of some eligible voters. It was simply erratic. With the presidential election over, everything will now be very smooth.
“I won’t be surprised because a particular presidential candidate was programmed to win. Whatever it cost to deliver the candidate, including manipulating the BIVAS machine, must have been deployed. I advised those affected to return to vote this Saturday. They will definitely not experience same again. If at all such crops up again, the electoral officials will resort to INEC database for verification. Every eligible voter should vote by right.”
Rectify The Anomaly before March 11 Guber Polls – Observer
An election observer, Dr Michael Edeh, charged INEC to ensure that such incident does not re-occur to avert any ugly situation. He said, “Some people travelled from outside this country to cast their votes. It will amount to disenfranchisement if they are denied voting because of inaction of the electoral body. Let the election workers be trained properly because there must be provisions to tackle such matters. It is also a way of ensuring smooth operations of elections. There won’t be problems if everybody votes peacefully, and their votes counted. But when one feels that he or she was unduly excluded, there might be acrimony.”
Victor Okoye, the head of the public relations unit, INEC, Enugu, did not answer his calls for clarifications. However, a senior official of the electoral body in the state, who did not want to be mentioned, gave reasons that could cause BIVAS to reject eligible voters.
He said, “We had few of such cases. Some might have registered a long time ago. Those registered recently might not have experienced such. Some of the cases could be as a result of old age. Some eligible voters have their thump prints defaced. In that case, the BIVAS might be unable to capture them because it is biometrics. Some have dried palms.
“It was also in anticipation of such cases that eligible voters were asked to update their records with INEC to avoid data variations. Some people did not take it seriously. Those who updated theirs won’t have this case. It was meant for review. But then the photo capture should be able to solve that case.
“However, INEC made provisions for such, only that some of the ad-hoc staff did not get the training well. In such a case, the officials should check such persons’ information on the database. If it is there, they should be eligible to vote. But some ad-hoc staff did not undergo the fundamentals of the exercise well because there was no time, hence they lack the technical knowhow to proffer solutions to such emergencies.”
This report is supported by Civic Media Lab