Elections 2023: The importance of biometric voter accreditation as Nigerians go to the polls

Our vote is our power.

To say Nigeria’s voting system is evolving would be simultaneously generous and fitting. On the one hand, registering to become an eligible voter still comes with stress-inducing, bureaucratic hurdles which are heavily documented across social media. The rigours of getting a Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) pales in comparison to the seamless nature of being a voter in better developed countries with unified database systems. On another, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a new Electoral Act into law in 2022, which addressed several voting system issues in Nigeria, aimed at improving the chances for free, fair and transparent elections.

As part of the new Electoral Act, voter accreditation was introduced to counter the issue of overvoting. Prior to this, overvoting was viewed from the perspective of the number of registered voters at a polling unit. Voter turnout has always been an issue in Nigerian elections, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reporting that only about 35% of registered voters actually voted across the last two election cycles. Because of this paltry turnout, it has been alleged that party delegates collude with INEC officials in polling units with few voters to stuff ballot boxes, as long as the fabricated votes do not exceed the number of registered voters.

Now, with the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), this form of election rigging now has its counter. With BVAS, registered voters will first be accredited using fingerprints and/or facial features before they’re allowed to vote. Once a registered voter is accredited, it’s digitally reflected on INEC’s central database, making it easy for the electoral body to track the number of actual votes in a polling unit. If the number of votes from a unit is more than the number of accredited voters, overvoting occurs and the result is cancelled.

Currently, overvoting is the primary reason for the Osun State Electoral Tribunal’s ruling that nullifies the win of Senator Ademola Adeleke at the late 2022 gubernatorial polls in the southwestern state. Announced in late January, the ruling states that overvoting occurred in 744 polling units out of the over 3,000 polling units in the state. With the results from those units struck out, opponent and then-incumbent governor Gboyega Oyetola was declared the winner. While the tribunal has ruled that INEC revoke the Certificate of Return issued to governor Adeleke, the case is under appeal at the Supreme Court.

While BVAS is being credited with playing a role in the tribunal’s ruling, it is brow-raising that a seemingly automated feature provided by the new Electoral Act didn’t help with instant transparency. If true, it calls the potency of BVAS into question. Even with its faults and flaws, BVAS is an upgrade from the smart card system that routinely malfunctioned and aided collusion between rigging party delegates and INEC.

As concerned citizens, it is important to play our parts on election day to ensure that the accreditation system put in place can foster free and fair elections. That means knowing your polling unit and getting accredited before voting. Every voter is issued a polling unit based on registration process or transfer, meaning that voters can’t vote at just any polling station they can find.

If you’re not sure of your polling unit, you can do so with your VIN on INEC’s voter verification portal or by texting the 9-digit code at the left hand corner of your PVC to 8014. Knowing your assigned polling unit and getting accredited before you vote validates your vote.

For most Nigerians, especially the youth, these elections are monumental. After the 8-year tenure of President Buhari, which has been riddled with economy-harming policies, gross insecurity and general disregard for the Nigerian populace, electing the candidate(s) we believe is best to reset Nigeria and set it in the right direction is beyond imperative. If you have your voter’s card, Saturday, February 25 is one of the dates to go to your polling unit, get accredited and vote. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, report any non-accredited persons voting to appropriate authorities. Our vote is our power.