Elections: INEC sets aside 8,809 BVAS as backup

The Independent National Electoral Commission has imported additional Bimodal Voters Accreditation System machines that will be deployed nationwide in all the polling units for the 2023 elections.

The commission, which took delivery of the last batch of the machines at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Tuesday, said this was in line with its contingency provisions for all critical election materials.

The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye told The PUNCH on Wednesday that INEC would deploy over 194,464 BVAS machines in 176, 846 polling units across the country.

He explained that 176,846 polling units would receive a BVAS each, adding that each registration area amounting to 8,809, would also get at least two BVAS as backup in case of malfunction, bringing the total to over 194,464 BVAS machines.

Okoye said “We have 176, 846 polling units in Nigeria. All of them will have a BVAS. Some polling units may still have more than 750 registered voters. We shall deploy additional BVAS to such polling units.

“We have 8,809 registration areas in Nigeria. Each one will have at least two BVAS for purposes of quick intervention in cases of sustained malfunction of BVAS in any of the polling units in each electoral ward.’’

Earlier in a statement, Okoye disclosed that the electoral agency received the last batch of the BVAS machines on Tuesday.

He said the commission created four airport hubs in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt to facilitate the smooth delivery of the machines.

The statement read, “In furtherance of the preparations for the 2023 general election, the commission, yesterday, 3rd January 2023, received the last consignment of the bimodal voter accreditation machines with 52 days to the election.

“The commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, national commissioners and senior officials of the commission were at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to receive the BVAS. Officials of the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company and airport security officials were at the airport to receive the INEC team.

“To facilitate the smooth delivery of the machines, the commission created four airport hubs in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. Over the last four months, several flights delivered the BVAS to the designated airports for movement to states of the federation ahead of the elections.

‘’With the arrival of the last flight in Abuja yesterday, the commission has now taken delivery of the required number of the BVAS for all the polling units in the country and extra machines in line with our contingency provisions for all critical election materials.

“The commission appreciates the support of all Nigerians in its determination to conduct a free, fair, credible, transparent, and inclusive 2023 general election facilitated by the deployment of technology.”

Public accountability

The Executive Director, Centre for Public Accountability, Olufemi Lawson, praised the commission over the planned deployment of BVAS in each polling unit, noting that there was a need for stakeholders to look into the viability of the backup machine when deployed.

Lawson said, “We must understand that the BVAS is a great improvement in INEC’s effort in giving Nigeria a credible election come 2023. It gives assurance that the commission will give Nigerians a credible election because we are sure that every polling unit is already covered by the numbers of BVAS available and we already have extra units of BVAS available.

“However, we need to look at the viability of the extra BVAS that will be made available and how well it will serve as a support base for the machine when deployed for use.”

The Executive Director, YouthHub Africa, Rotimi Olawale, noted that as long as all polling units receive functioning BVAS, he is confident of a credible election.

“If the BVAS will reach all the polling units across Nigeria, in that case, I have utmost confidence that the BVAS will help to strengthen our electoral process.

“If that is not the case, I think, it will expose INEC to political mischief because why will some polling units receive BVAS and others will not? People will begin to read so many meanings to it. The system should be deployed uniformly across the country,’’ the activist stressed.

Reacting to the INEC’s BVAS deployment plan, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Oye, said all Nigerians want is a free, fair and credible election in 2023.

“I wouldn’t know if the number of BVAS machines is adequate. INEC knows better what it needs to conduct free and credible elections,” he noted.

This position was shared by the Social Democratic Party National Chairman, Shehu Gabam, who said “Perhaps, only INEC can defend the number of BVAS machines knowing the consequences of compromised polls.”

Meanwhile, ahead of the January 20 deadline, some political parties have yet to forward the lists of their polling agents to the electoral umpire.

While the All Progressives Congress said it had submitted a comprehensive list of agents assigned to cover the entire 176,846 polling units across the country, the Labour Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party, Social Democratic Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance admitted that they were still making a last-minute arrangement to meet INEC’s deadline.

In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, disclosed that the ruling party wa law-abiding political platform that attends to issues ‘by the book.’

Ibrahim stated that aside from nominating one agent per polling booth, the APC would also place additional persons on standby as part of its contingency plan.

Party agents

He said, “The APC has submitted the polling agents list long before the earlier December 30 deadline. The ruling party has been ready since. We will have one agent and another inactive person standing at each polling booth. The role of the passive agent is just to be on standby in case of emergency.”

The National Secretary of Labour Party, Umar Farouk, also told The PUNCH that the party had gone far with the nomination of agents.

He disclosed that the LP was taking its time to fill all the available 176,846 slots for agents, including its local, state and national supervisors.

“I believe you know that the INEC timetable is not sacrosanct. The new deadline has been fixed for the end of January and we are even clamouring for the commission to extend it. As far as the Labour Party is concerned, we have gone very far. We are not lagging in any way.

“According to INEC, there should be one agent to one enabled polling unit and another attached to each local, state and national collation officers. I can tell you that all the slots are being filled as speak.

“Aside from this, we have our own ward, local, state and national supervisors. But that doesn’t mean the party can’t make arrangements for contingency,” he stated.

This is contrary to the position of The Big Tent convener, Prof. Pat Utomi, who stated on July 3 that the ‘Third Force’ and the Labour Party planned to deploy at least 15 agents to each polling booth in the country to help safeguard votes in the 2023 general elections.

Utomi, who is the Chairman of National Consultative Front and a leader in the Labour Party, told journalists that the coalition is making many sacrifices to get Nigeria to move ‘’from state capture by ageing oligarchs to make the nation overcome its numerous security and economic challenges.’’

Speaking to The PUNCH on Wednesday, the National Publicity Secretary of the SDP, Rufus Aiyenigba, said the process required diligence, adding that the party would submit the names as soon as its Information and Communication Technology Department is done with the exercise.

He stated, “We have not submitted because we are not through with the process yet. As we are speaking now, staffers in our ICT department are doing the necessary documentations, uploading passports of the agents and what have you.

‘’They did not travel for the holidays because of the importance we attach to this vital aspect of the electioneering process. I am not sure any party has concluded this process yet because most, if not all the parties will have agents in all the polling units nationwide.’’

Confirming the development, the SDP national chairman, Gabam, said, “The submission is going on throughout the states. So far, we have done very well. We are going to meet up before the deadline.’’

APGA national chairman

On his part, the APGA national chairman, Oye, assured that the party will do everything possible to beat the January 20 deadline.

“We are still on it and we will be done before the January 20 deadline,” he said.

In a related development, the NNPP National Publicity Secretary, Dr. Major Agbo, said his party was compiling the agents’ list.

“We are still working on it. Remember that the deadline has been extended to the end of January. So it is being attended to.

“We are submitting over 176,846 polling agents across all the units in the country. That’s what we are trying to do. As a serious party, we are bringing agents for all the polling units in the country,’’ he stated.