As a country, our craving has always been an election process that will make our votes count. We‘ve been yearning for a process that will fulfill our long desire to elect leaders who are truly after the wellbeing of citizens rather than their selfish interests.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, Nigerians have continued to hope for a better and more transparent election process that will give them the opportunity to use their votes as their voices. For the very first time, Nigerians feel the days of election rigging are largely over with the introduction of technology into the election process. We truly believe that this time, our votes will count because the electronic accreditation process and new electoral act have made it almost impossible to makeup ballot papers beyond the number of accredited voters in any polling unit.
However, can the new electoral act and process prevent election rigging? Or can it change the dynamics of election rigging?
Upon reviewing the general election process, especially the result management process and the technologies introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) into the election process, i.e. the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV Portal), I came to a conclusion that Nigeria‘s Democracy is growing and our electoral process is becoming more transparent. However, in the course of my analysis of these technologies, I realised that there is more to be done for a completely transparent result management process, even with the introduction of the BVAS and IReV Portal.
According to the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voters Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the BVAS is an electronic device that will be used to electronically accredit registered voters within a polling unit and also transmit election results from polling units to an INEC server. The IReV Portal on the other hand is a web application that will be used by the public to view polling unit election results transmitted to the INEC server. Underneath this simple procedure is a complex technological process and possible election loophole that can undermine the transparency of the election process and may even become the next cry for the common man as regards the Nigeria electoral process.
According to the 2023 election guideline, INEC has informed that upon voters‘ accreditation and voting, the ballots will be counted and recorded in the results sheet, and the presiding officer will use the BVAS to snap the result sheet and transmit it to the INEC server, after which it will be displayed in the IReV Portal.
However, my observation is, what will be transmitted to the server from the polling unit will be an image file of the result sheet but what will be displayed on the IReV Portal will be a PDF file. This invariably means that there is a system that first retrieves the image file from the INEC server and converts it to a PDF file, after which it is stored in a public cloud storage server. It is from this public cloud storage server that the IReV Portal retrieves the results and displays them in its portal for the public to log in and view.
Transmission to the INEC server from the BVAS is a transparent process because polling unit agents are likely going to be present before the transmission is done. However, once the image is transmitted and uploaded to the server, nobody can guarantee the integrity of the image file before it is retrieved for conversion to PDF. This stage for me is where I believe we need to push for better transparency because it is a digital document that is residing on a server that could be accessible to cyber criminals. Many actions could take place while the image resides on the INEC server that may jeopardise the integrity of the election process. INEC has not told Nigerians how they intend to secure the election results image files for confidentiality, integrity, and availability while it is on their server.
Securing this image file is the most important part of the technology integration into the election process because the server that will convert the image file to PDF will only convert what it is given by the INEC server and the IReV Portal will only display what has been converted by the server.
So, the question of transparency comes to play again. Has INEC been transparent as regards the result management process for the Nigeria 2023 general election? If they are, I believe Nigerians would want to know how they intend to secure the transmitted result sheets that will be on their server before they are retrieved, converted, and displayed on the IReV Portal.
– Jafaru is a Cyber Security and Digital Forensics Expert