The EU Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) has released its latest report on Nigeria’s 2023 general election, drawing attention to the controversy surrounding the deletion of election data from the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS) between the presidential and governorship elections held in February and March 2023, respectively.
In its final report titled ‘Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2023,’ the EU pointed out that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to provide clear information regarding the specific data that was erased from the BVAS and what was stored on the back-end server.
The report highlighted that the BVAS machines used on February 25 were redeployed in the same polling units on March 18. During this period, the BVAS underwent reconfiguration, which included the deletion of accreditation and results data from the previous election and subsequent storage of the data on the back-end server.
The EU noted that INEC did not clearly communicate which data precisely was deleted from the BVAS and what data was stored on the back-end server. This lack of transparency and clarity raised concerns among the foreign observer group about INEC’s trustworthiness and commitment to assuring relevant election stakeholders that any deleted data would indeed be safely stored.
Prior to the general election, INEC had repeatedly emphasized its commitment to full compliance with the BVAS machine in the 2023 elections. However, a digital forensic expert, Hitler Nwuala, testified at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) in Abuja, claiming that INEC intentionally deleted all the results from the BVAS.
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The BVAS is a machine used for voter accreditation, utilizing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and either fingerprints or face recognition technology.
Political parties had raised concerns that deleting the presidential election data could compromise sensitive election information stored within the system. INEC defended its actions, stating that it was necessary to delete and back up the data on a back-end cloud server to repurpose the BVAS machines for the governorship election.
The main opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour, have consistently voiced their concerns over the tampering of BVAS files during the presidential elections tribunal. They called for greater transparency from INEC regarding its actions. The EU report appeared to align with the opposition parties’ concerns, although the impact of INEC’s decision on the tribunal’s outcome remains uncertain.
The controversy surrounding the deletion of election data from the BVAS raises questions about INEC’s adherence to transparency and its commitment to ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. As stakeholders await further clarification, it is imperative for INEC to address these concerns and provide a transparent account of the actions taken with regards to the BVAS and the preservation of election data.