Nigeria Election 2023: A Paradox of Democratic Symbolisms

By Emmanuel Onwubiko / Posted March 6, 2023

The Presidential and national assembly election of 25th February 2023 which took place in Nigeria has all the trappings of a juicy story for the news media of electronic, Print and online including of course social media. This fact is for several reasons which include but are nonetheless limited to the realisation that millions of youngsters voted for the first time in their lives.

The election which was long predicted to be violent and anything but credible, instantly become one of the World’s hottest news topics, especially because of many untoward developments on a scale never imagined but particularly because INEC which ought to act as the unbiased umpire decided to change the rules of the game at the middle of the game.

It must be stated that before that election, the global media were saturated with feverish reportage of the possibility that the election may give rise to widespread violence.

These media contents in such Worldwide media houses such as the British broadcasting corporation, Sky News, and Al Jazeera, amongst many others including of course, a lot of internationally respected print media, were informed by the ugly antecedents of elections in the past right from the earliest political era after Nigeria got Independence from Britain in 1960.

Nigerians mostly made up of youngsters, however, have used that February 25th election to pass a profound message of the readiness of the Young generation to end the seemingly unending history of lack of good governance. The youths in their millions poured out into the polling centres in the hope that their votes will usher in a wind of concrete democratic change leading to practical development and advancement of Nigeria as a member of the international community. The youths turned out for that election with a mindset that it was time for Nigeria endowed with enormous human and mineral resources, will be handed over to Nigerians who are honest and competent enough to turn things around from the ground zero economically and otherwise that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has led us into.

The first philosophical symbolism of the February 25th 2023 Presidential election is therefore about the massive outpouring of aspirations, hope, anxiety, and frustrations of the younger citizens who were born around the year 2,000, and who are in their early twenties and who poured out in their millions to cast their votes. These young Nigerians came out in the heatwaves and the excruciatingly hot Sun that poured down from the sky and millions of these young persons starved themselves of food for several hours just so they can exercise their franchise. It was a story of pain, pangs and horrendous experiences for these novices who couldn’t easily locate their exact polling units for many hours. The electoral umpires did very little to make the process easier because hundreds of thousands of voters and indeed millions of voters, these voters were rapidly transferred to other polling units and there was not a single text message from INEC indicating their new locations. INEC urged would-be voters to understudy their official website to see where exactly they have been moved but most often than not, the official website of INEC couldn’t contain the scale of visitors seeking to ascertain their locations for voting. It was traumatic and it was hugely tough. But these determined youngsters withstood these challenges and successfully voted and stayed back to ensure that the polling agents upload these votes. But this became unrealistic and in some places, the staff of INEC deceived the voters that they have uploaded the results but that was not the case eventually. The symbolism in the massive turnout of younger voters who voted for the first time ever is virtually an eternal attribute of this election that sadly has become enmeshed in needless controversy by an umpire that is anything but credible and transparent. Even the USA through the Ambassador in Nigeria confirmed that the election did not meet the expectations of transparency.

Be that as it may, what is however sensationally symbolic is that the widespread participation of youths in both the electioneering campaigns and the actual election in Nigeria, has inevitably left a footprint in the sands of time that symbolize the long-running contestation between the forces of evil who want to keep the status quo and the forces of good, made up, especially of young people who had hoped to use the opportunity offered by that presidential and national legislative election to usher in a whole new Nigeria in which their Constitutionally guaranteed Human Rights will not only be protected but promoted, nurtured, safeguarded and embraced by all and sundry especially by the new political class that they were hoping to elect.

A significant symbolic reason that motivated the younger citizens that made them participate actively in that election, was the numerous assurances that the persons charged with the legal obligation to conduct free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections, will abide by their mandate. These persons including Yakubu Mahmood were not too old because the majority of the National management members of INEC are in their fifties.

The hierarchy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made heavy weather of the readiness of that public institution to conduct free, fair, transparent elections. The electoral referees told Nigerians through the mouths of both Yakubu Mahmood, the head of INEC and Festus Okoye, the spokesperson of INEC, that they were sure before the election that all the computerization systems put in place for that exercise were working optimally. INEC spokesperson and his boss the Chairman further assured Nigerians that electronic transmission of results will start from the polling units and be transparently uploaded in real-time up to the national collation centre in Abuja in such a transparent manner that every voter and watcher of that election will view the results as soon as they were uploaded.

But was this ever done? Not at all.

What defines a man is his character and his predisposition to always be honest to himself and his creator. INEC officials who had previously assured Nigerians that they were set for a hitch-free poll, then started singing a new song when their paymasters in the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government were not comfortable with the then revolution of young voters that was about to happen to upstage the older generation and sweep them off the political ladder.

It was only then that Yakubu Mahmood started singing that technology had failed them. In a way, INEC has aided and abetted the criminality of broad daylight robbery of the popular will of the people of Nigeria. This is so because this newly manufactured excuse of glitches with their new technologies is hardly the truth. This story of glitches is a lie from the pit of hell. Why invest a humongous amount of public funds to set up a system that from the beginning, the government intends to sabotage?

These technological acquisitions which cost the taxpayers over N350 billion to procure suddenly malfunctioned. Questions were then asked about what has become of the backup of the technological systems that INEC had promised Nigerians were on the ground. This same INEC has now failed to tell Nigerians why the Country had to spend so much money to buy technological equipment which was deliberately sabotaged from the inside on the day of the big election which was February 25th 2023.

Little wonder then that the Civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA), on Thursday, demanded the immediate resignation and arrest of the entire management of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) led by Prof Mahmood Yakubu for wasting N355bn to conduct shoddy polls that have been discredited by Nigerians and international observers as NOT free, NOT fair and NOT credible.

HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, also called for the arrest and prosecution of all INEC’s director of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as well as the Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; and the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta for alleged economic sabotage of the ICT system of transmitting election results during the February 25 presidential and National Assembly polls.

HURIWA aligned with opposition parties in their protest that INEC officials at the polling units refused to upload election results electronically to the commission’s Results Viewing Portal (IReV), as stipulated by Section 60 of the Electoral Act 2022.

HURIWA said many Nigerians thought that the introduction of the IReV and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the accreditation and electronic transmission of votes will change this year’s polls and make them transparent.

However, as noted by opposition parties, the results by INEC showed “monumental disparities” between what the party agents signed and what INEC officials announced in Abuja.

HURIWA’s Onwubiko said, “There is no doubting the fact that INEC under Prof Mahmood Yakubu failed the entire Nigerian people by promising us what he can’t deliver on: many Nigerians, especially the youths, for the first time had faith in the electoral process and came out to vote but Yakubu and his co-travellers squashed the hopes of the masses, wasted the N355 billion budgeted for the polls only to bring in the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu to replace an APC President, Muhammadu Buhari. This is daylight robbery!

“It is essential to note that the decision of INEC to resort to the manual transmission of results compromised the integrity of the entire electoral process. But instead of Yakubu heeding the voice of reason by opposition parties who called his attention to it during the national collation of results in Abuja, the INEC chairman vehemently refused and in defiance went ahead to announce the sham results! How pathetic! How complicit!

“In fact, aside from the opposition parties, foreign observers and elder statesmen in West Africa in the country to monitor the elections called Yakubu’s attention to do what is right by following the laws on the transmission of results but he wouldn’t have any of their pleas. He shunned the wise counsels of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and John Mahama to simply comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 on the collation of results for the presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023.

“Mahmood and the entire INEC management should be arrested immediately and sacked for flagrant disobedience of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 on the electronic transmission of results.

“HURIWA also called for broad audits by foreign-based firms and auditors like Anderson auditors into the humongous amount spent by INEC on the polls. 400 billion nairas spent on the sham election by INEC has just gone down the drain because, despite the huge amount, INEC couldn’t perform the simple task of conducting a free and fair election.”

Suddenly after INEC had disappointed millions of Nigerians, the key officials who ought to resign or be in jail, have started blaming other ‘ghosts’ within their employ as being responsible for the challenges.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had a few days back confessed that the deployment of technology in the electoral process especially during the 2023 general elections came with challenges. These same challenges were cooked up last week by INEC also.

The Commission had made the disclosure in the review of the 2019 general elections, a report of the Commission’s retreats and stakeholder engagement, presented during a press briefing in Abuja on Friday.

INEC also claimed in the review that the delay in investigation and transmission of case files to the Commission for further action by the police has hindered the successful prosecution of electoral offenders.

Making recommendations on ICT, SCRs, DDCMs, CVR and Internet services, the Commission noted: “The growing use of technology in the planning of elections became a feature in our elections with the introduction of MRI in the voter registration process in 2006.

“Since then, INEC has increasingly deployed technology to address some of the key challenges in the management of electoral processes. However, the deployment of technology in the electoral process is not without its challenges,” INEC noted.

Enumerating some of the challenges, the Commission wrote: “Design, development and deployment of a compact, more versatile system and integrated equipment with improved connectivity that can perform current functions of the DDCMs and SCRs for vote enrolment (registration) and accreditation (verification and authentication).

“We will carry out voter fingerprint forensic analysis to identify poor quality fingerprints for recapture and update. Device a mechanism to revalidate all registered voters and integrate their fingerprint data into the national voter registration database to eliminate the concept of partial accreditations.

“Upgrade the fingerprint identification software to allow the assignment of voters’ fingerprint templates and data to a specific PU in order to compare the life and captured fingerprint scan during accreditation,” the Commission noted.

On the impact of the legal framework on the election, the Commission revealed that some of the challenges it encountered during the 2019 general elections were that a large number of political parties led to an avalanche of pre and post-election litigations.

“Large ballot papers and result sheets due to the number of candidates made their management difficult and occasioned errors during entry and computation of election results figures.

The failure of political parties to adhere to election regulations and guidelines issued by the Commission was identified as a major challenge.

“The power to arrest and investigate electoral offenders is vested in the Nigeria Police while the Commission is empowered to prosecute electoral offenders using legal officers or any legal practitioner engaged by it.

“It is clearly constrained in discharging this huge and complex responsibility. In fact, long after the conclusion of the 2019 general elections, only a few case files have been received by the Commission from the police for prosecution.

“Incessant transfer of IPOs who are vital witnesses in the prosecution of electoral offenders affects diligent prosecution which leads to several adjournments that end up frustrating their prosecution.

“The delay in investigation and transmission of case files to the Commission for further action by the police has hindered the successful prosecution of electoral offenders and touched on the several recommendations made by Constitutional Review Committees which need to be revisited urgent,” the Commission noted.

Speaking during the presentation of the report, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said: “The strength of any public institution lies in its ability to ask critical questions, review its processes, strengthen its procedures for better service delivery and engage with stakeholders.

“It is my fervent hope that making the two reports public will promote a better understanding of the issues and challenges associated with the conduct of the 2019 General Election and serve as important resource materials for research and the promotion of a broader national discourse on the necessary reforms required for the continued delivery of peaceful, free, fair, credible, inclusive and safe elections in Nigeria.

“I want to assure all Nigerians that the hard copies of the two reports will be widely disseminated while soft copies will be uploaded on our website on Monday next week,” he said.

These issues were treated as far back as 2020. But INEC even after blowing away over N350 billion to buy technological equipment has rehashed those same challenges that reportedly marred the 2019 Presidential Poll. What does INEC take Nigerians for? Fools?

Weeks before that shambolic election of 25th February, Anthonia Ochei on February 9, 2023, wrote her observations about INEC’s new technologies.

She recalled that in a 2023 article by BusinessDay on the “Four Areas where Legal Action will Spring from in 2023”, one area that will essentially attract legal action is the 2023 general elections which will be held from February 25. The new electoral law which came into force in 2022 brought with it some innovations to improve the conduct of elections in Nigeria. While some of the innovations in the new law have already been tested since 2021, the incidents at the 2022 Osun election and the verdict of the election tribunal brought about a rethink on some of these innovations already deployed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Among other innovations, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is expected to improve the transparency of election results and increase public confidence in electoral outcomes in recent elections. INEC claims that the technological advancements in the new law will address the ten most common problems in Nigeria’s election result management process. These include falsification of votes at polling units, falsification of the number of accredited voters, collation of false results, swapping of result sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of result sheets, mutilation of false results and computational errors, obtaining declaration and return involuntarily premature declaration and return while collation is ongoing and, poor record-keeping. In summary, issues such as over-voting can easily be noticed and effectively tackled.

However, the over-voting issues at the Osun gubernatorial elections and the subsequent overturning of the results at the Elections Tribunal, have given cause for pause. Does BVAS really reduce the incidences of over-voting and does the decision of the tribunal augur well for the outcomes of the 2023 presidential elections, if over-voting does happen

Is The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) reliable?

And she responded that according to section 47 (2) of the Electoral Act 2022, “to vote, the presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the intending voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission”.

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System in Nigeria is a method used to verify and accredit eligible voters during elections. It involves the use of two modes of verification, such as a biometric verification system (fingerprint or facial recognition) and a manual verification system (using a voter card or passport). The goal of the bimodal system is to enhance the accuracy and transparency of the voter accreditation process and prevent electoral fraud.

Before the election day, voters are pre-registered and receive a Permanent Voters Card which makes them eligible to vote. Their personal information is recorded on the BVAS with INEC. On election day, the voter’s PVC is scanned and BVAS confirms whether or not the voter’s information is in the system i.e whether they pre-registered. If the voter’s name is in the system, BVAS automatically ticks and confirms on the system that the voter showed up to vote at the polling station. Once this is confirmed the voter is given permission by INEC officials to officially go into the voting booth, and vote manually by thumb-printing a ballot sheet. Where a voter is not accredited by BVAS, he is not to be given permission by the INEC official to vote.

Before the election commences, the INEC official presents each party’s agent with a document containing the number of registered voters for that unit. After voting is completed and the manual votes are tallied, the INEC official provides a document, Form E to the party agents showing the number of votes and how many votes went to each party. Ultimately, the number of voters pre-registered, the number of voters accredited by BVAS, and the number of actual votes (based on the ballot sheets) must correspond. Where there are more actual votes than that accredited by BVAS, over-voting has occurred.

The crucial question then is if these checks are in place, how does over-voting occur? Mike Igini, the former Akwa Ibom State Resident Commissioner of INEC, spoke on the judgment the technology was an offshoot of the smart card reader, earlier deployed for previous elections.

“This is a more sophisticated technology for accreditation and results in upload and every presiding officer is expected to sort out the ballot, count and enter a total number of votes scored and accredited on the result sheet called Form EC8A.

“Thereafter, he will sign and ensure that it is countersigned by party agents who are entitled to duplicates of the same result.

“The presiding officer must thereafter, upload the data from the BVAS, including the number of accredited voters and send the same to the INEC Server.

“But by design, the BVAS whenever it is idle will upload accredited data on its own, particularly during the period the presiding officer is busy sorting and counting ballot papers.

“Thus, if for example, at the end of the poll, there was two hundred and fifty total accredited number of persons but the BVAS offloads a total of 200 of the 250 with their unique voter identification number (VIN) and the presiding officer fails to ensure that the remaining fifty (50) data is pushed (uploaded) into the server, then the record will indicate over-voting.

“Now, where any of the candidates that participated in the election applies for a certified true copy of the report of what has been uploaded so far from the Server backend in order to file or maintain his petition, any such certified true copy that obviously reflects inchoate accreditation data uploaded while the BVAS was idling; that is, the 200 number instead of 250, which is the final actual total accredited voters on the form EC8A, will give an erroneous impression of over voting.

“But unfortunately, this is not true. That is why the INEC or better still, the presiding officer has much responsibility to ensure that these lapses are eliminated

But when the physical audit of the BVAS is carried out and the 50 remaining numbers of accredited data is added, it will be 250 numbers of accredited voters, which tallies with the form EC8A.”

By this then, perhaps the INEC officer did not notice that the upload was interrupted and an untallied result was presented to the party agents. However, this raises another question: shouldn’t a cursory examination of Form EC8A by the Presiding Officer reveals that over-voting had happened?

The tribunal in its judgment acknowledged that INEC officials gave conflicting accounts of the number of accredited voters, which the majority ruling described as “tampering with official records.” The ruling stated that INEC’s actions in the election in question raised serious concerns, as they resulted in multiple, inconsistent reports, contradicting INEC’s commitment to holding free, fair, and credible elections.

Fast forward to the election proper on February 25th, these complications that are essentially man-made were deliberately unleashed by INEC.

The good thing about the election is that the younger citizens are not electorally disciplined. The younger Nigerians must on no account allow themselves to retreat back to their cocoons of election apathy due to the missteps of INEC and the possible injustice that may come from the Presidential election Petition Tribunal and the Supreme Court that aren’t ever known for overturning any Presidential election no matter how brazenly stolen as it was on February 25th, but the youths must remain vigilant and keep the fire of nationalism burning so sooner than later, their new dreams of a New Nigeria will happen in our lifetime. This is achievable.


NOTE: Opinions expressed by Columnists are theirs and do NOT necessarily represent the views of

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