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April 5, 2022

The use and ownership of double or multiple permanent voters’ cards and its threat to democracy

By Michelle Agoh. First published in Nairametrics.

“There is no scenario or technical issue within the INEC system that allows double registration. The Commission’s current technological framework and internal mechanism are sufficiently robust to detect any attempt by any individual to register twice. In June 2021, we introduced the multi-purpose INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), which is used for the physical registration of voters among other functions. The IVED is an improvement on the Smart Card Reader (SCR) because it captures the facials in addition to the fingerprints, which the SCR does not. Therefore, if you had registered in, say 2017, and you now attempted to register again in 2021, our backend security mechanism would detect and fish you out, and no PVC will be printed for you.”

Nigeria elections are one of the predominant activities for citizens to exercise their own rights by electing a government of their own choice. However important, this electoral process is commonly neglected by a number of citizens.

This democratic activity, usually takes place in a space of four years but public discourses always take centre stage. Almost every day, as the public, you are reminded of why you should pay more attention when casting your vote for the right leader, to some people, on the contrary, those days pose a reminder not to bother voting at all.

Nigeria made strides to ensure free and fair elections is one of the greatest successes of the country’s democracy, but none of these efforts can prepare candidates and Nigerian citizens for the high level of voter apathy, as the country battles lower voter turnout in every election year.

During the 2019 general elections, only 34.75 percent of registered voters cast their votes, according to the data obtained from the Voter Enrolment Device INEC. This represents 28,614,190 out of the 82,344,107 people who registered to vote.

Safety Concerns

Elections in Nigeria have a history of turning violent, due to various socio-political squabbles, thus contributing to the highly recorded voter apathy seen in every single election in Nigeria, from the local government to the gubernatorial and presidential elections.

According to the Nigerian Civil Society Situation room, no fewer than 626 people were killed within the six-month period, between the start of election campaigns and of the general and supplementary elections.

According to the civil society group, the death rate saw an increase, as compared to 2015’s general elections, where over 106 people were brutally killed.

Furthermore, the European Union Election Observer (EU EOM) its 2019 election report provided that at least 150 people died in election-related violence in different parts of the country.

Loss of trust and empty promises

In 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that he was going to initiate policies to ensure that Nigerians have the free will to live and work in any part of the country and to remove the state of origin, tribe, ethnic and religious affiliations from documentation requirements in our identification of citizens.  The president added that the previous identity cards would be replaced with the State of Residence. In addition, evidently fashion out the appropriate minimum qualification for obtaining such a state of residency, nation-wide. However, seven years later in his second-run term, none of these promises have been fulfilled.

In 2014, President Buhari promised to “strengthen INEC and to eliminate electoral malpractices in Nigerian’s political life.” Moreover, in February 25, 2022,  he signed the electoral reform bill to allow the electronic transfer of results.

Uncertainty in the credibility of results

Over the past years, people have raised their concerns about the INEC server, labelling it as  ‘porous’ as it will have duplicate identities, and in addition, to allow for the duplicated use of a single citizen’s card.

To be clearer, one person may own more than one PVC. With many implications to this possibility comes the most dreaded and detrimental to an election, double voting.

One of the basic canons of democracy is that each person is only entitled to a single vote.  Voting more than once in the same election is considered a crime in Nigeria.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education, Festus Okoye said: “Those that will plead ethnic, religious, or political persecution when the commission begins the prosecution of double registrants should plead with those that have attempted or attempting double registration to desist from it as it amounts to electoral offence.”

“The commission will not listen to pleas of ignorance of the law or ethnic or religious bias when proceeding against those that violate the spirit of the current effort,” added Okoye.  The big question however then becomes whether an individual could have more than one PVC?

Picture by Twitter user @savvyRinu

The above picture was shared on Twitter, following an enquiry on the possibility of owning multiple permanent Voters Card on January 21, 2022.

We sat down with the chief press secretary of INEC,  Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, to deeply understand why citizens face hiccups with this election system device and what impact it has.

As told to Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi (RO):

Journalist: People have alleged and boasted many times of seeing/knowing someone owning more than one PVC to his/her name.. how possible is this?

RO:  According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a voter can’t have more than one Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), just as no voter can vote more than once in any election organized by the Commission. All registered voters have their fingerprints stored in our database, and there are no two individuals with the same fingerprints. Now, if you had registered before and you attempted to register again at another area using different details such as a different Date of Birth, the Commission’s backend security apparatus would ultimately detect your fingerprints and your face in our database. Even if an individual uses different names and details to register at different places, the face and fingerprint would remain constant and can never change. That individual will eventually be exposed. Once our system detects this anomaly, the Commission will not issue a second PVC.

Recall that for the 2015 General Election, the Commission introduced the Smart Card Reader (SCR), which reads the PVC when a voter shows up at the Polling Unit. During that election, if the PVC presented at the Polling Unit was the original card issued by INEC, the SCR would read it; the voter’s details would pop up; he or she is accredited and allowed to vote. But suppose the SCR is unable to authenticate the voter’s fingerprint and read the PVC. In that case, it means that the PVC presented at the polling unit did not belong to the person that presented it. For that reason, the individual/voter in question would not be allowed to vote. For the 2023 General Election, the Commission will use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for fingerprint and facial authentication. This means that no one can use another person’s PVC to vote.

Journalist:  Have there been cases of Identity duplication in the past? How was it handled?

RO: If you mean double registration, yes, the Commission did discover cases of double registration. In the current Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, for instance, the Commission has found some individuals engaged in double registration. The Commission will not print or issue new PVCs for these persons and will determine what to do about them because they have committed an offence. To be sure, double registration is an offence under Section 117 of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended). Anyone found culpable would be liable upon conviction to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or 12 months imprisonment, or both.

Journalist: What’re the scenarios or technical issues that can allow duplication of one’s identity in the INEC server/Database?

RO: There is no scenario or technical issue within the INEC system that allows double registration. The Commission’s current technological framework and internal mechanism are sufficiently robust to detect any attempt by any individual to register twice.

In June 2021, we introduced the multi-purpose INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), which is used for the physical registration of voters among other functions. The IVED is an improvement on the Smart Card Reader (SCR) because it captures the facials in addition to the fingerprints, which the SCR does not. Therefore, if you had registered in, say 2017, and you now attempted to register again in 2021, our backend security mechanism would detect and fish you out, and no PVC will be printed for you.

Journalist: Is Double Voting a crime?

RO: Yes. It is an offence to vote twice.  Under Section 122 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), any individual who commits this offence shall be liable upon conviction to a fine of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.

Journalist: How easy is it to identify that someone has voted more than once? Can someone vote twice in the same election? What are the processes that make this impossible or possible to happen?

RO: The Permanent Voter’s Card is configured in such a way that it can only be used to vote once in an election at the particular Polling Unit where the voter initially registered. Also, the BVAS was introduced to ensure that the person who presents a PVC at the Polling Unit on election day is the actual owner of the card. Therefore, it is impossible for a voter to use the exact PVC to vote twice in an election.

Journalist: What is the technological framework from capturing to the issuance of PVC’s? What’re the current systems in place to identify, disallow and terminate identity duplication/double voting in INEC today?

RO: The current Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) architecture allows eligible Nigerians, 18 years and above, who had never registered to either register physically or pre-register online. However, all those who pre-registered online are also required to complete the process at a designated centre. Once the process is completed, the Commission would embark on the technical backend protocols that would carry out several checks to ensure that every new registrant is eligible. Once the processes are completed, the PVC is issued.

Journalist:  For people who currently own more than one PVC, are you saying they’re useless? I have just shown you the above picture of one person having two PVCs, this proves it’s possible.

RO: What I’m saying is, anyone with the same name, fingerprint and other details cannot have 2 PVCs from today’s INEC. That is one. Secondly, even if you have 100 PVCs, they will be useless, because you cannot use anybody to vote. Our Bimodal Vote Accreditation System (BVAS) will detect and disallow you. Such a person will be promptly arrested.

Journalist:  And if they’re twins?

RO: Their fingerprints and facial features cannot be the same.

Journalist: Politicians have been buying PVCs off individuals from time, offering them peanuts. Why will they buy these cards and NOT use them? There’s got to be a way it’s used by them.

RO: These politicians relied massively on the incident form because when the Smart Card Reader does not read the fingerprints of these rented crowd since the PVCs are not theirs, they will then ask for incident forms That is why INEC cancelled/banned incident forms

Journalist: When was it cancelled/banned? And what then happens when the smart card reader doesn’t 

RO:  “In december 2019. The details are contained in our former Regulations and Guidelines. Note that we are no longer using the Smart Card Reader. The SCR does not do facials. It also does not contain the register of voters. But the BVAS (Bimodal Voter Accreditation System) which has replaced the SCR does fingerprints and facials, and it also has the register of voters domiciled in it. So if a particular BVAS is configured for polling unit A, for example, all the registered voters in that PU will be in the BVAS.”

Journalist: What is the process of replacing a lost or stolen PVC?

RO: The process is very easy, you can do so from the comfort of your home by going to the portal. You can apply for transfer, collection, a replacement for your loss or damaged PVC. All you need to do is signup or log in, follow the instructions online, go to the INEC office closest to you. It must be where you registered. Else, you’d be given a procedure. A police report will be needed generally when applying for a replacement of a lost or stolen PVC. Additionally, For voters who want to verify their PVCs, to know polling units, etc, they can check out the Voters registration portal by going to www.cvr.inecnigeria.org if you click on it, [you will see] your voter’s accreditation details and [the number] Practically, it is impossible to vote twice in a single election, even if you were to go from one polling unit to the other, the previous and current INEC system only allows you to vote at the exact polling unit you registered in.

Going to other polling units will be useless and apparently, a legal risk, while indeed some people may have more than one PVC, this can only be linked to the pre-SCR and BVAS era of voting.

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