Tech, BVAS And Stress Test Of 2023 Polls

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Sonny Aragba-Akpore
Sonny Aragba-Akpore

There are strong indications that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Results Viewing Portal (IRev) may have failed the required stress tests, even though INEC has not admitted it openly. The technology’s inability to manage or implement data in motion (DIM) may have accounted for the many queries on the technology.

Data in transit is a normal process for data transmission from a primary source, such as polling units, to a secured network created by the user through a local area network (LAN) and or through a more secured network created for that purpose. This technology is supposed to be precise and direct when not manipulated, but in situations where such technologies have become subjects of inquiry and by extension litigation, then it means that some people may have lost faith in that technology because of suspicions of it being compromised.

INEC has not admitted any incursions by hackers but left several loose gaps. At the launch of the Yiaga Africa Election Result Analysis Dashboard (ERAD) Report on Electronic Transmission of Results in the 2022 Ekiti and Osun governorship election in Abuja, the INEC chairman told the gathering that there were hackers’ attempts from Asia on the Ekiti and Osun elections but were contained by INEC engineers. Similar attempts on the Anambra elections also failed and the commission has fortified the BVAS and IRev, saying they were impregnable to hackers. “And so far, I am glad to note that all the attempts to hack our system failed. Anybody operating a web portal understands the risk of attacks, so we have to be a step ahead of them,” INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmoud said. The INEC boss said the commission was confident of the security it has deployed for the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal web presence and would continue to remain vigilant and strengthen its defences.

Questions have arisen about the presidential election results transmission, especially the delay in uploading the results from the polling units nationwide while those of the Senate and House of Representatives were uploaded. Data breaches are not new anywhere, despite the firewalls put in place for systems of corporate organisations. Data breaches can destroy an organisation’s reputation in the blink of an eye, causing irreparable financial damage, loss of intellectual property, among others. According to SurfShark, a total of 108.9 million accounts were breached in the third quarter of 2022, and over-quarter breach rates were 70 per cent higher in Q3 than in Q2. The top five countries and regions most affected by data breaches in Q3 2022 were Russia, France, Indonesia, The U.S., and Spain. Russia took the lead for the most breached users in Q3 – 22.3 million. France had the highest breach density, with an average of 212 leaked accounts per 1,000 people. The 2022 Securonix Threat Report revealed that insiders were involved in 57 percent of data breaches globally.

Whether the Electoral Act 2022 empowers INEC to transmit results from polling units digitally online in real-time or not, if three days after such results were still being awaited uploading, there are legitimate questions to ask, especially when results being announced led to frenzied agitation by political actors and ordinary folks. The minimum expected from INEC is a scientific response to douse tensions in and around the country. If there were data breaches, INEC should be charitable enough to let us know to be properly guided accordingly, but in a situation where there are believed to be manifest breaches as agitators claim, we must interrogate these breaches if there are any and situate them instead of INEC carrying on as if everyone is satisfied.

The minimum expectation from INEC is a scientific response to calm tensions in and around the country. If there were data breaches, INEC should be charitable enough to let us know in order to be properly guided. In a situation where there are believed to be manifest breaches as agitators claim, we must interrogate these breaches if, indeed, there are and situate them. Instead of INEC carrying on as if everyone saying anything contrary to its position is taking personal risks.

What can be deduced so far is that INEC and its protagonists are telling those who are dissatisfied with the process and results to seek redress. Yes, they could be right in this regard, but do Nigerians really have faith in the judiciary, more so after the events of not too distant past where a candidate who came fourth in an election became the first and sworn in as governor of a state and those who never participated in primary elections were cleared to participate in the general elections? But the judiciary still remains the hope of the ‘common man’. There are too many questions begging for answers. Can we raise questions about technology and the possibility of getting redress in court to know what may have transpired on February 25, 2023?

Information technology expert, Tim Akano of New Horizon, saw the future of the 2023 elections when he advised early in February 2023, suggesting to INEC to subject the BVAS and Irev to stress tests before the February 25, 2023 elections. In advising for the conduct of stress tests on Data-in-Motion or in Transit on Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, before the election proper, Akano possibly foresaw what is happening now. He spoke on “Understanding privacy and online risk in the digital world today,” to mark 2023 World Data Privacy Day, hosted by the Data and Knowledge Privacy Protection Initiative.

He said: “February 25, 2023, the general election will be the first time in the history of the country that live data will be used to determine who will be the next president of the country,” and so BVAS and Irev should be subjected to stress tests to determine whether the technology could stand the test of time. INEC chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu and national commissioner, voter education, Festus Okoye, exuded enough confidence in the technology before the election so much that everyone was excited about the prospects of Nigeria getting it right for the first time. It is unclear what both gentlemen think now. Did technology fail us or did INEC fail technology?

There are doubts if BVAS data suffered breaches or human errors, and if it was so, breaches occur in many parts of the world, according to SurfShark reports. So, it will not be strange here if owners of the proprietary admit it and save everybody the nightmare of back and forth chasing shadows.

President Muhammadu Buhari defends the elections just like Mahmoud and his team. But there are few celebrations about the ‘victory’ by the president-elect, his supporters and hangers-on who are pathological and permanent members of any government in power (AGIP).

That election results are challenged is no news. The news is the arrogance with which umpires react to such things. “There is nothing more important in Nigeria today than the success of the February election and we are a country of about 222 million. Nothing must go wrong because the entire West African coast – from Benin Republic to Togo and Ghana – does not have the infrastructure to sustain us,” Akano reasoned with the powers that be.

Akano pointed out instances where conflicting results in other countries had led to untold bloodbaths, particularly in Kenya, between 2007 and 2008; as well as in Cote d’ Ivoire from 2010 to 2011.

Aragba-Akpore, a communication analyst, wrote in from Abuja.

Sonny Aragba-Akpore
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