Nigeria 2023 election: The hunt for children and the dead?

People began to notice problems as soon as Nigeria’s first ever digital electoral register was uploaded to the internet.

Digital amateurs discovered many voter cards with photos of children. Some of the others on the preliminary list appeared to have registered more times than once by simply changing their facial expressions, clothes, or how they sat.

The legal minimum age to vote is 18. Crooked politicians can boost their support by registering children and getting more than one vote.

Now, questions are being raised about how these duplicate voters were able to slip through the facial recognition and fingerprint technology that was just introduced.

In the hope of eliminating problems such as these, details such as gender, age, fingerprints, and photos were collected at Inec’s registration centers.

Any discrepancies in the hotly contested general elections next February could make all the difference between winning or losing.

It is obvious that voter cards may have the same image as the person on them, but Inec staff couldn’t pick it up.

Sunny Dada, from the Institute for Media and Society of Lagos, stated that “it was so obvious that it doesn’t take any scientific process to identify underage voters who registered.”

23 Inec officials have been investigated over their possible involvement in illegal registrations.

Although it is not unusual for the deceased to appear on the electoral roll, as they are not always officially recorded in death records, widespread concern was caused by the number of children and multiple registrations.

With the advent of a digital register, many of the problems that were previously documented have become more apparent.

It was difficult to create a national picture of the register in the past because only hard copies were available.

The first digital register now allows anyone to view the details of 93.5 million voters – an increase of nine million since last year – who registered to vote.

Young Nigerians with tech skills have taken on the challenge and developed methods to search through huge amounts of data looking for anomalies.

One of the digital detectives stated on Twitter they had discovered thousands of multiple registrations. Another person tweeted a prototype for an age predictor which could be used to weed out minors from the register.

Jaafar Jaafar, a journalist, chose a more difficult path. He manually inspected hundreds of thousands names and faces in the register.

He told BBC that any page with a landscape photo rather than a portrait or photos of people laughing raised red alerts for him.

He said that some of the people who had previously registered more than once or were underage had been added to the list for the first time in 2011.

The transparency of the preliminary digital registry is an indication that the process works, as Inec must respond to objections to names listed on the register.

According to the commission, it was happy for Nigerians’ “help” in cleaning up the register. A corrected list will be made available before the 25 February elections.

It released the preliminary list in November, but stated that it had cleaned it up within the three months after the end of the registration period.

Officials claimed that they had removed 2.7 million invalid entries. However, duplicate or underage registrations remain to be discovered.

Many people have been shocked by recent discoveries made by ordinary citizens, and others have started a torrent of conspiracies.

Inec is accused of favoring the north in a country with large populations who are sensitive to regional divisions.

Many people have noted that Inec’s clean up mostly affected voters from southern Nigeria. Discrepancies led to almost 70% of all new registrations being invalidated in Bayelsa, for example.

However, multiple registrations and underage have been found in Nigeria. Many have also been discovered in the south.

“It’s a national phenomenon, there are so much irregularities in the register,” stated Mr Jaafar, a northern Kano state resident, who added that part of his motivation was debunking such conspiracies.

Many people, including Mr Dada are worried about these issues as the election is only months away. However, Inec chairman Mahmood Yokubu has assured Nigerians that no child voter will vote.

Nigeria has faced many difficulties in the past with its electoral process. It was believed that new electronic technology would make it easier. However, there have been some challenges.

The initial online registration was completed by more than 7 million people. However, they were unable to proceed to a physical registration at Inec offices. There seemed to be a shortage in personnel and machines to collect voters’ details.

Millions of voters who have just registered to vote have yet not been issued a card that allows them to vote next election, although Inec has promised that the cards will be available by mid-December.

This will be the first time that results from polling units can now be viewed in real-time and sent electronically to Inec headquarters Abuja. The technology was widely praised by observers after being used in state elections in Osun and Ekiti states.

Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems is an electronic device that authenticates voters during election day. It uses details such as fingerprints taken by Inec at registration to ensure that eligible voters can vote.

Many believe it makes it harder to rig elections. Despite repeated protestations from the APC party (governing APC), which claims it might not work well in rural areas with poor internet connections, Inec insists that there is no turning back.

However, the preliminary register shows that technology is not able to solve all the problems associated in credible elections in Nigeria.

“We believed it would solve the problems of multiple registrations and underage voters.” However, we’ve seen that technology can have its limitations, especially when corrupt officials are involved,” stated Mr Dada.

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