2023 election: Disenfranchised for being identical twins

ON February 25, the day of Nigeria’s presidential and National Assembly elections, Paul Akinpelu shared a video of himself and his identical twin brother Peter at a polling unit.

The declarative caption on the video was, “We are voting here, no matter how long it takes.”

The video showed them spotting similar clothing styles. This is a norm with them. A look at their social media accounts shows that the musicians, who go with the name ‘Exceptional Twins’ on instragram, always dress alike.

They were to vote in South West Nigeria, Oyo State, in the Egbeda Local Government Area.

Long enough it took, Paul’s resolve to vote did not materialise.

Twenty-four hours after the post, in a phone conversation with The ICIR and later via Instagram, Peter said his brother, Paul, could not vote.

“Only one of us could vote because their machine indicated that the same face had already been scanned, as we look so much alike. That was after one of us did his. So, they suggested fingerprints, but it didn’t work also,” Peter stated.

He said they waited and made multiple attempts, but all to no avail.

Paul and Peter Akinpelu. Paul was not able to vote because his identical twin had voted.
Paul and Peter Akinpelu. Paul was not able to vote because his identical twin had voted

This is not an isolated incident.

Across the country, in Kaduna, Hussaini Muhammad Kabir and his identical twin Hassan were experiencing a similar challenge. One of them could not vote.

Hussaini, on his twitter account @hussainimk shared his experience. He said, “So I couldn’t vote because my twin voted before me. Unfortunately for me, the machine indicated that the same face was scanned. Fingerprint didn’t work also.”

He accompanied the tweet with a photo of their cards, which were eerily similar – image and data. Some twitter users who gave it a cusory look assumed it was the same person and information.

Like the Akinpelus, the Kabirs are not only identical, they also dress alike, as can be seen from images on their Instagram page.

In a follow-up conversation with The ICIR, Hussaini said, “I didn’t experience such during registering my permanent voters card (PVC).”

He, however, said they had encountered a similar issue at an airport while their international passports were being screened.

Another twin, Hussainah Uthman, stated in his comment section that the issue affected her and her sister as they were not able to get their PVCs. She wrote, “ Same thing happened to my sis, and I  @HassanahUthman even worst cause we couldn’t get our PVC cause of the identical face thingy.”

In south-south Nigeria, another set of identical twins – Uforo and Eduek Nsentip  – were battling accreditation challenge in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

One of them tweeted, “I was excited to vote today. Unfortunately, my suffrage was taken away from me due to what I call #Twinsuffrageexclusion. The INEC database recorded I had already voted because my twin voted before me. This is a problem that should be addressed.”

To a comment on how they should have presented themselves simultaneously to the electoral officers to show they were different persons, she replied nothing helped.

“They said there was nothing that could be done, that we should probably use different polling units next time,” she added.

Eduek, who spoke with The ICIR, explained that they did not have any challenge, aside some delay, while registering for their PVCs. She expressed deep sadness about her inability to vote.

“Personally, I felt very sad that this is the first time I should have voted as a Nigerian citizen, but couldn’t,” she stated.

Eduek had initially planned to do a vlog on ‘how my voting experience went’ to encourage more young people to vote, but that didn’t work out. The experience left her deflated, but not completely, as she, instead, decided to change direction. Now she and her twin -Uforo- are drawing attention to their plight with the hashtag #TwinSuffrageExclusion.

“As changemakers, we decided to spotlight this issue by forming a name, ‘Twin Suffrage Exclusion’, for it, meaning twins being denied their right to vote. We decided to use it as a hashtag so that we can get more twins to speak up on their experiences as well,” Eduek told The ICIR.

Twin sisters Uforo and Eduek Nsentip

She added that they have never had problems with any form of biometrics capturing. “After this happened, we were self-reflecting. We began to analyse that we never had issues like this when registering for JAMB or opening a bank account, among others,” she said.

Such instances are not new. In 2019, the Daily Trust newspaper captured the story of identical twins Ameena Hassana Sani and Hadiza Hussaina Sani, who had issues not only with registering for their PVCs, but also with enrolling for their national identification numbers (NIN).

“I started the capturing first. My fingerprints were scanned, and after they had finished capturing one hand and were about to move on to the next, my sister started hers. I could see that the computer was having trouble capturing hers,” Hadiza said in the report.

They asked the sister to wipe her fingers, but even at that, it took them a while to eventually capture it.

“The system kept rejecting her data, and they kept stopping and wiping her fingers. At that point, we didn’t think anything of it,” she told Daily Trust, adding, “eventually, they managed to capture hers.”

However, when they went to collect their voters’ card, only Hadiza Hussaina’s name appeared on the list.

When The ICIR reached out to the commissioner for information and voter education of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, on the issue, he said, “Each individual, whether they are twins, has features specific to him or her.”

Okoye, however, was yet to respond to follow-up questions on why there were multiple cases of identical twins having issues in voting, and on what can be done.

For a Nigerian to vote, the potential voter goes to the the polling unit with her/his PVC. The card is authenticated, after which the voter is accredited either through a facial or fingerprint scan using the Bimodal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS).

A study titled ‘Fingerprint Recognition with Identical Twin Fingerprints’ published in 2012 and hosted on the US National Library of Medicine website, gave a possible insight on why the biometric authentication sees twins as one individual. The study states that twins’ fingers are much more likely to have the same pattern type than non-twins’ fingers.

It reads in part, “From the results, we can find that the automatic fingerprint verification system can successfully distinguish identical twins, though with a slightly lower accuracy than non-twins based on no matter which identification method.”

The study was conducted on fingerprint database that contains 83 twin pairs, four fingers per individual and six impressions per finger.

Some of the twins tracked by The ICIR said people had suggested the use of fingerprint for authentication since their twin siblings were accredited via facial mapping, but this did not work.

A software engineer, Sam Indyer told The ICIR why the workaround failed.

Indyer said it is because any aspect of the biometric – face, iris, fingerprint – that has been used for authentication will automatically flag all the other attributes.

“If they had used the facial recognition for the first twin, using fingerprint to authenticate the second twin, in this case, it will still flag it because it has already recognised the first twin as authenticated. So when someone is authenticated, it flags that both your face and fingeprint have been authenticated regardless of whether it was facial or fingerprint that was used,” he explained.

There were also cases of the BVAS not differentiating fraternal twins, said a research analyst with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Afolabi Adekaiyaoja.

In a chat with The ICIR, Adekaiyaoja said, “We have seen quite some limitations in terms of BVAS for older citizens; we are concerned that such issues can play a role in unintentionally disenfranchising parts of the country.”

    He added that they would be working on a comprehensive report on the use of technology in the election to mitigate issues that may arise in subsequent polls.

    He said, “One thing we are also looking at is the impact of the machines, especially, if they were not fully calibrated, and especially where they might duplicate functions, and also if there were any unintentional clearing or cleaning process in terms of the data that, let’s say, unintentinally nullifies two voters that might have seemed quite similar because we have also heard the same thing about fraternal twins, not even identical twins.”

    Ensuring a more robust vetting process and expanding the mock to include these factors are things that can be included in future mock accredidation exercises, he proffered.

    *Produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).

    Bamas Victoria is a multimedia journalist resident in Nigeria.

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