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Opinion

#EkitiDecides: 18 Hours As An Election Observer

Observer Diary

 

Thursday, 16th June; Arrival in Ekiti was welcomed with a mix of emotions as it presented yet another chance to bond with the good people on the Campus Reporter Network. 

 

The occasion was the Ekiti state gubernatorial election. where I, like other selected Campus Reporter Alumni and existing authors from the network were facilitated and mobilised by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, CJID, to observe succinctly the entire process of the Ekiti gubernatorial election.

 

It was an exhilarating moment that had the group in merriment. We exchanged pleasantries and dined by the pool-side bar of Prosperous Hotel, knowing well that was the only day we’ll be spending together before everyone departs to their respective LGAs. 

 

Election Day 

 

Having lived in Ekiti through my undergraduate years, my relative knowledge of Ekiti people in the context of politics would portray them as highly energetic and politically aware. This perception was not far-fetched on the day of the election. At 6 am I’d already set out with my driver Jamiu Omeiza, who like a book knows and understands the nooks and crannies of Ado-Ekiti better than I do. We went on from one Polling Unit to another for pre-voting observation. At some PUs, INEC officials and Ad-hoc staff had arrived, setting up the voting centre while in other places they were yet to arrive. 

 

Regardless, potential voters were already out either checking their names on the voters’ list or sharing thoughts about the political trends in Ekiti and Nigeria at large. Soon after, at about 8:45 am, most of the other PUs I visited had either commenced voter accreditation, or some with relatively low numbers of voters on the register were nearly ready for the actual voting process. 

INEC Ad-Hoc Staff pasting voters list
INEC Ad-Hoc Staff pasting voters’ list

Early Violence 

 

At 8:52 AM, while still observing the process of voter registration and accreditation at PU 009 Ward 2, St Paul Anglican Primary School, a complement of security officials in their patrol vehicle revved into the premises, accompanying some INEC officials that carried sensitive Electoral materials, including Ballot boxes, Attached Voter slips, Voting Cubicles amongst others. 

 

Struck by curiosity I approached the head of the security team and he told me to speak with the Presiding Officer, PO, Edun Mohammed, who is a Corp Member. 

 

Edun revealed that violence erupted in his PU 2, Ward 2, Chief Elemo compound, Idemo, Ado LGA, when an argument broke out between the queuing electorates that resulted in one of the voters, a male, to have smashed a bottle of beer on the head of another male voter. 

 

He said, in reaction, he, the APOs and the security detail securing them stopped the accreditation process and vacated the scene and relocated all the election materials to St Paul Anglican Primary School where PU 009 Ward 2 is situated. 

 

Hearing that, I summoned my driver that we should rush down to the scene to verify the information but I was however warned by the security personnel and the other electorates present that the neighbourhood where that happened is known for violence and since the security team there had left, it isn’t safe for an observer at that moment. 

 

A few minutes later, a fleet of vehicles carrying some of the community youth leaders drove in and beckoned the INEC officials and their security detail to return back to the PU that the tension had been calmed. The young men claimed the security operatives didn’t make adequate efforts to control the incidence and that was what eased its escalation into violence. 

 

After several back and forths, the Security operatives,  PO and his team agreed to return to the PU 002 Ward 2 and continue with voter Accreditation. This time, my driver and I followed them and we confirmed that indeed a green bottle was smashed, there were also droplets of blood on the ground but we didn’t meet either the victim or the perpetrator. 

 

Systemic Vote-Buying

 

Upon commencement of the actual voting process, the atmosphere seemed rather calm as I visited several PUs. Only PUs with over 700-1000 registered voters were there noticeable euphoria of tension between queuing Electorates, and unarmed security personnel assisting the Ad-hoc staff or between party agents. 

 

By noon time, I’d not witnessed any complacency or votes trading selling their votes nor party agents demanding to buy votes. Even in neighbourhoods where violence is known to be prevalent, the voting process was going smoothly, people were voting and leaving the voting centre making them less crowded. 

 

Soon after, I overheard a man who spoke in Ekiti dialect that he has cast his vote and may now proceed to collect his money. Upon hearing this, I decided to trail him. He and other voters from another PU nearby took a turn into another street and entered a shop that looks like a “Beer Parlour ”, a fierce-looking Police officer carrying a gun was seated outside guarding the entrance of the shop. I couldn’t go in with them as I was advised by my Driver, Jamiu, that it wasn’t safe to go in. 

 

After then I began to witness a similar pattern in how votes are being negotiated between party agents and electorates. The accredited party agents are not directly involved, instead, someone else who represents a political party does the negotiation and trading. But the accredited party agent ensures that the selling voter casts his/her vote for the induced party of choice. This he does by watching closely as the voter goes into the cubicle and comes out, folding the slip and dropping it into the ballot box. 

 

The voter ensures his/her voting is done in such a way that the agent could see which party he/she cast the vote for, as a confirmation to collect the agreed sum.

Queuing electorates awaiting accreditation
Queuing electorates awaiting accreditation

Voting Disparity Between High And Low Class

 

A drive through the major suburbs of Ado-Ekiti revealed how unevenly distributed Voting centres are in the Ekiti state capital city, with a population size of over 500 thousand. While there was a heavy concentration of PUs in the nooks and crannies of the older parts of the city, which has a relatively high concentration of households living below the poverty average, such as Odo-Ado, Enu-Odi, Irona, Ejigbo, Ekute, Oke-Iyinmi, and Dalimor areas where I visited. Neighbourhoods such as GRA, Ilawe Road, Olorunsogo, Textile, Bisi, Irewole, and others occupied largely by more educated and highly informed citizens, had fewer or no Polling Units situated within them. 

 

The few places as such where I came across polling units had an equal number of INEC staff and security personnel just like other PUs, but these units had less than 100 people on their voters’ list, and some had as low as 25 names. At 12:30-1:00 pm, there were no voters in the queues. INEC officials and security personnel were seen seated and waiting patiently for 2 pm when all voting processes would have come to an official close before sorting and counting commenced. 

A PU with no queue at noon time
A PU with no queue at noon time

The Night 

 

At the end of the voting process, the collations were done at respective RACs before proceeding to the Local Government INEC Collation centre where the final collation and announcement of results for Ado-Ekiti LGA would be made before being moved to the state INEC office joined by the final results from 15 other LGAs. 

 

For the first time that day, I got the chance to physically reconnect with my partner, Morenike Kolawole, who was also observing Ado-Ekiti. At the collation centre, we met other observer groups who also came to keep track of the final collation. The exercise lasted till past 11:00 pm when the final results were announced for Ado-Ekiti LGA. At this time my driver had gone to refuel his vehicle, but he never returned. 

 

Stranded In The Middle Of The Night

 

Upon announcement of the results, everyone began to vacate the premises, me and Morenike also rushed out in a bid to find or join a vehicle going our way, all to avail, we serially got ignored by every vehicle leaving the collation centre including security patrol vehicles. We remained there until 12 am when we received a distress call from Oluwatobi Akintunde who was also stranded at the INEC state office. Earlier, she was lucky enough to have joined some military personnel who brought her from Irepodun/Ifelodun LGA where she observed. 

 

Without panic, we told her to stay put as Morenike and I began the long Israelite walk from LGA Collation Centre to the INEC state office because apparently, that was the only safe place to be at that time. However, a few minutes later, Oluwatobi called and said that she had gotten a vehicle coming our way. Her lifts were some Media Observers from Abuja, they were a Messiah that night and lucky for us they were also lodged in the same hotel as us. 

 

Recounting The Day

 

Upon arrival at the hotel, we were united with Jeremiah Omoniyi who had earlier been arrested by the DSS over a video record he took that went viral. He had stopped his observation after the incident. The four of us had less than 5 hours till dawn, so we spent most of the night sharing stories of the good and crazy that complemented our day as election observers. 

 

DISCLAIMER: This story has been published on Campus Reporter with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author.

 

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