On the eve of the election day, the frenzied atmosphere consequent from the rising election tension in the state was palpable everywhere. As we-the team of observers who left together from Akure to Edo- travelled through the city of Benin, it was conspicuous the readiness of the people to be at the polls and wield their powers of will.
Being one of the accredited electoral observers for Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), in conjunction with YIAGA Africa Initiative who witnessed September 19, 2020, Edo electoral processes and games live and raw on the field, it is not incongruous to say that the election was generally peaceful and credible to the extent one could trust, even despite the ruthlessness and shamelessness of some party agents at the polling units.
On arriving in Ubiaja, the LGA seat of Esan Southeast-the local government area I observed-, I made my way directly to the LGA INEC office, which was this time a hive of bustling activities. Security operatives, INEC officials and ad-hoc staff as well as observers thronged the place to get sensitive electoral materials and depart for their respective locations. Although the atmosphere was wet for the rain that drizzled lightly that evening, the crowd was not deterred.
INEC: Truly Independent?
One of the markers of a genuinely democratic state is the freedom of its national electoral body from the influence of the powers-that-be. But until recently, INEC had been a body felted with heavy external influences; the incessant interference which had undermined public confidence in its judgement and declaration is an important contributing factor to apathetic dispositions of the citizens to the polls in Nigeria. However, the status-quo which has begun to take a new shape is a ray of hope that will fillip voters’ confidence in INEC and in subsequent elections, having an effect of improving public participation in the polls. Although there are still major lapses in its operation, the national electoral body is gradually regaining the trust from the voters, who also seem to be operating from a more enlightened angle, rather than the usual exasperated disposition.
Election Day: INEC Officials And Electoral Gadgets
The card readers, all in the wards I observed, worked seamlessly, and this facilitated the electoral process. While accreditation began quite late in ward 08 Illushi I and ward 09 Illushi II, it was tied to the heavy downpour that occurred the previous evening; and being a flood-prone community because of the plainness of the landscape helped by the total and terrible absence of water drainage systems, the towns were water-logged, such that at a particular time, I had to take a ferry to get to the other side.
Also, there was little adherence to the COVID-19 preventive measures, not just on the part of the voters but even the polls officials and the security operatives that should know better.
Party Agents And Their Endless Games Of Manipulation
The matter of party-sponsored people, who do not only want to manipulate people with money but with direct influence at voting booths, also was a critical issue. Not limited to, but most conspicuous at, Ugboha ward 10, unit 1 was this matter. Party agents, most credited and verified affiliated to the APC and PDP, were seen offering and convincing voters to sell their votes between #5,000- #10,000. And sadly, despite the heavy interference of the electoral process by this party agent, the security operatives could only look on, indifferently.
DSS Obstructing An Election Observer?
Although my sojourn in the observation field was almost flawless, except for the long, knee-jarring rides on the bike through good, bad and worse roads that networked the towns of the LGA, the only unpleasant experience I had was with a feisty DSS officer. I observed he probably in a bad mood.
On Improving The Electoral Process
To ease accessibility of settlements in places of election, the road network situation should, at least, be made known to poll officials to get them mind-ready for the journey ahead.
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