Election observation is an integral part of the electoral process, the significance of defining a free, fair and credible election cannot be overestimated, in a truly democratic society. Apart from observing Students Union elections in my school, 2019 last presidential election was my first experience as an electoral observer. I embraced the opportunity to observe another election.
After undergoing rigorous training on the principles guiding election observation, I set forth for Edo State as one of the accredited domestic electoral observers for Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), in collaboration with YIAGA Africa Initiative.
I was welcomed to Benin City, Edo state with banners and posters with images of the flag bearers of the two major political parties candidates — the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Audu Ganiyu of All Progressive Congress (APC).
On my arrival at Owan East Local Government Area, Edo State alongside two other observers, and as part of my pre-election observation, I went to the INEC office located at Afuze, along Auchi road, the office was filled with electoral officers, corps members and security operatives in preparation for the election day proper. In spite of the busy atmosphere, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and security operatives were friendly during our pre-election observation.
After leaving the INEC office, I tried to get a lodge or a hotel for accommodation, within an hour, I already knew all the hotels and lodges in Afuze, yet I could not get a room as they were already filled up mostly by security operatives. At long last, a man gave us a spare room in his house to spend the night.
On election day, I was up early, to get ready for the long day. I got a commercial motorcyclist to take me around the Polling Units (PUs) in the three out of eleven Wards allocated to me — Uokha, Ake and Otuo while my other team members shared the rest of the wards.
The first place we got to was Ward 5, with Pus 1 and 2, Odion Primary School, Uokha. INEC officials were already pasting a list of voters on the wall, setting up the voting stand and ensuring all their materials were in place.
Unfair Treatment of NYSC Members
National Youth Service Corps members lamented about the unjust and unfair treatment they are experiencing. They were yet to be paid an allowance for the three days of training they had to undergo. A predominant number of them slept in classrooms at Odion Primary School, Uokha on mats.
The INEC officials deployed to PU 15 Ward 5 were dropped off on the main road leading to Ake, they had to embark on a twenty-five minutes’ walk to the PU carrying electoral materials without security operatives.
Security Operatives Slow Deployment
As at 9 am on the election day, INEC officials that were to be deployed to Wards under Ake and Otuo were sitting idle at Odion Primary School Uokha waiting for security operatives to escort them on their journey to their PUs.
In Ward 5, the election process started late at PUs 11, 12 and 14 due to the fact there were no security operatives on the ground as the security operatives were still at Afuze. INEC officials were left alone with electoral materials. The voting process in PU 12 Ward 5 was forced to an end when there was a misunderstanding between PDP and APC members.
Breach of Covid-19 Protective Measures
Prior to the election, INEC issued out a policy on conducting elections in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure the prevention of the virus. It was very hard for a voter to have a face mask as nose masks were being shared by various political parties to members of their party that would vote for their candidates. The rule of physical distancing under the general protective measures was breached at various PUs that I visited.
Voters were not using their face masks while checking their names on the list neither did they maintain social distancing while queuing at the polling units.
Peace at the Collation Centre
There was a peaceful atmosphere at the collation centre, Institute of Physical Education, Afuze. The area was heavily guarded by security operatives. In spite of the delay caused by disparities in some of the results presented, the final collation of results in Owan East Local Government ended at 2:14 am.
Election observation promotes good governance and it also increases the confidence in the citizens of a truly democratic society.
Oluwatosin Ologun is a journalist, he served as a domestic observer with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) during the Edo State Governorship election, September 19 2020.
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