If anyone were to consider the tension generally raised over the Edo 2020 gubernatorial election, you would agree with me that no one would have decided to go for the journey at all. Amidst fear, series of discouragement and anxiety, I set out as a prospective domestic election observer for the Edo2020 election, and here is a summary of the experience I garnered.
I left Ibadan, my current place of residence for Benin, the capital of Edo State at the wee hours of the day on Friday, took a while at the park, awaiting other passengers to fill up the car before setting out for the journey. The roads were fair enough to make the journey less than five hours, but for the random traffics and frequent stops by security officers collecting “change” from the driver, we spent six hours.
As the team leader for my team––the Uhumwonde team––I stopped at the University of Benin main gate to collect the kits meant for my team members, and waited for my teammates to arrive from their various destinations. By then I was famished and I got food, just before they both arrived. As we were mapping out our journey en route to Uhumwonde, the local government we were assigned to, which is about an hour’s journey away from Benin, the weather became cloudy and rain began.
Luckily, we manoeuvred our ways into a hotel in Benin, where we lodged, as the rain refused to stop and it got dark in the night. While at that, we ordered for a ride to convey us to Uhumwonde on Saturday morning before the curfew begins and we agreed on price. We also made extensive research regarding the local government and shared the districts therein, since we were unable to get there prior to the commencement of the election.
As early as 6:45 am on Saturday, we left Benin City, en route Uhumwonde, using our Google map app. We got stopped a number of times by security officials on duty, and after showing our identity cards, we were allowed to continue our journey, except once, when a military man insisted that our rider tendered his voter’s card, of which he didn’t bring along with him. He delayed us for some minutes and eventually let us through.
We got to Uhumwonde and the first two polling units we got to were empty. Despite mapping the roads the previous day, we lost our ways a couple of times as the place is an entirely rural area. The districts under the local government are miles apart, and we travelled long distances in woods and bushes, from one village to another. We came across a series of dangerous reptiles crawling across the roads we plied through.
The electioneering process in the local government was relatively peaceful. In some voting points, the card reader had issues and wouldn’t see some voters’ card. This is a generic problem as it happens in almost all elections I ever observed. Also, some of the presiding officers seem incompetent enough. In some polling units, they did not address voters well, while in others, they panic at any slight issue.
What was most rampant was the disregard for the COVID-19 prevention guidelines. There was no social distancing whatsoever as everywhere was rowdy, and a larger percentage of the voters were not wearing their face masks. In some voting points, impatient voters had quarrels with themselves, although with less violence, and in some, they had quarrels with officials, especially at polling units with faulty card readers. In a particular polling unit, party agents were seen in the voting point, influencing the votes of some voters, and there was no reaction from the officials until I moved pretty close to the place. They fell back to order immediately they saw me.
By the time the voting period was over, voting had concluded in most of the PUs and counting started immediately. Voters lingered around to witness the counting process and gave different reactions at the announcement of the results, most of which was jubilation. There was a heavy rain immediately after that and some of us who didn’t get an immediate shelter got drenched. At this point, I gathered with my teammates and we headed to the collation centre for the local government where the final results were to be counted and announced.
The final result was announced in the midnight and after sending the reports, we noticed the place wasn’t safe enough for us to stay over till dawn and we made our ways back to Benin around 3 am. The one-hour journey was the scariest one in my life, especially for the situation and environment, but I am grateful for it. We stayed at the general INEC office in the city of Benin till dawn, before we made our ways to UNIBEN main gate where we dropped the kits and said goodbyes.
I must confess, however, I had really delicious ice cream at a restaurant in Benin while at this, I met some great minds and I learnt more about human interaction!
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