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Opinion

#Anambra2021: My Observer Diary In A Time When It Was Hot

Election observation is yet another opportunity that I don’t afford to miss as a student journalist, as it provides me with the avenue to contribute my quota to the nation’s development. My experience in election observation started in Edo State 2020 Gubernatorial Election, then continued in Ondo State 2020 Gubernatorial Election. So, when the Anambra state election was announced, I deemed it as an opportunity to gain proficiency as an election observer and overall as a journalist. However, my unquantifiable passion and interest in participating in the election as an observer were flogged by the grievous threats that surrounded the election. But you know, as a passionate journalist, I refused to despair. Yes, you guessed right – I signified my interest, exactly on June 28, 2021.

Months passed as the other registered observers and I awaited the election date and particularly, directives from the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, in preparation for the upcoming task. As a form of due diligence, while I waited, I informed the appropriate and necessary people about my assignment in Anambra. The disapprovals I received from some people almost discouraged me, but yet the interest and support from other people kept me committed. In the end, my participation was ensured and I was ready to embark on another adventure of election observation.

Just a few days before my journey to Anambra, the threats from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was heightened. This instilled a great fright in me and those people whose participation in the election observation depends on their decision. But one thing calmed my nerves. After my reliance on God, it was the assurance that PTCIJ would have a structured plan that would assist us in sailing through the assignment. The great brains at PTCIJ are truly worth their salt and would never be inattentive to or overlook such a crucial issue.

The time to journey to Anambra came and I did. From the foregoing, what happened on my way, at the training centre and on the field, are what I now have to tell you as you proceed.

After being bestowed the divine privilege of waking up to see the beautiful morning of the 2nd of November, 2021, I left my resident in Oyo town for Ibadan. As if the various words of discouragement from participating in the election observation I received at home wasn’t enough, I met a man at a park in Iwo Road, Ibadan, whose statement when he heard that I’m going to Anambra almost made me consider going back home. He said, “She o sha ti mu ayẹta dani,” meaning “I hope you’re going with Ayẹta (a Yoruba charm that works as bulletproof).” I was almost scared to death by that statement but told myself that I had come too far to withdraw. I boarded a cab to Benin, from where I boarded a bus to Onitsha.

I arrived in Onitsha around 9 pm and my experience at the park where I was to board another bus to the capital of Anambra – Awka – is another story that deserves to be told. Not only the actions of the people at the park were frightening, but their faces can also scare one to death. Almost all the men there were either smoking or drinking. The voices with which they spoke to me made me tremble. All my efforts to get a bus going to Awka were suffered because I was told that I would have to sleepover at the park because the road to Awka was dangerous – armed robbers were likely to be operating or the violence that might result from the threats concerning the election. I was deeply sure that I wasn’t ever going to consider sleeping over at the park. Of course, you accurately guessed the reason. I was fortunate to meet two men whom I met at a park in Ibadan. Meanwhile, I wasn’t aware that they were going to Anambra too. I decided to cling to them and after a while, we found a bus that was going to Awka.

It was almost 11 pm when I arrived at Awka. I still had to get to the hotel where all the other observers and PTCIJ Officials lodged. I boarded a tricycle and arrived at Wintess Gardens and Suites at a few minutes to 11 pm. 

My experience at Wintess Gardens and Suites is yet another part of my adventure that deserves a space in this diary. The four days we lodged at the hotel was adequately planned by PTCIJ in order to equip us with the necessary training and resources before we set out to the field-polling units. Although it wasn’t my first time participating in a training organized by PTCIJ, the training during the four days opened my eyes to many things I was yet to know about Journalism. Within the four days, the Managing Editor at International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Mr Ajibola Amzat, took us on Fact-checking in Practice: Election Observation and Security in Election Observation. Mr Idris Akinbajo took us through Rudiments and Ethics of Journalism in Election Observation. Mrs Busola Ajibola also fed us with the knowledge about how to observe elections through the lens of inclusivity, while Mr Abiodun Alade, the Bureau Chief, South West of Daily Trust, had a session with us where he taught Multimedia Journalism in Election Observation and Reporting. To ensure our safety in the election, the team of Anambra Cohort took us through “Understanding Anambra Terrain”. I shouldn’t forget that during our stay at the hotel, we were treated to a satisfactory level. Also, I was privileged to meet some like-minded individuals like Caleb Ijeoma, Muktar Balogun, Adeniyi Nicholas, Mariam Hamzat and a host of others.

At the end of the four-day training and a day to the election, Caleb Ijeoma and I journeyed to Oyi Local Government which we were deployed to. Meanwhile, we had been instructed to limit our observation to a particular area in Oyi LG called Nteje. After securing accommodation at Ekwi Lounge and Inn in Nteje, we retired for the day in order to prepare for the task ahead.

On Saturday, the 6th of November, we woke up as early as possible to set out for the election observation. Caleb and I went from one polling unit to the other in Nteje I, II, III and IV. We reported the observed activities going on in each polling unit. It is worthy to note that the election was almost violence-free, otherwise to how it was initially clamoured. However, from my years of experience in election observation, I’ve never seen an election where vote-buying is massive as Anambra 2021 election. Not only did the party agents from the major contesting political parties engaged in vote-buying, but the electorates also willingly sold their votes and abused their democratic rights. As a form of indication, I personally reported about five cases of vote-buying. Despite the heavy security personnel deployed for the election, I observed that the security and INEC officials weren’t adequately taken care of by the Government. About three different security officials complained about this to me. Speaking about adherence to Covid-19 protocols, both the electorates and electoral officials fell short. 

We were able to visit and observe about 15 polling units in the four wards. After covering the polling units, we proceeded to Oyi Local Government Office for the collation of the results from the five wards in Nteje. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to refresh from the long day we had had. 

It was the end of the election, I woke up as early as I possibly could to set out on my journey back to Oyo. My journey back home was nothing like the one to Anambra. It was hitch-free. I’ve got nothing other than an unreserved appreciation to PTCIJ for the coordinated logistics, as I look forward to forging ahead in my election observation experience during the forthcoming Ekiti and Osun elections.

This opinion story has been published on Campus Reporter with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author. Campus Reporter does not bear any responsibility for the contents of this story, all views belong to the author.

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