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Opinion

#AnambraTravelogue: Greedy Policemen, Desperate Vote Buyer… My Experience in Anambra

The long-awaited and much-talked-about Anambra governorship election has come and gone. It was peaceful than expected and left behind mixed feelings as winners brimmed with smiling faces while despair and agony reigned in the faces of losers.

Initially, the tension over the possible election violence as a result of the security situation of the state had earlier ignited fear in the minds of everyone before the election took place — It was scary and demoralizing. But in my own case, the passion for my job clouded my fear as I saw it as an opportunity to explore another adventurous experience as a fourth estate’s comrade.

Though the Nigerian elections are more like a battle, the tension for the Anambra election was higher. Coupled with the already known possible violence attached to elections in the country, the insecurity in the state was an added salt to the wound.

When the election drew closer, the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) expressed its worries over the security situation of the state. There were even speculations that the election might be postponed due to the upsurge of violent attacks in the state.

In this travelogue, this reporter told his experience as an election observer in the Anaocha Local government of Anambra state.

Election Eve

It was around 12 pm on a sunny Friday when I got to Anaocha Local government. Stationed at the INEC office in the local government were security operatives of the Nigerian army, about five of them were stationed some kilometres to the entrance which served as checking point, the lineup of others was seen loitering around among them were those armed with guns.

Evidence of trepidation was written all over the communities, only a few people were seen moving around. Major roads, streets, and hotels were deserted.

The local government INEC office was filled with security operatives who had been there since Wednesday sleeping under the makeshift canopy and the veranda of the buildings in the secretariat, the corps members and other ad hoc staff were seen checking their names on the list. Inside the INEC building, the technical team were testing the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) while other INEC officials were also busy making preparations for the task ahead.

It took me about 30 minutes before I finally got the bike that would convey me to check nearby hotels. Major hotels around the headquarter were closed which according to the residents, was due to the fear of being attacked.

“Nobody wants to die,” was the response of my bike man when I asked why houses and shops were closed and why there was no movement.

“Any news from the Nigerian government is a lie, all of the people in the government are telling lies. People do not come out because they do not want to die. The policemen have been shooting at the air for the past few days and we don’t know what can happen,” he said.

Only a guest inn called Best Garden Guest inn with the absence of basic amenities was opened among other hotels in the community. Even though I had been advised by the police officers I met at the guest inn to manage it as it was as there were no other hotels opened, I insisted on getting a better one. After moving around the community and finding out that all the standard hotels were closed, I had to go back and bury my head there till the daybreak.

On the Election Day 

I had set out as early as 7 am with the hope for a peaceful journey but with my mind prepared for whatever came my way. The environment had become a little bit lively unlike the day before. What I first observed after reaching the first polling unit I observed was that the voters’ registration list was not pasted.

Even as at past 8 am, the voters had set out in most of the polling units, they were seen sitting eagerly waiting for the INEC officials to come. Residents who spoke to this observer expressed their hope for a free, fair, and peaceful election. They expressed their disappointment over the lateness of INEC officials.

The major glitches experienced in most of the polling units that I visited was the malfunctioning of card readers even until the end of the election, the INEC staff had to struggle several times before they were able to accredit some electorates even after their voters’ cards might have been verified.

Some electorates who were denied access to vote expressed their frustration due to the problem, some of them who couldn’t wait left angrily, and patient ones had to stand for a long time before they were able to vote.

For instance, at polling unit 010, Adazi Enu II, an electorate who identified himself as Clement said he was one of the first persons to arrive at the polling unit and he had tried more than twenty times yet the card reader kept rejecting his thumbprint.

“I feel sad! I have been here since morning and the card reader has been the issue. Now it’s past 1 pm and I have not voted. It has been rejecting other people too but later it picked but mine has not been accepted,” he said.

The assistant presiding officer who spoke to this observer also expressed frustration on how the card reader has been giving them problems. He said:

“See how I’m sweating, it was too stressful, people crowded, they were trying to cast their votes but there was no network. Some impatient ones left and some are still waiting. Like that man (Clement) he’s the first person to come here and since morning we have not been able to confirm his thumbprint.

“The sim card that comes with the card reader is Airtel and the Airtel network here is very bad, it has been saying no internet connection since morning. We haven’t been able to accredit many voters. When we called their technical team, they said we should synchronize. So I had to connect it to my phone’s MTN network via Wi-Fi and that is how we have been managing it.”

In some polling units that I visited, old men and women suffered the most, the INEC staff had to rub the hands of the electorate with spirit several times before they could be accredited. This disenfranchised most of the electorate who couldn’t bear the frustration.

The Police and their Usual Greed

When I arrived at Ezeaga primary school in Neni, what first caught my attention was the unusual negotiation between police officers and a man wearing an APGA tag. The Police officers were trying to reject a certain amount offered to them by the man. According to them, the amount given to other officers in other polling units was more than the amount the party agent was proposing to them.

“Count it, it’s N15,000,” the agent said after handing over the sum of money to the police officers. “The money they gave us this time around was not up to one-quarter of what they normally gave us before, they were even supposed to share us Android phones but they did not” the man replied when the police officer protested that the money was not enough.

A few minutes later, the policeman was overheard in a phone conversation asking other police officers in other polling units how much they were given at their polling units.

“We only saw one and we are yet to see others…How about the Umbrella party? How much did they give you?” he asked his colleague in a telephone conversation. “I just want to ask you to confirm so that they won’t cheat us here,” he added in Yoruba.

After he ended the call, a white-bearded man, fair in complexion and clad in Ankara and knicker arrived. I had earlier seen him sharing money for the electorate after confirming that they cast their votes for his party.

He had a distinct conversation with the police officers which I couldn’t hear. He then counted their numbers and handed over some huge amount to the police officer.

A Vote Buyer Who Threatened To Kill Me

I had prepared to be leaving primary school when I saw some women and boys running after the white-bearded man I had seen earlier giving money to the policemen. So, I paused and observed what was about to unfold and the unfortunate scenario would later turn out to be the scariest part of my election observation journey.

The man took a U-turn and stopped by his car. He was distributing money to the electorates as they showed him their voters’ cards when he sighted me a few meters away from where I was sharing constant updates with my medium and suspected that I was recording him. He moved closer to me, nabbed me by my trouser, and snatched my phone from my hands. I was trying to seek the help of police officers but all of them looked away.

“You were recording me. I’m going to kill you” he roared as he held me tight by my trousers and dragged me to his colleagues who were somewhere far away from the polling units but within the primary school.

As we arrived at the place, he kicked my legs and I found myself on the ground. I was asked for my identification and I brought out my identity card. “The only thing that can save you is the truth,” he said. “Are you snapping me or not ?” he asked as he gave me my phone and told me to unlock it.

“Don’t let him delete anything,” he told his boys who all surrounded me as I was trying to unlock my phone.

When he was holding my phone with force, it had switched to “talk back” mode and that made it impossible for any of them to operate it.

“Don’t think you can run away, if you make an attempt to run away, we are going to kill you,” one of the hoodlums said.

 “Don’t think you can deceive us here. If you try to flash the phone we are going to kill you,” one of them said as I struggled to restart the phone.

“You only need to open the phone and we will delete everything on it, that’s all,” said a bald man who appeared to be their leader.

By the time I was later able to unlock the phone, the man who brought me to the place had left after he handed me over to his gang. My gallery was checked and all the photos found were that of his picture when he was only sitting down and the photos of electorates who were casting their votes in the previous polling units that I had earlier visited.

“Don’t ever come to this place again,” one of them warned after they deleted the photos and returned my phone to me and I left the location immediately after I was released.

About 30 minutes after the incident, I lost my composure, a bead of sweat began to stream from my body but the journey would not end there. I told my bike man to take me to a nearby food canteen where I later took a short rest, ate meat pie and malt, then we continued the journey.

Uproar By Police Men Over Unpaid Allowance

Back at the INEC office at 7:45 pm. There was an uproar by Police officers who formed a long queue by the window side of the INEC building, protesting over their unpaid N5,000 allowance.

Some of them were shouting “Ole” which means “thief” and other forms of indistinct chanting to express their dissatisfaction.

According to them, the allowance was supposed to be paid during the election but the officer in charge refused to pay it and that was the reason for their agitation.

“There [are] some money that they supposed to give us but they did not give us. Even the DPO in charge of this division has [eaten] more than N5000 on each of us. Now count it and multiply it by the thousands of police officers who were deployed from the Ondo state police command. Now the INEC wants to give us N5000 again as feeding money and this woman(INEC staff) wants to [eat] it again. You know things are not done like that,” said one of the frustrated officers who identified himself as Ade and was interviewed amidst the protesting officers.

Recounting their ordeals, he said: “We have been here since Wednesday. I left my family to come here. Police officers from the Ondo Police command are the most police officers here and we are the ones suffering the most. See people’s husbands, mothers, wives and fathers how they have been sleeping on a bare floor here every day and this woman wants to [chop] our sweats.”

Amidst the protest, one of the aggrieved police officers later unplugged the generator and took it away from his original position. The entire building went on blackout for a few minutes before it was later restarted.

The agitation continued as I entered the INEC building to observe the collation of results. 

Tear gas was later unleashed at the protesting officers while the mild smell of it was felt at the collation room. All of us who were in the room covered our noses for a few minutes until the smell went down.

At about 12:48 am on Sunday, the final result for the local government was announced by associate professor Okene Isaac from the University of Calabar. The APGA candidate, Charles Soludo secured 6,911 votes to defeat his two major rivals — Valentine Ozigbo of the PDP who got 5,108 votes, and Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who secured 2,085 votes. The number of valid votes was 15,483, rejected votes was 440 and the total votes cast was 15,923.

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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