As the 2020 Ondo state gubernatorial election came to an end. This reporter who observed the election in some wards in Ese-Odo Local Government reports that despite the lack of electricity supply and other social amenities’ problems bedevilling the communities for several years, one of the leading factors that impacted the decision of voters in the October 10 governorship poll in Ese-Odo, local government, Ondo State was inducement by money.
The Eve of Election: Fear, Uncertainty Fills The Air
It was on the eve of the Election that the three of us deployed by Premium Times to cover Ese-Odo local government arrived at Igbekegbo. The journey lasted for almost 3hours from Akure the capital city of Ondo State.
The atmosphere smelt of fear and uncertainties, the military men could be seen at every strategic spot, the vendors were hiking commodities as the number of demands increased due to the increase in the number of people ahead of the election.
Having located the INEC office and the collation centre in Igbekegbo, we began to look for hotels around the community but unfortunately, all the hotels had been filled up by security officials and other personnel who came for election. Some minutes after, we later got the contact of Segun who rented an apartment to us for two days.
In a bid to understand the nature of the environment, we got familiarised with Segun who is a resident of the place and we engaged him in a discussion which he explained that Ese-Odo is one of the toughest local governments during an election.
Segun further recounted the past horrific incident that had happened in the community during the election in the past, he further narrated how corps members, residents, and electoral officers had lost their lives to election violence in the city.
“Elections here used to be tough ooo, there’s hardly a year an election will be conducted here and there will be no violence and death cases, especially in some areas after the river.” Segun forewarned us.
He further revealed other risks as regards to the river which surrounds the location, he advised us to be wary of the riverside unless we could swim.
” Can you swim? Must you cover all the places here? If you know that you cannot swim, don’t even bother to go around the riverside because anything fit happen,” Segun warned us shaking his head with sympathy.
Ahead of Election Day on Saturday, Segun cautioned us to be careful especially at some dangerous places in Ese Odo. He also helped us to hire a bike man after several failed attempts by us to get one by ourselves.
Several Years No Electricity
Even though it looked like a rural area, the road that led us to Ese-Odo from Akure was kind of smooth, punctuated by a few beautiful modern buildings. One could not imagine that despite the presence of electric poles everywhere in the community, the town has been suffering from lack of electricity supply for several years.
It was around 9 pm when we decided to get cold beverages from nearby shops that we realised that as attractive as the environment looked there has been a power outage in the community for several years.
Our interaction with some residents in the state showed that the major problem baffling the residents of the communities is the jaunt of electricity supply for about a decade.
Some residents who spoke with this reporter expressed how their businesses and daily routines have been affected by the problem.
They furthered that lack of electricity supply is one of the leading factors which have deterred the area from being developed and economically viable.
One of the residents from Igbekegbo, Ese Odo who did not want her name to be mentioned said, the problem is not peculiar to her area only, she explained that it is the same thing in other parts of the local government as well.
“It’s almost 12 years now that we lastly had electricity, it was before I gave birth to my first child even Irele, Ajagba, Okitipupa and other places around too they don’t have electricity. Gadgets like pressing irons, refrigerators are of no use here since there’s no electricity.”
“I have my voter’s card and I know whom I’m going to vote for, I just know that I cannot vote for someone that will abandon us in blackout like this,” she added.
Omolade Olowoparija who sells provision bemoaned the negligence of the past and the current government to the situation, she noted that the problem led to the unemployment of youth in the area.
“Did you see light when you entered this town?” She asked. “Even the last time we had light in this area was before the birth of this child,” she said, pointing to a child apparently more than 6 years old.
“Many administrations have passed and yet it makes no significance, this place is too underdeveloped, there is no company in Ese-Odo that a child can graduate and be employed to,” she lamented.
One of the residents who identified himself as Oluwafemi Adams explained that he has been in the area for the past one year and he has not, for once, set his eyes on electricity. On his part, he charged the government to find solutions to the problem.
“The major problem we are having here is electricity and I think the Governor has made a mistake the first time and he needs to correct his mistake the second term if he has the chance,” he added.
Despite Negligence By The Govt, Cash For Vote Clouds Voters’ Ambitions
The election in Ese-Odo used to take place in a tense atmosphere. Though residents were enthusiastic to exercise their franchise. As early as 7.00 am, voters have started converging at polling units to cast their votes. In some units, they had to wait patiently for INEC officials to show up. Prior to the election, interaction with residents showed that there were fears that violence might erupt in parts of the community.
Meanwhile, contrary to the speculation of this reporter that the problems baffling the community would form the basis of voters’ decisions during the election, the voting process was marred by massive money inducement across all the polling units observed by this reporter.
For my bike man, he wanted to kill two birds with one stone: earning from his service to me as a transporter as well as selling his vote.
“Oga, I’m going to vote too ooo before the voting ends, you know even if I don’t work at all today if I just vote only I know the amount I’m going to get,” he said.
His statement revealed how abnormality of voting selling has become normal in the community, and this was later corroborated by the way vote-buying flourished across the polling units in various dimensions.
Methods Of Voter Inducement
In its preliminary report released on Saturday, the Centre for Democracy and Development(CDD) had alerted that political parties had allocated between N 150,000 and N 600, 000 for vote-buying per polling unit.
In Ese-Odo, the malady of vote-buying took various dimensions, in some polling units, the voters would be monitored by the agents to ensure that they cast a vote for their party, or after voting, ballot paper would be secretly shown to the agent for confirmation.
After voting, it was either the voters registered their names with the ‘secretary’ assigned by the party who would then settle them after the election, or the voters went to a secret place to show their voter’s cards and thumbprint, for which they would receive money afterwards.
For instance, at APOI III, Polling Unit: 016, Nursery School Enikirogha, as for ZLP, it was a young tall man, who was around his 20s standing few meters away from the polling ballot box that was responsible for the registration of voters who cast their vote for ZLP. He’s standing where he could see anybody that cast their vote and who they voted for.
After he was later told by the electoral officers to leave the polling place, voters began to stylishly show their ballot paper to him after they cast their vote for confirmation. He would thereafter register their names down for their ‘package’.
Unlike ZLP, the voters for APC collected their money immediately after they cast their vote, it was one woman who dressed in a gown that was seen giving money to voters that cast their votes for APC while a young man sitting by her side was responsible for writing their names.
This would be done after they had been confirmed by the party agent who was close to the polling booth, they would then show their voter’s card and thumbprint to the woman which signified that they had cast their vote in order to collect their money.
Either of the two dimensions was how the vote-buying took place across some other polling units observed.
Unlike other parts of Ondo state, election at Ese-Odo Local Government was more of between APC’s Rotimi Akerodu; the incumbent governor, and ZLP’s Agboola Ajayi who hailed from the local government through PDP’s Eyitayo Jegede also had some shares of votes.
At the inception of the election, the two parties: APC and ZLP started with #3000 but in order to outsmart ZLP, APC resolved to increase the amount to #3500 per voter and the ZLP too did the same.
Having seen that the ZLP also increased the money to #3500, APC decided to raise the amount to #4000 and the vote-buying competition continued till the end of the election.
That’s how voters’ decisions were swung right and left by money despite the lack of infrastructural development bedevilling the community.
At the end of the election, even though ZLP’s Agboola won his polling Unit with a landslide, APC’s Akeredolu later won the entire local government and garnered 13,383 votes against 4,760 votes gathered by Agboola while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had 4,680 votes.
Section 124 of Electoral Acts as amended in 2010 described vote-buying amongst the punishable electoral offences, it levied a fine of a maximum of N500,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment or both to the perpetrators upon conviction.
Similarly, the 2018 Revised Code of Conduct for Political Parties in section VIII (e) provides that, “all political parties and their agents shall not engage in the following practice: buying of votes or offer any bribe, gift, reward, gratification or any other monetary or material considerations or allurement to voters and electoral officials.”
Despite this, vote-buying continues to be a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s recent elections.
Breach of COVID-19 Directives
The INEC guidelines for the conduct of election amidst COVID-19 mandates the adherence of COVID-19 safety measures on electoral officials as directed by the World Health Organisation and the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control(NCDC).
Meanwhile, this reporter observed that the use of face masks later became optional, compliance with the social distance protocols and other COVID-19 directives recommended by health agencies were flouted by the voters at several polling units visited.
At APOI III, polling units 006, the presiding officers while addressing the voters explained that nobody would be allowed to vote if they were not with their face masks, the directive led to short disagreement between the officials and the electorates, some electorates insisted on voting without a face mask, they were denied at the early hours of the election but they were later allowed to cast their votes.
On social distance directives, none of the polling units visited by this reporter was able to enforce the protocols till the end, this was further complicated by the downpour of rainfall around the afternoon which later made the breach of social distance protocols grew beyond the capacity of electoral officials at the voting centres.
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