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Opinion

#EkitiDecides: Ekiti Election Observer’s diary

Observer Diary

Election observation is a valuable tool for improving the quality of elections. As a campus journalist, I have always wanted to work in the real field to gain practical experience and knowledge through first-hand observation. On the 17th of March, 2022, the opportunity to observe an election came in and I was more than happy to indicate my interest. I sent in my details to the Centre for Journalism and Innovation Development (CJID) hoping that I would be able to observe the Ekiti State gubernatorial election, we were however informed in the WhatsApp group chat that not everyone will be able to observe as INEC only approved 65% of the list sent to them. I became sceptical, thinking I might not be shortlisted for the observation. To my greatest surprise, I woke up to my name on the shortlisted list of observers on the 25th of May, 2022. I was beyond happy and started getting ready for my trip to Ekiti state from Jos, Plateau State.

 

As part of the process to prepare everyone well ahead of the election, CJID held a virtual pre-election training for every observer especially first-timers like myself. The training was held for two days and was facilitated by experts in various fields. We were taught all we needed to know to be prepared for election observation, like fact-checking, ethics of journalism, observing through the lens of inclusivity, multimedia journalism, security in elections and many more.

 

I got to the hotel prepared by CJID in Ado-Ekiti on Thursday, 16th of June, 2022, we continued physical training and retired to bed.

 

On election eve, we went to the Independent National Election Commission Office to get our tags and other observation material. Ekiti State has 16 local governments, we were all deployed in groups of two to different local governments. 

 

I was deployed to Irepodun/Ifelodun local government area of Ekiti state with my partner Omoniyi Jeremiah. This local government has eleven wards in two opposite directions so we couldn’t be together, he covered Afao, Iworoko, Are and Igbemo wards while I covered Igede 1,2&3, Iyin 1&2, Awo and Iropora/Esure/Eyio. We left Ado-Ekiti on Friday evening for Irepodun/Ifelodun local government secretariat located in Igede-Ekiti to conduct our pre-election observation. When we got there the distribution of election material to different wards was in full swing, buses were being loaded with cubicles and every other election material, and ad-hoc staff were checking their names on the list for their wards and polling unit to follow the buses going there. 

 

After the distribution, my partner and I set out to find a hotel for me to spend the next two nights, all our efforts to get a hotel or guest house proved abortive, and all hotels in Igede-Ekiti were filled up. The bike man offered to talk to his friend whose brother has a house in the town. He talked to him and he agreed to allow me to sleep in the house for a price, I was more than willing to pay because I needed enough rest for the work ahead of me the following day. They took me to the house, and my partner took their pictures and went back to his own station. 

 

When I got to the house, there was light, I plugged my phone as it was beyond low. 20 minutes later, the power went off and I was in total blackout with a flat battery in a house I’m not familiar with. I didn’t want to use the power bank CJID gave us because I knew I needed it for the election so I forced myself to sleep. 

 

On the D-day, Iyin-Ekiti was my first stop. I got to the distribution centre in the ward at 6:50. The distribution was already ongoing, after the process, I started moving from one polling unit to another and from ward to ward to observe how the election was going. I observed a number of things, they include:

 

Time The Election Started

 

90% of the polling units began their election within 8:30 am to 8:45 am which can be considered early.

 

The Bimodal Voting & Accreditation System (BVAS)

 

The BVAS gave a few polling units issues as it wasn’t accrediting voters with their thumbprint. The ad-hoc staff had to restart it every 5 minutes for it to work well. They also had to step into the sun to try accrediting voters with their faces. It was particularly hard to accredit aged voters because the BVAS couldn’t pick their faces. They were asked to wait for a while to attend to others.

The BVAS causing delay
The BVAS causing delay

Priority Voting 

 

According to INEC regulations and guidelines for the conduct of election 2022 part II section 25 “people with disabilities, visibly pregnant women, nursing or breastfeeding mothers and the elderly shall be granted priority access to voting at the polling unit”. This rule was duly observed in every polling unit I visited. Everyone that falls in this category was prioritized and attended to without delay.

Voter Turnout

 

Every election is determined by the people who show up. The turnout of voters in Irepodun/Ifelodun local government was 33% of the total number of registered voters. 70,467 voters registered but only 24,123 came out to vote. That is considerably low.

 

COVID-19

 

COVID-19 is still very much around no matter how much we decide not to pay attention to it. For a gathering like an election where it is always crowded, COVID-19 precautions should be strictly adhered to. INEC made provision for it in its rules and guidelines but the polling officers didn’t adhere to it. Of all the wards I visited, only Igede ward polling officers adhered to some of the rules, they used face masks but there was no social distancing. Every other polling unit officer and security official couldn’t care less, how will they talk to voters about COVID if they are not even using face masks not to talk of sanitisers.

 

Vote-Buying

 

As a first-time observer, I was appalled by the rate of vote-buying in the just concluded election. All the majority political parties like APC, PDP and SDP bought votes and votes went to the highest bidder. I really don’t know if I should blame aspirants for buying votes unashamedly or the voters for selling their voters for a meagre sum of N10,000 and below without thinking of the money they can’t spend for the 4 years the winner will spend in the office. It’s really sad. Party agents will move close to the cubicle and the vote sellers will stylishly show them the party they voted for so that their names can be written down for later payment after receiving tags as evidence that they indeed voted for the party. The secret ballot isn’t so secret anymore.

 

Security/Violence

 

In preparation for the election, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps deployed 9,747 personnel to Ekiti State. The Nigeria Police Force also deployed 17,374 personnel to Ekiti state as well. However, this election was almost violent-free, if not for disagreement between party agents in a few polling units it would have been a case of zero violence. The election went on as smooth as possible. In compliance with INEC’s directives, all the officers in the polling units were unarmed. The armed ones kept an armful distance from the polling units. 

 

Collation Of Results

 

The collation of results in the Irepodun/Ifelodun local government area started at 7:30 and it was displayed electronically. The collation process ended at 9:00 PM with Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji of APC leading the polls with 13,125 votes thereby winning the Irepodun/Ifelodun local government area of Ekiti state. 

 

I would like to use this medium to appreciate CJID for this opportunity even though my bike man left me at a point and I had to trek to an extent that if my butt could talk it would ask my leg to grab a seat but I still won’t trade this for anything else. As a first-time observer, I was only nervous because I wanted to deliver well but I wasn’t scared at any point because I know CJID will never put us in harm’s way. They made sure we were adequately equipped for our security, when my partner was harassed and arrested by the DSS in Afao Ekiti, they got there in a jiffy to get him released. Thank you so much CJID.

 

DISCLAIMER: This story has been published on Campus Reporter with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author.

 

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