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Opinion

#EkitiDecides: An Election Masqueraded By Fear And My Unpleasant Observer Experience


Observer Diary

When I received the news of being a part of the shortlisted Domestic Election Observers accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the Ekiti State governorship poll, I was enthusiastic— (not) because I was a first-time Observer— as I have had a similar experience in observing campus elections— but because I would be tasting the waters of the mainstream media. There seems not much difference anyway. Just as on campus, the practice (of journalism) is exposed to risks and dangers. For a fact, the freedom of the media (or the press) in Nigeria is in a gloomy state, which makes a challenging work environment for journalists. To make matters worse is the “general insecurity” in the country. The photo album in every Nigerian’s imagination is “fear”. It is on the strength of the foregoing that I took up this assignment in Ekiti.

 

Pre-Election Experience



With plans of attending to some personal matters, I arrived on Sunday, a few days before the pre-election training organised by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, CJID (formerly PTCIJ). Just then, while journeying across Osun State, I received calls that there was political tension in some metropolis of Ekiti. A day earlier, thugs, allegedly loyal to two of the three major political parties clashed, leaving at least one dead and several injured(reported by Premium Times). This forced everyone indoors, as soldiers were reportedly deployed to douse the tension in those areas.

Political instability, terrorism and violence have recently projected Nigeria as one of the countries with the least peace in the world, according to the Global Peace Index.
Recall that a mass shooting occurred in the city of Owo in neighbouring Ondo State, killing scores of people a week before my arrival in Ekiti. Although not related, imminent threats of “violence” and “political disruption” ramped up people’s fear in Ekiti State which eventually affected voters turnout. According to Dataphyte, a review of the state’s governorship elections data from 2003 to date, with the exception of 2007 due to unavailability of the data, shows that the 2022 turnout rate is the lowest the state has ever recorded.

Previous electoral violence in the state may have been a reason for this. My neighbours and individuals I had contact with in my school residence before leaving for my assignment expressed “fear” that the election could be bloody with recent developments of chaos in some parts of the state. Prior to the Saturday elections, chances were strong that if you planned to travel to Ekiti that week, you would have a rethink as many would, probably visiting after the elections. Family friends in Ekiti who knew I was coming, warned me to avoid certain routes.

Having spent well over 4 years of schooling in Ekiti State, it is expected that I would be able to relate to my environment. However, there was a disconnect when the election approached— A period marked by violence.

The 2-day online Observers training (scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday) was lined up with powerhouse speakers and facilitators from CJID and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, covering security issues as well as the guidelines and process of election observation. “No job is worth your life”, one of the facilitators had told us. That phrase rang in my head throughout and after the training.

On Thursday 16th June, all Observers together with officials of CJID lodged at a hotel in the State capital for a final briefing before deployment to all 16 Local Government Areas (LGAs) the following day. I had the opportunity of meeting and network with other colleagues from different schools and media houses. It was fun!

Now every night before the election was spent doing necessary preparations on mapping out territories. Earlier that day, our instructor, Mr Eno Mboho of CJID had told us that many of us would be paired to work in an LGA assigned while others may have to work independently. Notwithstanding, my brain was wired and programmed for every possible scenario I would experience, finding solutions to problems that do not yet exist— just in case. I cannot think of a time any of such experience has paid off, it was more a function of my anxiety than anything else. At least I know that much.

By the time our respective LGAs were announced, I found out that I would be working with Mogaji Esther Ayomide— a smart young lady who would be leading my team in Ekiti West local government. I suppose the plan was to pair first-time Observers with experienced ones. Esther had observed two gubernatorial elections— Edo and Ondo States— in 2020. She was also shortlisted for the 2021 Anambra elections but unfortunately could not continue. On the eve of the election, the LGA she was assigned to was flagged red and many of them had to return home.

On Thursday at about 2 am at my hotel room in Ado-Ekiti, I stayed up late trying to research all jurisdictions in my assigned local government. Unless you formulate a strategy, you will be a watchdog transforming into a stray dog. It is all about understanding your territory(especially new environments). Hours before then, my roommate, Muktar Balogun shared his media adventure at the Anambra elections which gave me a foresight about events that may unfold.


Ekiti Election Eve



It was quite unbelievable, shocking really. Just when we were about to leave for our LGA, my phone broke down, which sent my heart reeling, unable to comprehend or process what my eyes just saw. Dealing with this kind of emergency meant waiting behind to get it fixed or risking travelling to my destination in the hopes of getting it repaired. For a moment, I thought it wise to buy the former idea as most phone parts are usually scarce in remote areas where we were headed. And to think that phone repairers would be available by the time I settle down. As if that was not enough, my packed lunch fell off the bus on our way to the repair shop. A terrible day indeed!

After an hour at Fayose Market— a renowned computer village in the centre of Ekiti, I successfully got my phone fixed. Thanks to my patient and considerate partner who waited for me all through. We stood at the park for more than 30 minutes before leaving Ado for Aramoko which is the headquarter of Ekiti West LGA and also the location of the INEC office. Our journey lasted about an hour and a half.

Arrival at INEC office on the Eve of Ekiti State election
Arrival at the INEC office on the Eve of the Ekiti State election


By 4:14 pm, Esther and I had already secured accommodation at a hotel not far from the INEC office. Unfortunately, we were unable to finalise transportation logistics for the following day; fuel scarcity was at its peak! All bike men we met complained about filling their tanks as nearly all fueling stations closed very early that day. Nonetheless, we continued in our Pre-election Observation at the INEC office where the distribution of sensitive election materials took place. At the time, buses were seen conveying officials and election materials to various Registration Area Centres (RAC), each escorted by security personnel. Meanwhile, some experienced delays. When we left the office, more than half of the officials had collected their materials and departed for their RAC.

The desperation to sort out transportation made us trek miles away from our lodge in search of commercial cyclists. In the dark, we waved down every bike man we saw. Regrettably, some of them would not take the job while others complained about fuel. Moments later, the rain came as if intended to frustrate our plans, kill the zeal for the tasks ahead and make a harsh experience out of our day. Despite sheltering in a nearby stall, we got beaten as the rain would not stop.

In the heat of frustration and the intensity of the rain, my partner and I walked back to the hotel. Perhaps we could have just waited for the rain to subside, but who cares about subside anyway? We had a long day before us and were yet to conclude arrangements! May I also add that we had not eaten since morning.

Already cold and exhausted, I retired to bed that night on an empty stomach.

In my usual sleeping pattern, I woke up at midnight again trying to draw up a plan should we not be able to find transportation when day breaks. I mapped out territories in Aramoko 1 and 2 which were places within our reach but would require trekking a few kilometres. Towns such as Erijiyan, Okemesi, Ikogosi and others are distant places from Aramoko that would take hours to cover on foot. My second thought was to speak with the hotelier if he could help make a transportation arrangement for us.


D-Day


Very early the following morning, my partner went out again in search of cyclists— If not two, one that would take both of us around polling units in the local government. Eventually, Mr. Marley, one of the bike men she met obliged but charged an exorbitant amount, although blamed it on the scarcity of fuel and the high price in the black market where he bought his. Left with no choice, we had to jump on it.


Esther and I had 11 wards/towns to cover under which were 184 scattered Polling Units. This meant that we would have to share portions of the towns. But because we had only one bike rider, Esther and I visited polling units in each Ward together before moving to the next. However, on some occasions, we went in different directions.

Our election observation started at 7:48 am at Ikogosi (Ward 6) PU 003 which happened to be the polling unit of APC’s governorship aspirant, Biodun Oyebanji. A few minutes to eight when the electoral process was expected to start, the voting booth was yet to be set up. The presiding officer had to return to the RAC to pick a vital material needed for setup. Meanwhile, the pasting of voters’ lists continued.

A woman with disability leaves the polling unit as the first voter
A woman with a disability leaves the polling unit as the first voter


The journey throughout 5 of 11 Wards/Towns was hitch-free except that we had little to cover individually. At a point, our bike man complained that the fuel in his tank would not be enough to convey us to other polling units anymore. We were then stationed at Ikogosi (the APC candidate’s polling unit) until the collation of the final results.

The main highlights of my election observation at the Ekiti governorship poll are nothing but non-compliance of electorates to regulations of the 2022 Electoral Act (as amended) and the deployment structure of INEC in some polling units. Overcrowding was the order of the day. And where there was none, COVID-19 protocols on the use of face masks and distant spacing were breached. According to the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections 2022, each polling unit should have a Presiding Officer and three Assistant Presiding Officers. Meanwhile, some, if not all of the polling units we visited had two officials which created a challenge in crowd management.

My Observer experience will not be complete if I fail to mention Priority Voting and Inclusivity as an improvement in the Commission’s regulations. At most polling units in Ekiti West local government area, the electoral officials ensured that priority was given to the elderly, pregnant women and voters with disabilities.

A senior citizen given priority to vote before other voters
A senior citizen is given priority to vote before other voters


As of 6:34 pm, my partner and I were at the INEC office heavily guarded by security operatives. The Office also served as Ekiti West LGA Collation Centre. There, the final results of Wards across the local government were collated and uploaded on the election portal.

It rained again! Then I knew I was doomed to the cold that night. Outside the Collation Centre, water washed over my skin so strongly that I felt as if I was in the flow of a river rather than a rain shower; one that left me standing yet let me know that it was here to stay for a while. As my partner observed the final Collation inside, the only thing was to accept the downpour as easily as the air I breathed in.

Quite unfortunate for me, the canopy where I later sheltered in place collapsed and I found myself back in the rain. I could not go inside because the Collation Officer had earlier instructed that only one observer per organization is allowed. Neither could I stay at the entrance managed by the security operatives and officials who were presenting their materials for collation.

In just two days, I came closer to experiencing the world as fish do drenched to the bones. My phone got wet again for a second time and stopped working.

At 10:25 pm, we arrived at the hotel only to find the room transformed into a mini swimming pool after the heavy downpour. Immediately, we were relocated to another room after lodging complaints to the management.

What a twist and turn of events!

Official of the final Ward, Ikogosi, arrives Ekiti West LGA Collation Centre in the heavy downpour
An official of the final Ward, Ikogosi, arrives at Ekiti West LGA Collation Centre in the heavy downpour

 

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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1 Comment

  1. Joseph Odunayo

    Thanks for sharing, this is educating and insightful and poetic

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