Prior to the commencement of the just concluded governorship election in Ondo state, there were heavy speculations of possible violence during the electoral process, especially after some campaign activities ended in chaos in the state. As a result of this, a lot of attention from security operatives, political analysts, non-governmental organisation and even international bodies were drawn.
Seeing the need for proper observation and as a way to access accurate information, Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in partnership with YIAGA Africa Initiative trained campus journalists on election observation and reportage. Luckily, I was shortlisted after the training alongside other campus journalists and was deployed to Idanre local government area as an election observer.
Observing in Idanre LGA (which was one of the listed LGA more prone to experience violence during voting exercise) would have been a completely beautiful experience, had it not be mixed with the negativity of vote-buying and violence.
On the election day, everything seemed to be going on well as the distribution and dispatch of voting materials alongside security operatives and election officers were done in orderliness with great consideration for timing. As at 8:15 am, almost all polling units had been set up with voters already on queue awaiting the tick of 8:30 am, the stipulated time for election commencement- to exercise their franchise although with very little adherence to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Approaching noontime, the voting process started taking a new look as heavy vote-buying surfaces and pandemonium occurred at different times for different reasons. In Ward 05 PU002, a fight ensued between two prospective voters because they stepped on each other. Some few minutes after the fight was settled by security operatives, a group of youth went agog in a bitter outcry as they accused the All Progressive Congress (APC) party agent of vote-buying. The situation was again calmed by security operatives.
For Ward 05 PU 003, partiality in the way people were attended to was the reason for a commotion and the people frustrated the security operatives with disobedience until the process was paused for more than 10minutes for normalcy to return. At a point in time, two-party agents almost beat up themselves because the people were mandated to show their ballot papers after voting as this will secure their deal in earning a token from their favoured party. It took the intervention of a senior citizen present at that time to appease both parties.
Moving on to Ward 08 PU002 located in a small settlement far into Idanre Land, the tune of the day changed. Around 12:30 pm, security operatives were overpowered by a gang of hoodlums numbering up to fifty with different kind of guns and other weapons who allegedly came through a secret route which ran through different farmlands. Everyone present was held hostage for about an hour and the ballot box was seized. The security operatives consisting of 2 male and 2 female police officers alongside a civil defence corps member were asked to sit on the floor like kindergarten babies ready to listen to their teacher’s story whilst the head of the gang addressed as ‘Skiddo’ lectured everyone present on the need to do as he says.
“There’s no need to fear. All you have to do is vote for APC, receive your token and disappear from here. Failure to do this will bring dire consequences and I don’t care who gets hurt. I am a machinery and I am useful to who sent me today, I can be useful to you tomorrow,” he kept on chanting.
Votes cast in favour of APC were counted while votes in favour of other parties were rejected. The ballot papers not used to vote for APC were torn and thrown into the bush.
“Terrified” is too small a word to describe the state of mind of everyone present as people started calling on the God they served. One of the policemen put a call through to someone asking for prayers of protection and this led to the seizure of everyone’s phone. My phone and spy gears were seized at gunpoints and all forms of evidence were deleted. Some minutes later, one of the hoodlums returned my gadgets but without the memory card on the instruction of Skiddo. This same act was done to everyone they suspected of exposing them.
For the unused ballot papers, people were also made to vote for APC under duress. The card reader was no longer used as 3 of the hoodlums took over the job of the polling officers. After about one hour of being held hostage, we were set free without the votes being counted and everyone including the overpowered security men fled for their lives.
On getting to a more urbanized part of the town, we encounter men of the Nigerian Army and narrated our ordeal to them but they categorically told us that whatever isn’t happening in the urban part of the LGA isn’t their business and we should go our way. How cruel!
Each time this event flash through my memory, I give thanks to God for preserving my life but I keep yearning for answers to the questions that keep popping up my mind – “Is politics really a do-or-die affair?”, “When will we stop involving violence in election processes in Nigeria?”, “Will the people who share this kind of experience with me overcome the trauma and be willing to perform their civic duty next time?”, “Is there still hope for a better Nigeria?”
I hope one day I’ll get positive answers to these questions.
This story has been published on CAMPUS REPORTER with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author.
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