Around 10:00AM on Thursday, 14th July 2022, I set out from home to check in to Halatria Hotel and Towers, Osogbo, which was the convergence point for Observers of the Centre for Journalism and Development (CJID) for the Osun State governorship election which was held on Saturday, 16th July 2022. I checked in around 1:15PM. My roommate had arrived before me. I was holding just my phone charger and a few other things were in my pocket when I arrived so it was easy for him to guess I was staying around Osogbo. I would later go back to get other things I would need.
In the evening, all Observers were called out of their rooms, that moments presented me with a moment to meet and greet colleagues who had also come for the election. I met some other people for the first time. At 7:00PM, we were called for a briefing by Mr Mboho Eno. I had to suspend a quarter final football match of the ongoing 2022 Women African Cup of Nations between the Nigerian Super Falcons and the Indomitable Lioness of Cameroon I was watching to attend the night briefing. Dinner was served during the briefing and every retired to their rooms to prepare for election eve.
On Friday morning, Mr Ajibola Hamzat of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) had a short session with us before we proceeded to the Osun State headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to get the kit needed to observe the election. After getting our observation kit from the INEC headquarters in Osogbo, we all departed to our various Local Government Area of Assignment. I was assigned to Odo-Otin Local Government Area (LGA) alongside Esther Mogaji.
We took off to Okuku, the Odo-Otin LGA headquarters from a car park in Osogbo at about 1:45PM. We arrived the INEC secretariat of the local government around 2:30PM. At this time, Ad-hoc staff for the election were seen waiting for their transportation and that of election materials to their different Registration Area Centres (RACs). Others were checking for their names on the list of shortlisted Ad-hoc staff. Vehicles for the transportation was also on ground.
We immediately began to sort accommodation and transportation arrangement for the following day, these were done without stress at all. We were able to secure accommodation at a hotel that is not too far from the INEC secretariat. On our way to the hotel, I noticed a zonal intervention project that was executed in the area, the renovation of a Comprehensive Health Centre of the University College Hospital, Ibadan. After we had checked in to the hotel and returned to the INEC secretariat to continue the pre-election observation. I took a pause to go back to the health centre for tracking since I am currently engaged as a U-Monitor for the UDEME project of the CJID. Coincidentally, a former governor of the state who also hail from the town, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, was paying a courtesy to the health centre at the time I arrived there. He had also visited to assess the newly reopened health centre in his hometown.
After presiding officers and policemen had been mobilized to their different RACs, we returned to the hotel around 6:30PM to prepare for the election day. After we returned to the hotel, my partner and I shared the 15 Registration Areas (Wards) within Odo-Otin LGA among ourselves for wider coverage. I was assigned to Wards 3 (Igbaye), 4 (Faji/Opete), 5 (Ekosin/Iyeku), 7 (Ijabe/Ila-Odo), 9 (Asi/Asaba), and Wards 14 and 15 which are in Oyan town.
On election day, we woke up early as expected only to find out that water was not running in the bathroom, the same thing had happened at Halatria Hotel in Osogbo on Friday morning. My partner helped liaise with the receptionist so water was fetched from outside in a bucket.
We had told the bikemen we contracted for the election day transportation to meet with us at the hotel on Saturday by 7:00am, we called them and they both responded in good time. We left the hotel for our separate destination at a little past 7:00AM.
I had my first stop in Ekusa around 7:18am at Ward 08 Polling Unit (PU) 04. At the time, the Presiding Officers had just arrived and were setting up the polling station ahead of opening of poll at 8:30AM. All polling units I visited before 8:00am in Wards 03 and 04 at Igbaye and Faji respectively had presiding officers on ground setting up the polling station without security operatives on ground. By 8:12AM, when I got to Ward 05 PU 01 at Baptist Primary School, Ekosin, the presiding officers had started addressing voters who were on ground as poll was meant to open at 8:30AM. At 8:21AM, all was set for voting to commence at Ward 05 PU 02 as voters were already on queue when I reached there. I was still there when police officers meant to provide security for the electioneering process arrived.
At Ward 05 PU 04 located inside Ekosin Grammar School, Ekosin, I got into argument with a presiding officer who accused me of attempting to interfere with the process while trying to ask questions from other presiding officers. The election in Ward 05 just like other wards was peaceful, save for flagrant disregard for COVID-19 prevention protocols as provided in the electoral guidelines. Security operatives deployment for the election was also adequate as each polling unit was manned by an average of three unarmed police officers.
At Ward 03 PU 06 in Igbaye, there was an incidence that almost disrupted the election, it was an issue regarding assistance being rendered to accredited voters who were not able to cast their votes on their ballot themselves or could not recognize the party they wished to vote for on the ballot paper. A policeman at the PU was able to douse the tension. Priority was given to the elderly at almost all polling units visited.
HARASSMENT BY SECURITY OPERATIVES
On my way to Ijabe (Ward 07), I saw a polling unit inside Okuku Grammar school, Okuku, it later turned out to be Ward 01 PU11, the polling station was scantily populated as of the time I got there. Upon enquiry, I was made to understand that it was one of the newly created Wards with just 62 registered voters. Majority of the few registered voters who came there had cast their votes and had returned to their homes. Accessing the polling unit was not without obstacle as I got harassed by police officers who mounted a road block at the front of Okuku Grammar School. This happened despite presenting my identity card as an election observer duly accredited by INEC. The sticker that was issued by INEC identifying the motorcycle as being on election duty was also denied at first, I was eventually allowed to go after back and forth argument that lasted few minutes. After the harassment, I decided not to stop at any other polling unit within Okuku since the Wards there were not meant for my coverage. Ward 01 PU 11 was also the first polling unit where I noticed vote trading even with the few people on ground.
Another case of harassment was experienced on my way to Oyan (Ward 14 and 15) after leaving Ila-Odo. This time, I was not the victim and it was a checkpoint mounted by soldiers. The soldiers did not have any problem with me after I had identified myself. However, my bikeman was accused of being a cultist because he had a tattoo on his forearm. We were however left off the hook without any trouble.
Although not as widespread as projected, cases of vote buying was also recorded during the election. At Okuku in Ward 01 PU 11, I eavesdropped and heard party agents and voters ‘settling’ each other, amount being shared and the party involved couldn’t be confirmed since only the vote traders were on ground and they would not volunteer information. A similar case was observed at Ward 07 PU 04 at N.U.D Primary School, Konta, Ijabe. Voters who voted for the All Progressives Party (APC) would later meet agents of the party in the front of a shop on the street next to the school to collect N3000.
Also, at Ward 07 PU 03 at Ijabe town hall, vote buying was confirmed to be going on there, agents of the APC and the People Democratic Party (PDP) were sighted engaging in this act and they were captured on camera, amount shared here ranged from N3000 to N5000. At Ward 15 PU 05 at Jehovah Witness Primary School, Oyan, voters who could cast their votes were observed to be calling on one ‘Mummy Miracle’ before casting their votes, it is believed that Mummy Miracle’s duty was to verify the party the voters voted for so money could exchange hands later. Mummy Miracle’s party could not be confirmed.
After observation in Oyan, I proceeded to Ward 09 and I arrived at Ward 09 PU 02, opposite African Church, Asaba, at about 2:00PM. Here, a presiding officer challenged me for identifying as an ‘Observer’ since I mentioned that I was from Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), he had expected me to identify myself as a journalist. I however later informed him I was on a dual mission, I was on the field both as an observer and journalist. I had to identify myself as being from PTCIJ since that was what was on the tag issued by INEC so as to avoid unnecessary issues especially with security operatives. Voting was still going on at the time and the party agent of the APC complained to me about the inability of the Bimodal Verification Authentication System (BVAS) machine to verify the identity of his party members and as a result they could not cast their votes. At about 2:10PM, I arrived at St Andrew African Primary School, Asaba which housed both PU 01 and PU 03 of Ward 09.
The initial plan was to visit Asi village, where Ward 09 PU 04 and 05 were located but the mission had to be aborted since it was already nearing 2:30PM when poll would close and there was no voter on queue waiting to vote at both polling units in St. Andrew African Primary School. My plan at that point was to proceed to any RAC where collation at ward level would be done. So I asked the presiding officer of Ward 09 PU 01 for the RAC of the ward and he informed me that it was the same school, so I waited there for sorting and counting of ballots of both polling units there. At 2:30PM, voters who had gone home after casting their votes began to return to the polling units to witness the sorting and counting of the ballots.
After the declaration of the PU 01 and 03 results, the process of the collation started. I went back to previously visited PUs to get results before returning to the Ward 09 RAC for collation. The result from Ward 09 PU 02 was brought in around 4:04PM. This was followed by PU 04 and then PU 05. I left the Ward 09 RAC after the results of all 5 PUs under it had been brought in and collated. At 5:00PM, I left Asaba for the INEC secretariat in Okuku when my bikeman was getting agitated as a result of long hour he had worked. While voting was going on, I had persuaded him to let us visit his polling unit at Okuku so he could cast his vote but he would not oblige. As we began to journey back to the INEC secretariat in Okuku for Local Government results collation, it began raining, so we had to stop at Jehovah Witness Primary School, Oyan which housed Ward 15 PU 05, this availed me the opportunity to report the result of the polling unit. At about 5:30PM, I arrived INEC secretariat in Okuku, the bikeman was shivering because of the rain and cold. My partner had arrived before me so I joined her and we waited for the collation of Ward results at LGA level, we become reunited again after we had went our separate ways since morning though we spoke a couple of times on phone. She offered me cakes since I had not eaten since we went to field.
Collation started at about 6:38PM after results from 7 of 15 RACs had arrived. The collation was not without drama as PDP members protested outside the collation centre, they were aggrieved over the election results of Ward 06 PU 02 where a case of snatching of election material was recorded. The security men at the collation centre stopped them from gaining access to the collation centre. The result of the controversial PU was eventually cancelled. At about 9:48PM, the Retuning Officer of the LGA announced the final collated results. The Returning Officer immediately left Okuku for the state collation centre at INEC headquarters in Osogbo in a convoy of police vans. My partner called a bikeman and we left the INEC secretariat at 10:00PM at the time there was light showers of rain.
I had been to a total of 32 polling units in the course of the observation and I had make sure I recorded the data of all polling units visited on the spot before leaving.
Since I would not sleep after returning from the LGA collation centre, I decided to watch the collation exercise at the state level, the exercise started around 1:00AM and all LGAs results collation had been done as of 6:00AM. Since we had planned to travel back very early in the morning, we called a bikeman to pick us and we checked out of the hotel around 6:46AM. We were still at the car park in Okuku when the results were officially declared by the state Returning Officer around 7:18AM. People began jubilating at the car park. Shortly after, we got a cab heading to Osogbo. In the course of the journey, people were also seen jubilating in Ikirun, Ifelodun LGA, as a man was seen holding and waving the PDP flag by the roadside. Similarly, jubilation was observed at Oke-Fia in Osogbo. We arrived Osogbo around 7:58AM.
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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