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Opinion

#OsunDecides2022: My Bitter-sweet Experience As A First-time Electoral Observer

Observer’s Diary

 
One of the best news I got this year was that I was shortlisted amongst the domestic observers for the Osun State gubernatorial election. And as a first-time observer with the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), I looked forward to the experience, since it is an integral part of strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.
 
In preparation for the great task ahead, CJID organised a two-day training for all observers, in a bid to prepare us for the task ahead. The training made me understand the importance, the dos and don’ts of election observation.
 
For reasons best known to me, I started panicking when it was just a few days to the election, I did not know what to expect and it was my first time going on the field for election observation
 
The fact that I knew I was contributing to good governance and a measure of the fairness and credibility of the Osun State’s gubernatorial election kept me going. Sigh!
 

The Journey From Ibadan To Osogbo

 
At exactly 9:07 am on Thursday, July 14 2022. I left my humble abode in Ojoo area of Ibadan to meet with my other colleagues, Jeremiah, Mariam and Oluwatosin, at Iwo road en route to Osogbo.
 
The journey was a long one as we encountered very congested traffic on our way and the driver had to take a bush path which had our hearts in our mouths as it was a very unfamiliar route. In spite of the bumpy ride, we arrived at Halatria Hotel and Towers, Osogbo at exactly 1:59 pm and we were checked into our various rooms.
 
After I checked in and put my stuff in order, I and a few other people stepped out to get food as it seems we all were hungry, getting back to the hotel, I was informed by the receptionist that my roommate had arrived so I went straight to the room. On getting to the room, I met Michelle Adeyanju and we bonded very fast as we both share similar views on happenings in the political space.
 

Preparation Training and Pre-election Observation

 
I woke up some minutes past six on Friday and was starting to prepare for the day because we all were expected to be in the hall by 6:50 am only for myself and Michelle to discover the tap was not running, hence, we don’t have access to water for a bath. Somehow, after queuing to fetch water, we had our bath and dressed up for the hall.
 
On getting to the hall, Mr Ajibola Amzat of the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) had a short session with us and also wished us well. After breakfast, we proceeded to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office to get the kits for the accredited observers and after which we all went back to the hotel to get ready for our different local governments.
 
A fellow observer Paul Oladipupo and I said our farewell to our new friends. We set out to start our journey as I was to observe the election in Orolu Local Government Area of Osun state, while he was to observe Irepodun local government area. Since both were along the same route, we set out together.
 
I arrived at Orolu local government, Ifon-Osun at exactly 2:42 pm and I boarded a bike and went straight to the INEC office in the local government. On getting there, I identified myself and asked to know when the election materials will be distributed only to find out it has been shared before my arrival.
 
I met a young man, Alaga as he is fondly called. After a brief dialogue, he took me to Akins lounge, Ifon-Osun some mins to 6 pm and on getting inside the hotel, I discovered there was no network and I could not make calls nor use my internet service. I had to step out in search of network so I can communicate with the team that I had arrived and gotten a place to stay.
 

The Election Day

 
Voices discussing in hushed tones woke me up around some mins past 5 am on Saturday and being the inquisitive person that I am, I stepped out to eavesdrop on the conversation. I met four guys sitting at the reception and I said my hello and asked if all was well. One of them told me thugs attacked his father’s house with guns. Fear gripped me.
 
My bike man arrived just in time and we set out for the day. My first stop was at ward 03, Unit 09 and I met the presiding officers pasting the list of voters in the polling unit. I signed the attendance register and proceeded to other polling units. Election in most polling units started at 8:30 am and the accreditation and voting process began in full gear.
 
I made sure to check that the Covid-19 guidelines were followed in the polling units I visited and that I asked if the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) was functional.
 
I continued my trip around the polling units and when I got to ward 05, Unit 07, I observed what was going on in the polling unit and I noticed that voting of elderly people was not prioritised.
 
In another polling unit, I witnessed the distribution of drinks as a means of vote buying  In this polling unit, I engaged one of the party agents without my observer’s tag he said that voters were instructed to stylishly show them their ballot paper and then come for their money afterwards.
 
I proceeded and when I got to ward 01, Unit 08, I witnessed a voter and one of the security officers there passing origin bitters drink and taking a gulp each. He saw I was trying to take a picture and started threatening me that I had to leave immediately and my bike man came through right on time.
 
Afterwards, everything went well until I ran into some security officers on patrol who accused me of taking their pictures. Before I could say jack, I was held by four fierce-looking officers and I was about to receive a thunderous slap and my phone was about to be smashed when their team leader asked them to leave me. He identified me as a journalist, and he made me swear not to post anything online.
 
Election in most polling units ended and by 3:30 pm, most polling units have finished voting and had started counting the votes. I got to ward 06, Unit 04 around 5:20 pm and we still have over 70 people yet to cast their votes. The presiding officer mentioned they had over 700 voters in that unit with just one BVAS and few hands as the reason they were not done yet. The collation exercise started around 8:15 pm and the results from each ward were compiled and calculated. Collation finally came to an end around 10:58 pm.
 

Moving Forward

 
Osun election has come and gone, however, it is expedient that we take note of the lessons from the election. Ahead of the 2023 general election, citizens especially the youth, should shun electoral violence and vote selling, which are threats to good governance.
 
I must commend the new innovation and policies of INEC, however, it is pertinent to say that we are not there yet, we have a long way to go in the spirit of having a free, fair and credible election in Nigeria.
 
The fact is that INEC, you and I have a role to play in strengthening our democracy, together we can make this country better. Yes, we can!

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