Elections in Nigeria are not for the faint-hearted. It comes with drama, a whole lot of it. The Osun State election had its own cup of drama for my thirsty readers to drink. For an election observer who is also an indigene of the state, there is always a story to tell.
Crazy Driver, Kidnapping Fiasco and Lagos Traffic
I started my journey by leaving Lagos as early as 6 am. It was a decision I had to make if I was to arrive in Osogbo before 2 pm. I boarded a car headed for Osogbo at Iyana Ipaja. I didn’t predict that there would be traffic as early as that time. The driver, who is from Kwara state, switched on his radio while we got stuck in the traffic. The radio presenter from a popular radio station, after some minutes, called on listeners to leave the road we were on as it had been blocked by a trailer. Typical of Lagos. That formed the centre of our conversation till we entered a freeway since I had a friend who was heading for Ire and the driver in the car.
Three men and a woman later joined us in the car. The woman was reluctant to board the car. She was not comfortable seeing four men sitting at the back while she was seated between the driver and another man at the front. She then did a video call with her husband, moving the camera to enable her husband to see our faces. The men in the car were curious about why she was acting that way. As a result, she was forced to narrate her experience about how she almost got kidnapped that morning in Berger. We joked about it and assured her that the people in the car did not have any relationship whatsoever. She was not having it, though. She got to Ibadan safely and thanked everyone in the car.
The driver was not moving as we wanted until a drama ensued with road safety officers and a soldier. As we approached a road safety officer who was visibly angry, another officer directed the driver to park. He didn’t oblige. He was still moving the vehicle until he smelled a chance to zoom off to the other side of the road. The soldier, who was working together with the officer, crossed to the other side of the road and cocked his gun. “He can not shoot,” he said coldly as he zoomed off. The occurrence looked like something Jason Statham would do. He didn’t stop till we got to a checkpoint. I had never experienced anything like that.
Another Poor Hotel Service
I had to wait for some time to lodge in the hotel after hours of journeying from Lagos and meeting the unexpected traffic in Ede. No explanations were given. After the poor hospitality shown by a popular hotel in Ado-Ekiti ahead of the state’s gubernatorial election, I was not looking forward to the abysmal hospitality offered by another hotel in Osogbo.
A day before the election, while the observers were getting prepared to grab their kits at INEC, the hotel ran out of water. This offence was minimal compared to the realisation that I wouldn’t get a toilet roll till Friday, the day I would leave the hotel. The toilet roll holder was not useful. When a male room attendant in dreads knocked on my room’s door, the thought of getting the necessary services looked positive.
He handed me a towel and almost left immediately till I popped the request. “We need toilet rolls,” I told him. He assured my roommate and me that he would bring it. I asked him, “should I leave the door unlocked?” He affirmed. We never got the toilet rolls and no explanation was given by the management.
The biggest sin committed by the hotel is the fact that, after weeks of being in the know that the hotel would welcome the observers and the coordinators, they failed to offer sufficient rooms to the observers. They might end up blaming the man in Aso Rock for their own gross incompetence. Nigerians.
My Greatest Fear as an Observer
As I alighted from the tight-spaced small car that, at one point, had three people at its front, I saw a man in an oversized black suit sitting on a bike. Our eyes locked. He approached me swiftly while his fellow bike men were placing orders to fill their empty stomachs. “INEC office,” I told him.
After briefly observing the whole process of INEC officials heading for their wards after picking up the election materials, we embarked on a journey to find a place to lodge. I was knackered. I didn’t envisage a journey from Osogbo to Ifetedo, Ife-South LGA would be energy-draining. Meanwhile, the bike man, who identified himself as “Oduduwa” delivered the bad news. There were no hotel rooms.
Remember the hackneyed saying that “giving up is not an option”. Well, I took that personally. We visited all the hotels in Ifetedo. Two hotels provided a makeshift room to stay in for the election. One is a room that has no feeling of life. The dust emanating from the room sold the room out as an abandoned room for many months or even years. “Who knows what could be living in that room,’ I thought to myself. I walked away.
Thinking about it now, I wouldn’t have survived a night due to the dust. I react to dust by sneezing. The second makeshift room provided by another hotel was a room occupied by four police officers. A living room with an empty bed I could manage. This time, the room was locked. There was no way to get in since the police officers had the key with them. All other hotels were filled to the brim with people who had roles to play in the election.
It dawned on me. It has happened, my greatest fear as an election observer. Hotel rooms at my local government were fully booked by security officials, monitors and observers. I decided to stay in a Mosque for the election due to the accumulated stress. I just wanted to rest. I was glad the Imam permitted me to stay in the Mosque. It was a plus for me since I wouldn’t have to figure out how to observe salat.
Rain, Bad Roads and Minimal Provisions
The rainy season usually comes with its perks. Farmers are happy, especially in a town like Ifetedo, where most people are farmers. However, the conditions of the roads meant my bike man had to be careful because a slip could be the end of my election observation.
The roads in Ifetedo are mostly in bad condition. They looked tarred but tattered. Potholes were staring at my face while some roads were completely untarred. The road leading to the INEC office is, however, clean and usable.
You can enlighten this author if he is wrong. In rainy seasons, INEC should provide provisions for their officials to keep them safe. The ballot papers could get wet if care is not taken. I can recall how voters, INEC officials and the ballot box were under the front of shops when it started raining. I learned a new lesson as an observer. When it is the rainy season, I will either move around with my umbrella or my raincoat to observe any election.
Peaceful Election Marred by Vote-Trading
On Friday, a day before the election, the editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Mr Hamzat, explained what vote-buying and vote-selling are. Before his brief talk, I had no idea I could have both concepts encapsulated in the word “vote-trading”. Wisdom. Now, I have found myself using the word often.
Some parties paid the voters as “little” as N2,000 at some polling units. Yes, it was that bad. While I think that not all voters would come out to vote because of the pittances, some just take the money since they were going to vote anyway.
A pale-looking police officer approached me at a polling unit. “Let’s work together,” he said. He went further to chat with the party agents to work together with him. He sees elections as a money-making opportunity. That wasn’t the only polling unit I observed police officers colluding with party agents. Such polling units end up being disorganised and riddled with vote-trading.
The collaboration of police officers and party agents is a deadly one to the election process. Thanks to their collaboration, party agents can stand very close to the polling booth to see what party a voter voted for. They have also developed a machination to make catching them difficult. A process of vote-trading I noticed was that, after voting, a voter will approach a man who will hand over a piece of paper called a “pass”. The voter then takes the ” pass” to someone in a house. Some parties were writing names for later settlements.
In the common English language, the phrase “silver lining” refers to optimism, which suggests that even bad things might turn out to be positive. As much as the election process was dirtied by vote-trading, INEC pulled an 8/10 performance on the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System performance and electronic results upload. Don’t get me wrong. The BVAS wasn’t perfect. However, compared to its performance in Anambra, this is something to sing the praise of INEC for.
The online result on the INEC website seems to be a game-changer. I am not dead sure that it means the election cannot be rigged, but it makes the process harder to manipulate by ill-meaning leaders. It is not only credible but also fast and accessible from INEC’s website. Technology saved the day and our democracy.
The turnout to elect the next governorship candidate was a decent one. Some polling units didn’t finish voting until 5:30 pm. The youths also turned up to the event, which wasn’t the case in Ekiti state gubernatorial election. Public participation in electing leaders is gradually gaining ground in the country. It is only a matter of time before we get it right.
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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