I have done some serious introspection on the upcoming elections, and aided by countless cans of Orijin, have come to several conclusions, topmost on the list being my decision not to vote.
I know all about my vote being my power. But apart from the fact that I am not particularly enamoured of any of the candidates thus presented, let me tell you a quick story about elections in Nigeria. I was a corper during the last general elections in 2011. INEC in all its wisdom elected to make us, corps members ad hoc staff, presiding officers specifically. And so, like a young woman who has never experienced childbirth must be shielded from the horror of the labour room at all costs, I saw far more than I was supposed to. So you will forgive me if every time, thereafter, when I heard the elections touted as free and fair, I sniggered.
A note of warning; whenever you hear stories about elections, be wise to disregard whatever happens in the big cities. You see those neat, orderly queues with security detail per voter you see on TV? Na scam! Go into the interior parts. That is where elections take place. Have you never wondered why people travel home in their droves during elections?
I was deployed to the trouble-fraught, oil-producing riverine area of Ondo state, deep in Ilaje Local Government Area. I travelled on water for close to three hours to get to my polling unit in Ore-oke, Iwamimo. Let me tell you how far from reality this area was. I was met on the boat by the women of the community who warned me not to step foot on their hallowed (white garment church) land in my trousers. They handed me a wrapper which I had to tie until I got back on the boat. This happened every time I came there. They were frustrated with me because they imagined I would come with my own wrapper or skirt or dress next time, but not me. Every time I came, they had to give me a wrapper to tie, and since I refused any one that wasn’t clean or new, they hurled insults at me but had to oblige me. I was conducting elections for them after all? So they threatened me, I threatened them, they found me a wrapper, I tied it and then we proceeded with the business of the day. Surreal.
If you think that was bad enough, I was asked to remove my earrings and every form of jewellery on my body. When I forgot to remove my nose ring, it took the timely intervention of one of the community youths whom I had conscripted to ensure my safety (after our initial disagreement, but that’s another story) to prevent my being tackled to the ground by an overzealous youth. I’m surprised they let me keep my prescription glasses on.
Beginning with voter’s registration, I knew there was wahala. What do you say when someone comes dragging a clearly underage child by the hand and demanding you register them? What do you say to, ‘so you sabi my pikin age pass me, de papa, abi?’
Anyway, we hobbled through registration. From underage registrants, to malfunctioning DDC machines. Then came the real elections.
A few things became immediately apparent to me.
- The community and their leaders agreed before we ever got there which party or candidate was winning. The rest was just fulfilling all righteousness.
- Voices of dissent where easily subdued without much interference from any authorities.
- My safety was my primary concern. I was threatened several times – I would not have a boat to return home, I would be beaten up severely and thrown into the sea, and just in case I doubted, I saw a fellow ad hoc staff receive a severe working over, a polling unit a few yards from mine for failing to ‘co-operate,’ everyone joined in and beat him within an inch of his life. Even the little children had sticks and stones.
- So where was the security detail you ask. I’ll tell you. Each polling unit was assigned two civil defence officers, and one police officer. Their weapons? The civil defence had none, the police officers had batons. And the youths in the community had knives and guns. Go figure. Now, even if the security operatives had weapons and skills to match the troublemakers and touts, where was the motivation? I watched as money was shared to them even before the elections began. The rest, as they say, is history.
- And the Navy? I fell in love with them. They did their best. But, they had a total of three gun boats to patrol about twelve communities, each at least fifteen minutes from the other. So my head would be hanging from a pike before reinforcements arrived.
And the things I saw!
A youth once declared that elections were not holding that day. I cannot remember his grievance. The fact is, one person had everything upended and everyone scampering for cover. He nearly succeeded. He came at me and made away with my ballot papers. Another youth, not understanding what had happened ran off to another polling unit and snatched up their ballot box and came and presented to me, with their voting slips inside. I remember him saying proudly, ‘P.O, see, no worry, I don bring you anoda ballot box, oya carry on.’
Once, at the collation centre and right in front of the collation officer, a party representative snatched the results I was about to present and dashed into the bushes. The security detail stood by looking on. I made to pursue him but wisdom prevailed as I was restrained by my fellow corper colleagues with the succinct question, ‘Pearl, you dey craze? Jega be your Papa?’
Open-secret ballot they say. Well, I have seen someone’s finger hovering over one party’s insignia, and someone comes from nowhere, slaps her, says a few heated words and jams her thumb down on his own candidate’s spot. I have seen one person come and vote twenty times after they had settled the election observers/monitors of the opposing party. Do I protest? Do I want to go home?
So, I am happy for all the lovely plans we have for the elections. But the city capitals are very few, the rural areas make up the majority of the population, some studies peg it at 75%. That’s a lot of skewed results we are looking at and I am not in the habit of wasting my time.
Going to vote is a waste of my time.
Oh and Boko Haram have released a video assuring us of the mayhem they will unleash. So ehm, good luck. I plan to die another day and at another venue thank you very much. But hey, good luck.
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