Participating in the general elections was an interesting aspect of my service year. As a corper in the election year of 2015, it was mandatory to partake in the elections. The general elections originally slated to take place on the 14th and 28th of February 2015 for the Presidential & National Assembly and Governorship and State Assemblies respectively got postponed to the 28th of March and 11th of April due to poor voters’ card distribution and the Boko Haram menace at the time. So the need for ‘corper participation’ was paramount (of course I’m referring to the former).
I remember one fine Friday afternoon, during CDS, when news came that we should all report to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office. A number of us were unhappy about the request, some others like me were curious. I didn’t even stop to think about the risk of conducting elections as many others were talking about at the time. The office was only a stone’s throw (ok, make that 6 stones) away from the LGA where we were. I and a friend took a shuttle where we met a lot of other corpers waiting in line…already.
What’s ‘corper-ship’ without queue?
We were asked to put down our names after which we waited for a brief announcement where we were officially told that we would be participating in the general elections as adhoc staffs. As a number of us started to murmur, the speaker immediately added that it was mandatory and tried to persuade us saying that we didn’t need to worry about our safety and that we would be paid. By paid, he actually meant stipends that were tagged things like ‘bicycle allowance’ meaning transportation money, and feeding. However, a number of us didn’t participate in the end even despite all the threats. It really wasn’t actually compulsory though. I was interested, regardless.
So the election duty kicked off the following week with those of us who showed interest being stationed at different registration centres where we distributed voters’ cards to the recipients. This was something we had to do up until the week before the elections. It wasn’t the way it was planned from the onset but as the election day drew nearer, due to stats showing a large discrepancy between cards given and cards still in the commission’s possession, and the other reason mentioned initially, the election day had to be postponed by about six weeks. This was also done in a bid to fulfill a fair election.
Working with INEC was actually another major event that took me away from the boring CDS of NYSC. So every Friday and Saturday, when morning came, I would dress up in my khaki and leave for the INEC office where I would be handed my box full of voters’ cards. I would then proceed to sign in.Not signing in upon arrival meant no stipend for the day, as payment was made at the end of each day after we had the remaining cards returned, if any. Mind you, even before we were handed the cards, we were made to sign an undertaken drafted by the court of law which said something about getting arrested if any electoral material in our possession was tampered with (don’t worry, I didn’t need to get my lawyers. It was written in plain English and I understood that I wasn’t signing my death warrant or anything like that). In all sincerity, I was scared a little…just a teeny weeny bit, not enough to make me withdraw from participating.
Distributing the voters’ cards was quite an arduous task, in my opinion, and it wasn’t because of the droves of people who came out and more than often rushed to collect their cards, it was rather because of the difficulty that came with ‘managing’ the crowd. I mean doing this meant tolerating different ‘peoples of the world’.I’m talking ALL SHADES OF CRAZY. I didn’t mind though. Sometimes I just laughed at the way they would often push themselves like babies. Meanwhile, these were full grown adults–peoples’parents. There was a day when they raised their voices at me for not been on time (which wasn’t my fault. No, really). I had to make them understand that there was a delay at the office and assured them that the only reason why they wouldn’t get their card would be simply because it wasn’t in my possession. So I redirected those who fell in that category to the INEC office. There were days when that would work and then there were times when it seemed as though they had made up their minds from home not to cooperate.
On such days, I had Abraham who would calm them down on my behalf. You see, after a couple of weeks spent distributing cards, I had made a number of acquaintances who appointed themselves my P.A of some sort. Abraham became the main P.A. He was in his late 20s and I must say, he really came in handy. It was good having him around to keep ‘his people’ in check. I figured they were his people since he knew practically everyone who came around for their cards.There were days when just as i was packing up to leave for the INEC office, I would have someone rush up to me, requesting and sometimes begging to collect their card. I really couldn’t turn them down. I would then unpack, sort their card and tick their names in the register. Yet again, there were days when it was a no-no. We were actually given a report back time by the officials, so my decision to stay back was determined by the time. If I checked the time and it was already getting too late, I would ask the person to check back the next day.
During the pre-election period, some of us actually got lucky to meet ‘the generous at heart’-those who often gave gifts ranging from money to food, just as a token of appreciation. Some felt the need to do this because of the stress and disappointment they were faced with in collecting their cards, same reason why some people never even bother to come around for their cards. A close ally who was also participating, after meeting back at the INEC office, would tell me how much ‘token’ she had received at the end of each day. There was even one time she received a hot plate of pepper soup. And this was recurrent. Meanwhile, I never got anything. As each day passed, I started to think she had some sort of lucky charm following her and the annoying part of it was that she barely gave out cards. Some days, she would indicate giving out just two cards whereas in my case, I would get nothing after giving out up to 70+ cards.
LOL! Is this life not a HOT pot of beans?
After about a month dedicated to sharing cards, it was time for the training proper. We were expected to attend several scheduled meetings in which we were taught how to use the Smart Card Reader as well as given general election knowledge.
In it contained all the essential elements of a successful electoral process which included tips, instructions and guide for the general election activities/conduct. The election week was the ‘happening week.’I remember on several occasions where we would get notified by a contesting party, requesting to see all corpers. On one of such request, we were offered sits and addressed after which they handed us ‘gifts’ (I’m sure you know what is meant here) saying they appreciated our spirit of service which was demonstrated in our participation in the election. shior! They were using scope to bribe.
I wee chop the money and still do my job as it should be done. After all, it’s national cake meant for all of us that you are giving me a tiny portion from. We would walk out smiling, calling our friends who were unaware of the invite to come collect their own portion of ‘the national cake’.
Weeks before the election, we were asked to frequent the INEC office in order to get information on the centre we were to each preside. As a rule, all corpers were made Presiding Officers of their polling units. This, I came to understand, was because the commission felt that way they were able to hold someone accountable should in case electoral materials got missing. This therefore made all other participants (non-corpers) report to the corper placed above them.
From my perspective, INEC was quite disorganized towards the election day. On the eve of the election, I remember roaming about the office searching for my name and polling unit up until it was late in the evening. The crowd was massive.
They had pasted the information quite later than expected. Meanwhile, by now I had already gone home and packed a few things to stay at a friend’s place at Festac. I decided it was better to do so since my unit, Agboju in Festac, was farther from home. No need risking leaving home too early and heading to the unit. After having spent time locating my unit, I found it. Myself and all those allocated to the same polling unit area were expected to report to a school compound (it was one of the Govt sec schools) where we would pass the night against the election day. Their reason was to prevent any delays in conducting the election. Upon arrival at the school compound, thinking we would have beds to ourselves or at least mats, to my surprise, we were going to pass the night on the bare sandy floor. It was utterly distasteful and annoying because we had been assured of ‘proper accommodation’. Not cool. I couldn’t turn back now. I had already made the firm decision to participate except of course if the risk was too obvious to ignore.
Some others left soon after to lodge at nearby hotels while others who had friends/relatives within the area passed the night there. For the rest of us, the floor was our bed. So I slept that night on the bare floor, under a tree, with its branches poking my back. Such discomfort! All for you, Nigeria.
I tossed and turned till dawn when the Electoral Officer of the polling zone summoned us and made an announcement. It was about 6am-the day was finally here for the Presidential/National Assembly election. In no time, we freshened up (not baffing tinz o, just brush teeth and wash face) and took turns (indeed) to get our electoral materials which consisted of markers, collapsible ballot boxes, pens, stamp, tons of forms differentiated by a unique combination of letters & numbers, ballot papers, just to mention a few.One would think collecting the materials was one easy thing. We literally had to drag materials with other teams. Each Polling Team consisted of four members with distinct duties. My team members were great to work with.
Apparently, the electoral materials weren’t even enough.
By the time it was 8am, which was the time slated for the voting process to commence, the officials had already began announcing that we move out to our various polling units. Like this was our fault. I just couldn’t understand what was going on at this point. Thankfully, my teammates and I were fast enough to get through the crowd to grab all the essentials listed in the manual. A couple of minutes after 8am, we were well on our way to our unit, conveyed by a bus hired by the commission. It wasn’t much of a distance from the school compound but for safety reasons, particularly to avoid a hijack of the materials by political thugs and whatnot, the ride was necessary.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a few of the electorates and election observers. We then proceeded to unpack and setup the various voting points as described in the manual. I tested the card reader as well, more like a calibration. Election took off minutes after with accrediting the voters’ cards presented to us by the electorates. This was necessary to prevent counting the votes of fake voters’ cards (cards not issued by INEC), after which we proceeded with the election itself which of course involved handing out the ballot papers to each voter as they stepped up to us and directing them to the voting point where they were expected to thumbprint the paper before folding neatly and placing into the ballot boxes.
As the election continued, we soon had issues with the card reader-it stopped reading. I knew we had to get it fixed and fast so as to prevent postponing the election for my unit. We had been briefed earlier that in an eventuality that the card reader develops a fault, we should send it back to the INEC officials for a replacement, but if they were unable to either fix it or get a replacement, we would have to conduct the election the following day. I didn’t like the sound of that, one bit–conducting election on a Sunday? No, please.
As soon as the card started acting up, I immediately sent one of my team members to take it to the office as instructed, while I addressed the electorates as they were already beginning to murmur and become disorderly. Dealing with people is a really big deal. I really had to try and manage the situation till they were calm again. Soon after, we began to hear reports from other units about their card readers not working too.
Even with the postponement of the election, INEC still wasn’t quite ready?
After about almost an hour, my team mate returned with the card reader saying he met a technical officer who rectified the problem. You can imagine the relief I felt. So we resumed the election and by 2:00pm we were done with it.
Now, the main work had just begun- the documentation.
There were numerous forms which we were expected to sign, stamp and file. It included forms stating the number of ballot papers used and unused, number of electorates turnover and things like that. Another major task which we had to really checkmate was making sure that our records of the number of electoral materials handed to us and those used up tallied. If they didn’t, we had some serious explaining to do. So that too scared me a little but from the onset, I made sure to state everything clearly.
After counting the votes, we then announced the results and in my unit, the current ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) won the election. We packed up after documentation and headed back to the school compound for submission. Back there, we met a number of other teams who had arrived earlier, awaiting the arrival of the Collation Officer whom we were to submit the results to. I proceeded to submit the electoral materials left to the Supervisory Polling Officer and joined in the wait. It was quite frustrating waiting under the sun hot, knowing I couldn’t just leave without ‘proper handover’ (My team mates could leave though). At about 4pm, she arrived. We were now on a queue to make our submission. This took longer than expected as people ahead of me who had issues in tallying the report were made to correct their mistakes on-the-spot or face court query. I just wondered why she didn’t just ask them to go back and try again later. Instead she kept the rest of us waiting.
The wait was too real. Some of us even cried. It was that serious.
Standing for hours just to make my submission was where the real work was, I soon realized. I kept checking the time because after last night’s experience sleeping on a bare floor, I thought it wise to stay at my friend’s place who lived in Festac. Although it was farther from the school, at this point, it was anywhere but here. At about 10pm, there were only 3 people ahead of me and soon enough I successfully made my submission. It was really late by now and after seriously second-guessing myself, I chose to leave the school and flagged down the first biker I saw. It was almost 11:30 by now. After passing through a lonely, dark road, I arrived at my friend’s place. I met her mom and siblings in the sitting room who gave me a really warm welcome. I was so tired. I don’t think i have ever been that tired…ever. They served me food and water which I readily ate and gulped like a hungry lion. My friend was yet to return home and it was almost midnight. Soon after, I managed to walk to her room and dozed off. I was so deep into sleep that I didn’t notice when she got back. By the next morning, I took my bath and was on my way back home.
The Gubernatorial election which was held on the 11th of April had the same process. At the end of it all, I was really glad to have participated in the National General Elections.
LESSONS I LEARNT FROM THE EXPERIENCE
Regardless of some let-downs by the commission, the experience overall was a good learning opportunity so I thought to also share a few of the lessons that came with it. They are;
- Working with INEC demystified the entire election process. Yes, it was only after working as an adhoc staff with the commission that I realized it wasn’t really a big deal after all because before now, I used to think it was something that only highly trained people were assigned to do. Definitely not corpers.
- I think it helped me develop better people skills as well as improved my communication skills. I learnt how to relate with even the most aggresive person in a gathering. They can’t kill you, don’t worry.
- When someone tells you they will provide accommodation, don’t relax just yet. Try to first find out what they mean by the word ‘accommodation’ and see if it tallies with your own understanding of the word.
- Election work in Nigeria is not for the faint-hearted. Don’t even try it o. Although participating was kinda a secret dare to myself, I’m glad I didn’t regret it…totally.
A small GLOSSARY
Ballot papers- a long slip containing all parties contesting in the election.
Collation Officer- someone who collates all results from a specified polling area.
Electorates- people who came out to vote.
Electoral Officer- the head of the Commission’s office in an area council.
Electoral process- activities carried out in steps during election.
Election Observers- people (domestic and foreign) appointed by respective organizations and accredited by the commission to observe the elections. Journalists are included and party agents.
Poling Team- a set of four people assigned to a polling unit.
Polling Unit- a designated location where registered voters cast their votes on election day.
Presiding Officer- someone in charge of all activities at a polling unit on election day.
Smart Card Reader- electronic device used to verify the biometrics of an electorate.
Supervisory Presiding Officer- supervises the conduct of poll in a cluster of polling units.
(Source: INEC official manual for the 2015 General Elections)
The experience in general was really expository which was an avenue to test my strengths. It literally pushed me to my limits.
Have you ever worked with INEC? How was your experience in a nutshell? For those who haven’t, from what you have read, do you think it’s something you would like to try? Feel free to share below. I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading!