Apparently, 240 is a really large number. This was not obvious to me until I showed up at the Ilasan Housing Estate Polling Booth to discharge my civic responsibility to vote. This was the number of voters that were accredited in my polling station but to get this done, it was an uphill task.
The day started with a lot of optimism, it was the day that the change we so clamoured for as Nigerians would finally become a reality. I turned on the TV, listened to the situation reports coming in from around the metropolis and adjudged that it was safe enough for me to venture out of my cocoon. A little bit after 9am, I set out with a cold bottle of water for the 20 minutes’ walk to the polling station. Soon I crossed the Lekki-Epe Expressway which unlike its usual self was deserted. I didn’t have to look right nor left to cross the road to the other side where I continued my journey through to Jakande. There, right at the roundabout, were fierce looking armed soldiers with barricades around the road to bring to a halt any traffic.
Of all the ills of Jonathan, one cannot accuse him of unfair elections. He had the machinery of state well positioned to deal withviolence and trouble shooters, thus guaranteeing the freedom for the electorate to discharge their freedom of choice. Although, I am yet to grasp why we do restrict movement on election days. The event subsequent to Saturday, especially the continuation of the elections on Sunday with no restriction of movement, show that we can actually carry out an election without restricting movement.
I finally got to the station at around 9:50am, almost two hours from when the polls were supposed to have commenced. As at the time I got to the polling station, there were already sited not less than 50 people, all anxiously waiting for the electoral officers. The electoral officers, who had been announced would be at the various polling stations by 8am were nowhere to be found. There and then, for me, as with other individuals who took the discharge of their responsibility serious, the waiting started. It was to be a long wait. After about thirty (30) minutes, I got tired of waiting and took a walk around the neighbourhood. It was an effort geared towards getting to know where the exit points were, in case any untoward event were to happen later on. Talk of being anxious for nothing!
At about some minutes to twelve, they finally arrived – the electoral officers, in a Dando! We were expecting a set of electoral officers for our polling station, we got two (2) as if INEC was trying to compensate for the delays experienced so far. With the level of efficiency, usually associated with that group of God’s creation called the Snails, the two electoral officer parties set up at two different location and announced they were for Ilasan Polling Booths 004 and 005. With a level of rowdiness usually associated with catching a Molue in Lagos during the rush hours, we formed a queue. Utilising our voters cards we were asked to ensure we were queuing at the appropriate booth. I looked at my card and noted it is for polling booth 005 and joined the long line, so did many others. I glanced to my right, to look at polling booth 004 and was amazed that no one was on the queue there. Something definitely was wrong – were there people meant for polling booth 004 on our line 005?
It soon became apparent that no one will queue in front of polling booth 004 and the suspicion was raised that the electoral officers must have set up here in error. They were advised to relocate to a different area, about 10 minutes’ drive from our polling area, where someone identified as the location of polling booth 004. They were adamant, they refused.
Finally, the young lady who was the Polling Officer finally approached the queue. With a sense of humility, she apologised for their lateness which she said was due to logistic challenges around transportation. She announced that accreditation would commenced earnestly and that actual voting would start by 3pm. She also requested that the elderly, the physically challenged and those that were frail should form a different queue so that they could be attended to speedily.
Oh, by the way, we have not forgotten about the other set of polling officers that showed u and set up a different polling booth for ward 004. After several entreaties from all, the voice of reason eventually prevailed. Since no one had a voter’s card for ward 004 at this location, it suddenly dawned on them that it was probably true that they were at the wrong ward and so started unpacking their set up. Eventually they got into another Danfo and off they went, probably to the right booth this time around.
Nigerians were simply amazing. It was hot, it was humid. The putrid smell emanating from the open sewage was enough to deter any right thinking human being from continuing staying in this area. However, for us, this was not a deterrent. The odour from the perspiration of many on the queue won’t deter us as well. Neither was the rowdiness nor the tardiness of the electoral system, we were all united around a common purpose – we would vote and our vote would count! I remembered the national slogan that the late Professor Dora Akinyuli promoted while she was the Federal Minister for Information and Communication – Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation. It is really true except that we are saddled by bad leaders which had not made the “Great Nation” part of the slogan to manifest.
There was pushing and shuffling and of course a couple of those that were convinced that it was their birth rights to jump the queues began showing what type of animals and reprehensible human beings they were, not minding the fact that others have been generally patient on the same queue. By now, I had finished my only bottle of water and craved for more. I sought the understanding of those next to me on the queue – in front and at my back, and went looking for a bottle of cold drink. With my eyes focussed on the line, I took my drink and returned to the line, a little well refreshed.
Finally the accreditation started, and the shuffling and rowdiness became worse. With a dogged determination, I held my grounds. No one was allowed to join the line in front of me, I had gotten tired of those that had been jumping the queue. I finally got to the Assistant Polling Officer (APO), presented my card and my finger prints. Hurray, in my case, unlike the case of many, my fingerprints were recognised, my permanent voter’s card (PVC) was recognised as well. I got accredited, my left thumb was marked and I was out of the line. Now to wait for the voting, expected to start by 3:00pm. Those that could not be accredited were requested to wash their hands with detergent, apply talcum powder and retry their fingerprints with the machine. In most cases, there were no changes – they still could not be recognised. Unfortunately, the polling officers were not provided with the right forms to capture these exceptions and utilize manual verification methods for these teeming numbers. I knew that problem was brewing – the dis-enfranchisation of many.
By 3pm, the accreditation was still ongoing and the machine was rejecting the fingerprint of many more. At about 4pm, the verification exercise was completed and the polling officer announced that voting would commence. Those who could not be verified now requested to know how their case would be handled and the officer mentioned that they would not be allowed to vote. That started the trouble, as these teeming number of people then took the position that no one would vote. The young lady, the Polling Officer, by now was confused and at a loss on what to do. She desperately put a call to her bosses at INEC requesting for the dispatch of the exception forms.
By 4:30pm, the voting, promised to start by 3:00pm had not started. I gave up. It had become too much for me to bear. I had sacrificed much, a whole day wasted towards carrying out a very simple civic duty. By 4:33pm, I started walking back to my accommodation. I had walked for five (5) minutes when I reconsidered the issues. I can’t give up. No, not now. I had to see this to its end. I must vote! I turned and went back to the polling booth, to join the teeming populace of other Nigerians that have made up their minds that “enough was enough”.
I was back to the dilemma that faced the Polling Officer, the NYSC corp member, regarding what to do. After a long wait, common sense prevailed, we settled on a decision that voting should be allowed to commence for those that have been verified and for those that could not be verified, they would vote, once the exception forms are received. However, if the forms were not delivered, the vote would not be counted and the officers cannot leave with the ballot boxes.
For the corp members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), you just can’t place a value to the sacrifice and endurance of these young souls to the service of their country. They toiled, put at risk their lives and really endured the much they could which was contributory to the success of the elections. I doff my hat to them for their selfless sacrifice.
With this agreement, we joined the queue again, this time I was the second person on the line. However, there soon came elderly women and men and with compassion we allowed them to join the front of the queue. I was able to cast my vote finally at 5:20pm and felt relieved that I had finally discharged my civic duty. I could claim to have done my best to shape our collective future as Nigerians. I thought of waiting, to ensure that the votes were counted and recorded appropriately. I remembered that I still had a twenty (20) minutes’ walk back to my accommodation, my rational choice was to leave and allow others who were present to take over that responsibility of ensuring that our votes count. I left with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was happy that I did vote but on the other, I was unhappy at my inability to stay to get the result.
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