Being an investigative journalist and a photojournalist has always been my passion as a student of Mass Communication at the University of Maiduguri. This passion led me to volunteer in several media organisations in and outside of Borno state.
One of such organisations is the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), where I was privileged to serve as an observer in the recently concluded Nigeria general elections and the 18 March gubernatorial election.
After participating in a two-day pre-election training organised by the Centre on 21 and 22 February 2023, I was deployed to observe the polls in the Borno North Senatorial District.
Highlights from observing the presidential and House of Representatives elections
By 3 pm on Friday, 24 February, I embarked on a six-hour journey from Maiduguri to Monguno, the collation centre of Borno North and temporary election ground of some Registration Areas in the Marte and Kukawa Local Governments. The trip started after being delayed for hours to receive my media tag from Abuja.
A few kilometres into the journey, we were behind the convoy of vehicles transporting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and election materials deployed to Marte and Nganzai Local Government Areas. At about 6 pm, we arrived the entrance of Gajiram, the headquarters of the Nganzai Local Government. We, however, were denied entry by the military because curfew starts at 5 pm in that area.
After about three hours of negotiations between the security operatives attached to the INEC convoy and the military, we were granted entry into the town with clear instructions to sleep over and set out to Monguno by morning due to the insecurity.
By 9 am on election day, we arrived in Monguno with military escorts. I commenced my observation at Monguno polling unit 1 because it was the closest to the park.
I observed military patrol vehicles with armed personnel at the entrance and other strategic locations outside the polling units. The electorate peacefully exercised their franchise in the local government’s polling units.
By 12:17 pm, I left the Monguno local government for the Marte local government. Like Monguno, armed military personnel with patrol vehicles were at Marte’s entrance and strategic locations. Likewise, electorates peacefully cast their votes while some hung around to observe the process after casting their votes.
By 1 pm, I left for FGGC local government, where I also observed the presence of the military like in the previous local governments. Voting was ongoing peacefully, and after taking some notes and pictures, I left for Monguno’s polling unit 2, located at the Traditional Rulers Building Complex. There was also a heavy military presence, and I stayed there till voting ended at about 2:30 pm.
Soon after, I went to the collation centre to observe the collation of results, where I remained until Sunday, 26 February. I returned to Maiduguri the next day after the CJID discharged observers from the field.
My gubernatorial observation activities
Like in the presidential election, I observed the gubernatorial election in Borno North. On 17 March, I left Maiduguri for Monguno by 1 pm and arrived by 6 pm. After securing accommodation, I headed to the temporary lodge for INEC officials at the Marte local government to observe the situation. I met them heartily chatting and eating. I also went to other INEC lodgings in Kukawa and Monguno local government areas, and they were equally in high spirits.
Afterwards, I went to the district collation centre, where I noticed election materials being distributed to some of Monguno’s election officials. I took some pictures and notes and left.
I also surveyed some other areas in town before 9 pm. I noticed that many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had arrived from Maiduguri to vote in the next day’s elections.
By 7 am on election day, I left my lodge for Monguno Polling Center 1. Like in the presidential election, there was a military presence at all the polling units I visited, and voting started early.
Harassed by security operatives
At about 11 am, while trying to take pictures of the happenings at Kekeno, Ward 5 of Kukawa local government, I was arrested by a police officer attached to the polling unit and taken to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) for questioning.
Due to a lack of suitable network connectivity, I could not reach the CJID to prove my identity. The police officers seized my phone, identity card and notebook and tagged me as a criminal. After almost two hours and a series of questioning, the Election Officer (EO) of the Kukawa local government scanned my tag and sent it via WhatsApp to the INEC headquarters in Maiduguri for verification. The Head of Publicity confirmed my identity as an election observer, and I was freed. I left the Kukawa local government to Monguno PC 2 to continue my observation.
There also, I was detained by the military for trying to take pictures of voters coming out of the polling unit after casting their votes. After proving my identity, I was made to delete some of the images I had taken before being freed.
The major challenge I faced while observing the Monguno local government was the need for better internet connectivity to send my reports on time.
An important lesson I learnt is that it is essential to present oneself to authorities for recognition before commencing any place of assignment. My lack of introduction to the DPO, the Electoral Officer of Kukawa and the Head of the military patrol team at Monguno polling centre 2 warranted my harassment and obstruction of my duties.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must also orientate security personnel about who election observers are and their essential roles in elections.
DISCLAIMER: This story has been published on Campus Reporter with minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author.
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