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#NigeriaDecides2023: My Ogun state election observation diary

There is more than meets the eye in Nigeria elections because desperate politicians who do not have a stronghold sometimes resort to violence. Politicians also have the upper hand due to the number of impoverished Nigerians willing to sell their votes for as little as loaves of bread, raw rice and N2000.

The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) deployed me to observe the 2023 Nigeria general election and the March 18 gubernatorial election in Ogun state’s Ogun Central senatorial district. 

Although I was apprehensive due to the volatile situation of Nigeria elections, I recalled the safety precautions taught by the Centre and put on a brave front. 

For the February 25 general election, I was to observe six Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the Ogun Central senatorial district. This required a careful mapping out of territories prone to attacks to ensure safe election coverage. 

Recall that a few months before the elections, there was a reported attack on the Abeokuta South office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Ogun State which was set ablaze. This prompted the need to be extra careful during the observation. 

The evening before the election, I toured a part of the capital city to observe the preparedness of INEC and electorates. Not surprisingly, a few of those I interacted with feared disruption of the elections due to perceived violence. This resulted in panic buying because the Kuto, Omida and Sapon markets were filled up and rowdy.

Election day activities

Early on election day, my motorcyclist, Mr Damilare, called to tell me that he could not move from his location to pick me up because he feared being beaten up by the soldiers stationed a few kilometres from my hotel. Because he did not have the observer sticker that should grant him free passage, I had to find my way to him. 

Throughout the exercise that day, there was relative peace in the polling units of the three LGAs I visited: Obafemi Owode, Abeokuta North and Abeokuta South. Meanwhile, polling units in Obafemi Owode LGA started accreditation and voting late because of a delay in the deployment of election materials.

The general election ended on a good note at the local governments I observed, and I looked forward to observing the March 18 gubernatorial elections in two weeks. 

For the March 18 exercise, I decided to cover the other LGAs in my senatorial district that I could not visit during the general election.

Unfortunately, this observation exercise went less smoothly than the last. At about noon, my motorcyclist and I were detained by officers of the Lafenwa police station. However, we had proper means of identification and an observer sticker on the motorcycle. They tore off the sticker from the bike, and the officers told me to continue my work without the motorcyclist. 

It took the intervention of a senior colleague and Mr Ademola Orumbo of The Nations newspaper to release the motorcycle. 

Shortly after our release, I found a way of fixing the torn pieces of the sticker back together to prevent further harassment. 

As I continued my observation, I noticed that cash scarcity reduced vote buying. However, this only partially deterred vote buying because party agents could buy votes with the mobile transfer.

Just as I arrived at the Ake area of Abeokuta South LGA at about 4 pm, there was tension in the polling units. They had just learned about armed men on bikes stealing ballot boxes at targeted locations. 

To ensure safety, the security officers present instructed the INEC officials to get their materials in preparation for immediate evacuation in case of any attack. Meanwhile, the sorting and counting of ballots continued. The significant consequence of these abnormalities is that Nigerians have lost trust in the electoral system.

Regrettably, elections in Nigeria have yet to mature to their full potential, and there is still much to be done by the Electoral Commission. The Voter Education department of INEC, the National Orientation Agency, political actors, and relevant stakeholders also have a role in driving the electoral system towards the path to maturity.

DISCLAIMER: This story has been published on Campus Reporter with minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author.

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