The Vote Of Their Lives
The elections were postponed for a week, at the last minute, at the height of anticipation. And, the people waited. Amid warnings and threats, they waited to cast their votes and choose their future.
Finally, Saturday, the 23rd of February 2019, dawned. Many were up before the sun, eager to exercise their rights. Armed with their PVCs (voter identification card), their fingers eager to thumbprint, they headed to their designated voting centers. They were however confronted by late arrival of voting materials, late arrival of election officials, incomplete numbers of ballots, non-availability of indelible ink and non-functioning card reader equipment. With a little maneuvering and make-dos some of these set-backs were in some cases circumvented, and where it could not be, elections were extended—again.
How INEC could still have problems with timely arrival of officials, completeness of election materials and functionality of equipment after four years of preparedness and one week of postponement is incredible to anyone but those who are satisfied with mitigating mediocrity with excuses, which is where Nigeria perpetually finds itself. In more than ten years of conducting elections Nigeria has still not gotten to a stage when the process can be smooth, safe and fully credible.
The number of polling units in the different local governments, one would assume, was known to the electoral commission, months, no, years in advance. The number of eligible and registered voters surely was also known for weeks if not months in advance. The traffic patterns in the roads leading to the different polling units were known, and if not should have been studied to ensure timely arrival of electoral officers and polling materials.
In the weeks leading up to the elections there was a report in the news of how many people had collected their PVCs and hence were ready to vote. The number of individuals assigned to each polling center was known ahead of time. How is it then that in some centers the electoral officials arrived with fewer ballots than the number of voters assigned to the center? Are Nigeria and its electoral commission incapable of preparing for and conducting an election?
After all the delays, insufficiencies and inadequacies, the ever accommodating citizens got in line, standing under the hot sun, patiently, to eventually cast their ballots. In several centers however, no sooner did the citizens cast their ballots than did lawless individuals, purportedly political thugs, show up to snatch the ballot boxes, burn the votes or inflict mortal injuries on the voters. Soon, an exercise in civic rights became a war zone and a killing ground. Across the country, on this Election Day alone, tens of people have fallen: killed in gunfire exchange with the police, shot by soldiers or stoned to death when they reportedly tried to disrupt the election in some way or the other. But not all who lost their lives were involved in any form of disorder, according to witnesses. The innocent died with the thugs.
Political thuggery has become a thing in Nigeria. Politicians equip these malefactors for their own use and empower them to massacre their fellow citizens. And are these politicians ever held responsible for this? Of course not, since they are answerable to no one, since the judicial system is hopelessly broken and justice is sold to the highest bidder. Hence election after election, regime after regime the scepter of lawless and rigged elections hang over Nigeria and we have need for elections observers from outside the country to come and observe our elections—to ensure they are credible. It would seem then that we are not capable yet of independently running our affairs—an unfortunate but true indictment, it would seem.
So, it is unfortunate that those who go to cast their votes in Nigeria cannot guarantee their safe return. And even now with elections not yet concluded, as we await the results, many will await the burial of loved ones.