The Sun correspondent shares herculean personal experience, as Nigerians line up to be part of voting process in next year’s elections
By Cosmas Omegoh
In Lagos State, obtaining the temporary voter cards – a qualifier to vote in 2019 elections – is a feat. Many who succeed in getting the prized items sometimes celebrate the ‘victory.’
At the moment, there is an ongoing voter registration exercise across the country. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has mounted a continuous voter registration (CVR) campaign, which it hopes would accommodate as many as do not have the permanent voter card (PVC) and those who turned 18 years between the last general election in 2015 and now.
But the would-be voters seeking to be registered are having a hard time in their bid to obtain their PVCs, as the road has increasingly been rougher by the day, marked by twists and turns.
It was against this backdrop that the reporter set out to see how it feels to get registered and be eligible for the 2019 polls.
This effort was motivated by a recent list trending on various social media platforms purportedly released by INEC, spelling out various registration centres in all the local government areas in Lagos State. In Surulere Local Government Area, where this reporter lives, Sanya Grammar School, Sanya, was one of the venues.
So, in the mid-morning that fateful day, I set out in search of the venue nearest to me, eagerly desiring to be registered. The first place I hit was Sanya Senior Secondary School. After minutes of fruitless search, no student, no teacher or resident knew if there was an ongoing voter registration exercise in the area. Then I turned into Sanya Grammar School, which shares the same compound with the other school. Again, no one I met seemed to know anything about the exercise.
Then down the road, a resident advised me to approach the Sanya Police Post nearby, perhaps the police would know. At the facility, two police officers sitting on a bench appeared to be waking up from a midday slumber, as my inquiry sounded strange to them. To get me on my way, one of them told me to check the road leading to Aguda.
As I strolled away, weak in body but strong in spirit, I was determined to discover the mystery venue that no one seemed to know. Then I chanced on a resident.
“Where is the venue of the ongoing INEC continuous voter registration exercise sir,” I asked. Taking a detailed look at me to be sure he was not dealing with a fraudster, and still unsure of whom he was dealing with, he pointed towards Itire-Ikate Local Council Development Area (LCDA) secretariat a long way away. “You may go there and find out,” he said, walking away.
The road leading to the council area was unpaved. When I arrived at the secretariat, a fairly-large compound hosting a number of buildings, I went straight to a receptionist who had her office at the entrance to one of the buildings: “Where is the venue of the continuous voter registration exercise, ma?” She seemed to have a ready-made answer.
“Go to Surulere LGA,” she said, appearing not in any mood to say anything more.
By then, it was about 1pm, so I decided to call off the search, in the interim.
Next day, I resumed the campaign. At about 10am, I arrived at Surulere LGA. At the gate, a guard directed me to the INEC office on Babajide Street, a shouting distance away.
The venue, which, on an ordinary day, would be sombre, was burstling with people. When I tore through the human maze, I waltzed my way into a large, rectangular room, where the registration was going on. There were nearly 100 people.
Some were restive, apparently unhappy with the slow pace of the registration. The INEC workers seemed overworked, having had to deal with a growing number of people that had besieged them lately.
I stood for minutes observing proceedings. Having chosen the right person to talk to, a young man in his early 30s who seemed to be carrying files around, I gently meandered through the web of applicants surrounding him.
“I’m here to obtain my temporary voter card sir.”
“I’m sorry we cannot accommodate you today. You may come back tomorrow as we have more than enough people to be attended to today,” he said, sounding restless, sharp and straight.
As I made to leave, my eyes fell on a notice on the board. I discovered that there was another venue at Erinoso Primary School at Johnson Bus Stop, along Ijesha Road. It was a lot closer to me. So I headed straight to the place.
It was approaching 2pm when I reached the school. The exercise was going on there truly. A large number of people were there. The sun was beating down with fury; but the INEC workers were sheltered under a canopy.
“I’m here to be registered to obtain the temporary voter card, ma,” I announced to one of the workers, a woman.
She burst out laughing, “Oga, you may have to come back tomorrow. We already have a large crowd to attend to.”
Next day, someone in the neighbourhood, who was also eager to obtain her card, told me that INEC officers were coming over to Duro Odoyin Primary School on Duro Odoyin Street about a kilometre from my residence. So I was elated. The officers, we were told, were rotating the exercise among the venues chosen for the old Surulere LGA. They were spending an average of eight days at each.
Two days later, I hit the Duro Odoyin Primary School venue, confident that I was going to be attended to. But I was wrong. At about 10am, a large crowd was there; people were seated everywhere they could find shelter. Three INEC officers sat under a canopy attending to people. Then someone drew my attention to a paper where everyone wishing to be attended to penned their names. The idea was to avoid disorderly conduct. As I bent over to add my name to the list, I discovered that the last name on the list was number 148. So, I became the 149th person. More people kept arriving, among them friends I hadn’t seen in a long while.
As we inched closer to the registration table, the leader of the INEC team, a woman who appeared to be in her early 50s, bellowed: “If you know that you number lies somewhere above 100, you may have to go home and come back tomorrow as we cannot attend to you all today.
“The computer machine we have here can only capture an average of 50 persons a day. But if you have nothing doing at home, you may stay back and keep us company.”
Later, one of the staff expressed frustration, saying: “We were not here the other day because we didn’t have money to buy petrol to fuel our car. This work is tedious, but we’ve had to try to satisfy as many of you as we can. As INEC staff, we have to ensure that we are diligent enough, unlike in those days when NYSC members were doing the job for us.”
As I stepped away from the centre, I overheard a girl in the crowd relating her ordeal in obtaining the elusive card.
“I arrived here at 6:15am this morning but could only register my name as the 57th person on the list. If I succeed today, I would be happy,” she said.
The girl’s narrative gave me the impression that for me to beat the crowd, 5am was the ideal time to be around. I was right.
As early as 5:10am the next day, I arrived at Duro Odoyin Primary School. Right at the gate stood four youths. They were congratulating one another for being there that early. I registered as the fifth person. We waited for 30 minutes as more and more people kept arriving. We wanted to ensure that no other person came up with an alternate list. At some point, a lad volunteered to guard the list until the INEC officer arrived.
“I have had my bath; I’m ready; I will stay here today until the INEC officer arrives,” he said.
At 7:45am, I was back at the venue. By then, the number on the list had grown to 97. Everyone waited eagerly. Then at about 9:45am the rhythm at the arena changed. It was like a sweet breeze had blown.
But it was some INEC officers that had arrived. It was like they caused the sun to beam its rays on the arena. They were three in number – a female and two males. The same woman I earlier met was still looking like their leader; she had authority in her words. Settling down, she showed that she had no courtesy in her lexicon. No apologies for coming late, no pleasantries extended to the body of persons waiting for the team. After announcing a few rules, she committed to business.
First, she gave out the forms by calling out people whose names were on the paper handed to her. At that time, 148 persons had signed up. Later arrivals wrote their names on another piece of paper.
After filling the forms she handed out, each person proceeded to identify the polling booth nearest to them. From there, we moved to the bio data capture rituals. After that, what a joy it was to see the temporary voter card roll out from the printer!