2019 Polls: Exercise Marred By Late Arrival of Materials

Despite INEC’s assurances, voting materials still arrived very late at many polling stations

Eager voters overwhelmed polling officers who arrived late at many polling stations in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and Nasrawa State. Hoping that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had got the logistics right as its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, assured Nigerians and the international community, many voters arrived their voting points as early as 4a m and 5a.m. They hoped to vote when voting opened at 8 a.m. and were disappointed the electoral officers were not on location till several hours after voting was supposed to have commenced.

The worst hit may have been Nasarawa, a state that borders Abuja and is home to many workers in the Federal Capital.   In what many of the teeming voters saw as a deliberate plot to discourage and disenfranchise them, electoral officers were not at their stations at 8.00am as they should. By the time they arrived at the High Court polling unit 010 in Mararaba at 11.30 a.m. the throng of voters spontaneously rose in anger and challenged them. This led to a melee and security stepped in to save the day.

This polling has about 10 voting points and the turnout was overwhelming. Getting the process right after their very late arrival was a problem. The whole court premises ​was filled to the brim with dissatisfied angry voters. Those who could not find a space to stand milled outside. Many were hanging on the perimeter fencing. 

The queues were long. The voting process was very slow. Exhaustion struck and three women slumped and were rushed to the hospital. Yet voters insisted they must vote and that the votes must count.

Another polling unit in Mararaba, Midland, made of a cluster of about 10 voting points showed a similar chaos. The electoral officers arrived about 12 noon and could not control the crowd. Hundreds of voters struggled to vote and security men and women were helpless. Asked why they arrived late while the Karu Local Government was just a few minutes away, a presiding officer insisted they did not get the materials early enough to make the venue  by 8 a.m.

The Abuja voters were luckier. Only a few polling units had issues. Voting started as early as 8.30a.m in many polling centres and the organization was better. Polling centres were split into several polling points of about 150 voters each. This was the case at the Mogadishu Cantonment polling centre. As a result, they finished voting as early as 2.30pm.

The only dark spot was Asokoro Unit 011 where the electoral officers were not seen till 11.30 a.m. They later turned up with ballot boxes with already thumb printed ballot papers! The residents could not take that. They called INEC and there was a quick intervention. The Presiding Officer, claimed there was a mix-up in the location of the polling station. That the electoral officers had gone to another location they thought was the location. So many people had voted and gone when information got to them that they were at a wrong location. They also claimed those who voted earlier were duly registered voters in the same unit. TELL could not make an independent confirmation of this as at press time.

The security was good. According to the INEC chairman, there should be three policemen in a polling centre. However, some had up to seven policemen, plus a complement of Civil Defence operatives, customs and Road Safety. The policemen at the polling stations were not armed as promised but the armed tactical unit were seen nearby, patrolling.

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The soldiers were outstanding. Wearing yellow armbands, they manned the roads and were not seen in any polling station. They checked vehicles with courtesy and passed you once you had election tags or voters card, which showed you were going to vote. At Mogadishu Cantonment polling Centre, which is in a military zone and had a military check point by the polling centre, there was an uproar about an invalid vote which party agents and INEC officers could not agree on. The soldiers did not intervene; rather they allowed the Police operatives to handle it.

Another feature of the 2019 elections so far is the dawning consciousness of citizens that votes must count. At every polling station, married women, young girls stayed on after voting with papers and pens to watch the votes counted and recorded. At a polling station in Post Army Housing Estate, Kurudu, Abuja, women provided light with their cell phones for INEC officials to count and record the votes. In another polling unit, a good Nigerian supported the electoral officers with his car headlights for them to complete their work. Some bought sachet water and snacks for the presiding young National Youth Service Corps members. At this rate, it may be impossible to rig elections in Nigeria in a few years.

Early results from some polling units in Abuja showed that President Muhammadu Buhari (candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP) were running neck and neck with candidates like Kingsley Moghalu managing to get a few votes.

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