We set out on Friday the 8th of March to monitor the proceedings at the Ward 7 Registration Area Centre, RAC at Mushin local government area of Lagos State. Since the state government had declared that there were no public holidays on the eve of the March 9 governorship and House of Assembly elections, everywhere seemed busier than the February 22, the eve of the presidential and National Assembly elections that took place two weeks earlier.
We arrived at ward 7 RAC at Mobolate High School at around 6:30pm and observed the presence of INEC officials, the head of the RAC, Supervisory Presiding Officer, SPOs, and some security agents. There were few ad-hoc staff including the NYSC members compared to the number that was present at the same time during the presidential election.
We decided to speak with some of the few corps members present, on the possible reasons for the reduced number and they explained to us that many of their colleagues had backed out of the exercise for various reasons, such as delayed payment, violence and threats of reoccurrence. A Corp member told us that they had just started receiving payments for the presidential election, two weeks after. At that time, very many of them had not received anything.
The Corp member expressed fear of another possible payment delay for the coming election since they were just getting the payment for the presidential elections on that day. We were lucky to get the contact of one of the Corp members who backed out of the exercise. While speaking with her on phone, she told us that she withdrew due to fear of violence, having experienced one in the presidential elections.
“My Polling Unit was hijacked by thugs at Ojo Street, Mushin on the 23rd of February at 12 noon. They made away with the three ballot boxes, which they returned after 15minutes. They also brought some PVCs and authorized my Assistant Presiding Officer 1 to read them. The Police Officer that was stationed at my unit ran away leaving me and my APOs behind. They threatened to injure us if we did not continue with the election. To save our souls, we complied until my SPO came to our rescue, along with some soldiers. Despite all that I went through that day, I had to send my APO2 back to the polling unit to retrieve all the election materials back to the RAC. We later collated the results and submitted under much pressure. Eventually, it was cancelled,” she recounted.
At about 3am, there was some sort of uproar at the centre as the ad-hoc staff challenged their supervisor and head of RAC, demanding immediate payment of their allowances for the election that was just a few hours away, and those of the previous elections. A few Corp members also joined in the outburst as they threatened not to work if they were not paid. The noise and protests went on for about 20 minutes while security officials looked on. INEC officials, though reluctant to provide any money, asked the ad-hoc staff and Corp members to remain calm, promising that they would get paid at the end of the elections. But as pressure mounted, INEC officials decided to distribute a sum of N5, 000 to each of the protesters as part of their payment.
Distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive materials began at about 6am. It was observed at the centre that the ad-hoc staff were given incomplete non-sensitive materials. The materials – glue, indelible ink, marker pen, finger print pad, stamp pad, were later discovered to be leftovers from the presidential elections. Missing items and exhausted ones were not replaced. One of the ad-hoc staff was seen cutting the only available stamp pad into three pieces so that it could go round. While leaving the centre for the polling units, we also observed that each vehicle conveying the staff and the materials had no security agents to accompany them.
Voting was smooth and peaceful at unit 32, although the agents complained about low turnout of registered voters compared to the presidential elections. Some of the agents were seen ringing bells and calling people out of their houses to come out and vote, some even went to the extent of giving money to voters. One of the voters confirmed that a party agent paid N1, 000 and another N500. At some point, a voter had to raise her ballot paper to show one of the agents which party she voted for. The action was immediately challenged by the presiding officer.
At about 15 minutes to the end of polls, the card reader refused to record a voter’s card after scanning. After repeated trials, the voter was persuaded to leave the polling unit to avoid over-voting.