For the rest of us, the civic duty of voting is obligatory. We are at liberty to vote or to disenfranchise ourselves by staying at home on election day. On the other hand, for the National Youth Service Corp members assigned to be Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) adhoc staff at Nigeria’s elections, their disenfranchisement is automatic. However, the opportunity to participate in administering the voting process as an adhoc staff is consolation enough; or is it?
Feedback by corpers who were designated Presiding Officers (POs) and Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) of various polling units across the country regarding the recently concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections was marred with complaints of inadequate security and transportation. The experience of the corp members in Bende Local Government was not different.
In most wards in Bende, adequate security was not provided for the corpers and polling units. At most, an unarmed female officer was attached to a polling unit and in some cases, none at all was provided by Commission.
According to Corper Shittu, an INEC PO posted to Uzuakoli,
“We practically had no security. We were assigned just one unarmed police woman. Fortunately for us we had no issues at our polling unit but on our way back to the local government office, we got a security report that some PDP thugs had blocked the road ahead. To protect ourselves, my fellow corpers and I had to hide at a nearby police station until we were told that the thugs had left.”
Corper Amin, a PO posted to a polling unit in Item C said,
“Security? We had no security. We only had one unarmed female police officer. In fact, when things started to get rough and many thugs began to fight and break people’s heads, I was worried about protecting her.”
In Item A, a corper PO who spoke on condition of anonymity had this to say,
“At the polling unit, we did not have any security issues but on our way back, we were waylaid by armed thugs who demanded the election result sheets. Our SPO asked us not to give it to them. He instructed our bus driver to take us back to the local government office and because of that, the thugs detained him. A few minutes after we escaped the thugs, we started hearing gunfire around Item. It was a very scary experience”.
The corpers also experienced transportation issues and in several instances, they were stranded in remote villages. For example, voting commenced as late as 12:30 in Item A, Item B and Item C because on the morning of the election at the local government office, the three buses for those wards refused to move. The bus drivers cited issues with the transportation fees. They lamented that N15,000 naira would not suffice for them to convey the corpers to and fro their various polling units in the wards. It took the intervention of a politician who offered to pay for the balance of what the drivers were demanding before the buses could leave for the various polling units. As a corper witnessed, this politican later turned out to use it as leverage to demand result manipulation in his favour.
Asked what they would like to see different in the coming gubernatorial and house of assembly elections on March 9, Corper Amin said, “I would love it if at least one-armed Mobile Police Officer is assigned to my polling unit”. Corper Shittu had a similar request, “During our training we were told that we would get 2 police officers per polling unit. That did not happen. I would like to have the army and at least one mobile policeman protecting us at the polling unit because according to what we have heard, one of the political parties will be deploying a lot of armed thugs for the gubernatorial election.”
In the past, what was meant to be a noble democratic exercise have been marred by the avoidable deaths of youth corpers and innocent participants in our electoral process. Our corpers who have braved the odds to contribute to our democratic process in the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly Elections deserve the protection of the government in the coming gubernatorial elections. They should be afforded adequate security and mobility as they engage in their compulsory servitude of our fatherland.
We hope that the coming elections in Bende and indeed Nigeria will be different and conducted more peacefully and efficiently.