My Election Experience — A Drama
This is an account of my experience of the presidential elections in Nigeria, which took place on February 25, 2023.
I arrived at my polling unit around 9 a.m. There were 750 registered voters on the list pasted on a nearby half-container used as a shop. When it was around 10 a.m., the INEC officials arrived with 900 ballot papers: 400 for the House of Representatives, 400 for the Senate, and 100 for the Presidential election.
They insisted that accreditation and voting commence while assuring the voters, who had quickly formed a queue, that the rest of the ballot papers would be available in no time. As if on cue, the voters refused to commence accreditation until all the ballot papers for the 750 persons on the list were made available. They sensed foul play. We all decided to wait.
Two hours later, no extra ballot papers had been brought, and we did not see any of the officials make attempts to remedy the situation. Their body language appeared to convey the message that they could care less if voting took place. They told us the BVAS would shut down for accreditation at 2:30 pm, and it was in our best interest to commence accreditation. The crowd didn’t budge.
About an hour later, one of the more senior INEC officers, who was on an okada, saw the crowd and asked what the problem was. He was unhappy that no attempt was made to get extra papers from the other polling units with excess. He volunteered 400 ballot papers for the presidential election and was on his way. This was around 1:00 p.m.
We were divided into three lines — one for males, another for females, and the last one for the elderly. The elderly would go first. So the voting started. Not too far after the voting started, a fight broke out. An elderly man had been given the three ballot papers. As he attempted to put his inked index finger on the paper, he sighted one of the area boys (community louts) peeping into his cubicle. He stopped and asked him for privacy. The elderly man told the INEC officials that the positioning of the polling booth would make anyone behind him glimpse as he casts his vote. This, he wasn’t comfortable with. The area boy refused to move, saying no one has the power to command him in his land.
(For context, in Lagos, there are those who call themselves omo onile (the indigenes). They consider those from other tribes who come from all over the country intruders. The elderly man is from another tribe.)
The elderly man refused to cast his vote. The crowd was becoming agitated at this point and urged the area boy to move. He refused. A guy on the queue approached the area and urged him to move away. The area boy saw it as an affront and threw the first punch. The guy returned it. Both grabbed each other in a bid to destabilize their legs.
The crowd drew back.
The other area boys moved to assist their guy. Some in the crowd rallied to the other guy’s side.
The ballot boxes tumbled.
The atmosphere became chaotic.
It was not until the chairman of the landlord’s association intervened that calmness returned. Throughout this time, there were no security personnel on the ground. Shortly after the fighting incident, INEC officials said the BVAS machine had run out of charge, and we had to be moved to another polling unit where the machine would be charged so that voting could continue. One point of concern I had was whether such a move was right and whether the already cast votes would be valid at the end of the voting process. However, I suspected that the INEC officials were looking to move to a place with security agents for safety’s sake.
Well, we moved to another polling unit, and voting started in earnest. It was getting to around 5:00 pm at this point. After four people had voted following my turn, at around 5:10 pm, the area boys decided to halt the voting process. By this time, the area boys in the new polling unit had joined those from our previous polling unit, making a total of around 30 boys who were visibly armed.
The INEC officials were bewildered. The crowd, still numbering around 110, filled the air with protestations, but the area boys challenged anyone to come closer and face the consequences. While the INEC officials were still wondering what was happening, the area boys gathered around the INEC officials. After some minutes, the PO announced that voting had to be stopped because they had run out of ballot paper and also for security reasons. The PO was reminded that 500 ballot papers were given, and the number of people who had voted was not close to that figure. He shrugged.
The policeman among them appealed to us to allow the voting to stop because it was the best action under the circumstances. When he was asked why the INEC officials cited concerns under his watch, he looked at the questioner as if she was crazy.
The voting was thus forcefully stopped, and the counting was done.
Here are the results for the presidential election:
ADC — 2
APC — 39
LP — 51
NNPP — 4
PDP — 13
ZLP — 1
Voided votes — 7
The Area Boys were clearly for the APC candidate who is from their tribe and has been quoted in numerous media outlets as their benefactor. They kept repeating ethnic slurs and chanted for the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate. They also sensed that the elderly ones (being their tribesmen) would vote for their candidate. I perceive that is the main reason they asked the elderly ones to go first. Most of the people on the queue who were prevented from voting are young and upwardly mobile. They also cut across various tribes. From interactions with them, they tilted strongly to the candidate from the Labour Party (LP). Unfortunately, they were prevented from voting, which would have increased the gap between APC and LP.
That’s my experience. Many of my friends from other units shared experiences of voter intimidation, violence, and outright snatching of ballot papers by these Area Boys littered around Lagos.