For at least two months now, I have been trying to register to be able to vote come April 2007. I understood (rightly or wrongly) that you have to register close to where you live because that is the place where you would have to vote. I understood that being a no-movement day, you would be restricted to voting where you registered and no where else. That is reason I ignored the many voter registration centres I found that were not near my house. The problem was that I could not locate any close to my house.
Now, everyone knows that the registration exercise will end on Tuesday January 30, 2007, and so in the last one week my search for a place to register became more desperate. Almost everyday has seen me taking rounds around my block to no avail. And then finally, I decided to go to the Local Government Headquarters where they now directed me to where I could find a registration centre. I did find the centre but these insisted I go to one near my house, why according to them was in place at that moment. Taking their word, I went home to where they described and behold … they were not there! Next time, I repeated the cycle to no avail. Some days, I went out several times, hoping that if they were late in resuming, my later visits would find them. But as they say in this part of the world, Whosai! (meaning, You wish!). There was nobody!
One day after another, until today penultimate day to the end of the exercise. The Federal Government declared it a work-free day to enable people to register and so (though not a government worker myself), I decided that today had to be it! If the centre around my house did not come on other days, today should have been when they will ensure to be around, but no… again, they were not there. Okay, perhaps the local government officials will know where I can find one, and so I headed there. Not only was the local INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) office locked, the entire local government secretariat was deserted. It was later only at the nearby clinic that they told me where outside I could find a registration centre. I drove there to confront an alarming crowd of people on queue, waiting to register. Oh my gosh! Is this what I’m gonna face today? Undaunted, I joined the queue, a bit reluctantly, half intending to stay and to go away. I seemed to be the 20th of so person and as people had said the registration process was quick, I thought the wait wouldn’t be a long one. I was mistaken! Less than an hour into the wait, the queue hardly snaking forward, the first sign of trouble appeared. Whispers went round that the printer had run out of printing ink, but that an individual standing around had offered to donate one. That individual (a European from his looks) turned out to be one of the workers of the nearby Cool FM Radio Station.
In the meantime, they continued to print with the blurred ink. A little later, another time of hitch came up. The young man manning the registration computer stood up with the laptop, with the announcement that the batteries had run down. They had to go to charge the laptop, and it would take about an hour! Just about then, a Cool FM lady arrived with the spent printer cartridge, announcing that though they had ordered one from Ikeja (a two hour car trip), it would take an hour to arrive. So here we were waiting for both the laptop to be charged, and for the printer cartridge (donated by a good Samaritan) to arrive. Then I began seriously to consider how patriotic I really was. I mean, haven’t I tried? If I give up and don’t register to vote, can anybody blame me for not trying? Ok, since I had my car, I decided to drive to Lekki (all these was taking place at Victoria Island) to see if I would have better luck there. I needn’t have bothered. The extremely long queue I saw at the centre on Admiralty Way made the one of Ajose Adeogun (V.I), to be mere child’s play, so I returned. Nothing had changed so after dilly-dallying a while, I decided that enough was enough. I hadn’t yet made up my mind not to register anymore. My mind simply stopped functioning. I refused to think, I refused to decide. The only conscious decision I made was to leave! I had then the beginnings of a blinding headache, perhaps for having stood in the sun for a good time. I went home, tried to forget the morning and proceeded to have lunch.
After lunch, I had second thoughts. Voting is my civic responsibility, and who says that civil responsibilities do not come with some sweat. Could I in conscience give up the chance of voting because of having to queue for some hours? Can I then have the temerity to question any incoming government, when I had no part in bringing them to power? Even though some on the queue expressed scepticism that we may all just be wasting our time, because after all our votes may not count, because the politicians would rig the elections all the same, I believe there is an “enpowerment” in being able to cast your vote. It justifies any anger you would later express against the government, because you voted, and not only that, you suffered to vote. So at least for that reason, it was worth the effort. That was why I decided to go back. Luckily when I did, registration had resumed and more luck, the fellows at the head of the queue recognized me as having been there earlier, so my previous position was easily restored! Well, not before one lady there began to shoot off her mouth that I was not there earlier. Imagine my annoyance at her disbelief, considering the huge headache that was by then pounding my Mendula! Anyhow, I quietly told her that she could say what she wanted, but that I knew when I came. That was the end of the matter. And so, about three hours after joining the queue for the first time, I was able to be registered to vote. May God keep us till April 2007 to make use of this hard-earned franchise, and woe betide anyone who will try to deprive our votes of meaning by rigging the elections. Then Niger Delta will be child’s play!