"Is this an election?", Part I, By Dr Muyiwa Enuaye

The question above is asked by my friend Muyiwa Enuaye, which he just sent me from Beinin with this introduction: “this is the story of how i voted on saturday. could you publish it on your blog”. Let him speak. —– Benin-City has been my home for the past six months so like a good citizen I registered to vote in Benin. Actually I come from another part of Nigeria and had lived in Lagos for four years before coming back to settle in Benin. I use the word coming back because I had nine years of medical school in the University of Benin (Uniben).

To register, I took a bus to the registration only known pooling booth four kilometers away at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). There are a number of secondary schools near me but after trekking and asking stupid question I had come to discover that registration was not taking place there. On Saturday the fourteenth of March 2007 I went to vote. I got there by 8.30 am to discover that there were over a hundred people and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had not come with voting materials. I got a place on the line and discovered that the centre had registered about five thousand people. I made this estimate after looking at the list displayed on the wall of the nearby police station; a friend was number four thousand and something. I familiarized myself with the party agents and the observers from St Albert’s Catholic Church Uniben.

An hour later a private car, a blue Peugeot 540, escorted by some policemen arrived on the scene. We were told INEC has arrived. At last, I thought to myself, I was going to vote. Little did I know that my voyage of discovery was about to start. The car parked and was quickly surrounded by agents, observers, cops and curious voters. After initial discussion two tables were arranged and two ballot bags, packs of ballot papers and two lists were brought out. Then the confusion started. We were asked to form another line because two pooling units, unit 22 and unit 23 were supposed to vote at UBTH.

The question was how does one know his unit? “Check the last three numbers on your voters” was the reply. Those in unit 22 had the delimitation number EDO/02/10/022 and EDO/02/10/023 was on unit 23. Later on a big argument started because there people in both units in both lines and none wanted to lose his/her relative advantage on the line. Then there was another argument, only unit 22 had been supplied with materials. The INEC officials told us they needed to go back to get clarifications for unit 23 and that they were going to supply units 24 and 25 with materials. Unit 24 was based in the hospital’s general practice clinic (GPC) and unit 25 was right in front of the house-officer’s residence (HOR).

That was not the final argument. A number of people who had registered to vote in UBTH were assigned to units 002, 016, 026 and 027. Where were these people supposed to vote? We asked the INEC staff and they had no idea. They did not have a list to even let us know where we were supposed to vote. One of them malevolently suggested that I go to Egor Local Government Secretariat to inquire. This was six kilometers away, with multiple military check points and movement restriction. As I was in unit 23, I offered my sympathy to my friends and I decided to wait for the materials. Thirty minutes later, I got a shocking report. Rumours started flying around that the INEC men had basically vanished after telling us there were going to units 24 and 25. It now dawned on me that something sinister was going on. The INEC car driven by a medical student, rather than drive through the hospital to the polling stations chose to use the longer route to GPC and HOR, this involved going out of the hospital going in a big circle. I decided to check for myself. After walking for five minutes I discovered there was no voting material in GPC or HOR. I now took the decision to follow this matter to the last. I walked from UBTH to Egor Secretariat to find out the missing units. I got there and there was no INEC Staff. The nearest polling station was at the nearby Uselu Secondary School and there were seven units. There was a unit 002 unfortunately the number was EDO/02/08/002. This meant it was in ward 08 while we where ward 10. After asking questions I tried to walk back home but my strength failed me and I paid a motorcyclist to take me home. On the way the cyclist stopped to see a friend and a rough looking young man insisted on joining us and I agreed reluctantly after getting some information from him. To prove he was genuine, he dipped his hand into his pocket to show me he was a voter. He actually had two voter’s cards, though I only saw the picture on one of them, and an Action congress sticker. I figured he was a thug on his was to secure votes. I also discovered that his unit was unit 006 and his polling booth was at Iyioba Secondary School. Also another polling station was at the Technical College a few hundred meters away. Both schools are about a kilometer from my house. This development surprised me because during registration these schools were not used. May be I did not inquire well. I stopped at home for a drink around 11.30 am and decided to find the missing unit. When I got to Iyioba Secondary School the same INEC vehicle had arrived. I discovered there was only one polling unit, unit 004. I left them and walked to the technical college and the INEC car breezed past me. The car was accompanied by a black Peugeot car. The car appeared to be a military car because it had tinted glasses and the tag for on the rear bumper used to hang the star of a general. The plate number and the tag where covered. They got there before me and from my location I saw that the black was conveying armed policemen. Please do not ask me the kind of rifles they were bearing. They stayed at the college briefly and drove down the road into ward 9. When I finally arrived an intern at UBTH who registered there told me an interesting story. INEC men told them that he was attacked on his way and the voting materials had been stolen. Thus the voters in unit 007 had been disenfranchised. Not being familiar with ward 9 I walked back to Iyioba School and I met them voting. INEC had supplied materials after I left. It appears the ballot box thieves in Benin were a bit reasonable. I then met my AC man and asked him where his unit was located. I also asked him where I could locate 002,016,026 and 027 and he had no reply for me. . Confused and sad, I took another motorcycle ride back to UBTH to see if things had improved. I now heard the story of the decade. According to eye witnesses, the INEC men dropped voting materials and said they were going to seek clarification on the other materials. Agents of opposition parties got into a vehicle to accompany them. Their car was stopped from driving behind the INEC car by policemen who insisted on searching them. While the search was on, another car stopped in front of the INEC vehicle and a group of men in police uniform jumped out and collected voting materials. By the way I should remind you of two facts; first the materials were in the boot of the car and secondly, this car had no INEC sticker or logo on it so any uniformed person could have mistaken the car for a private car. This theft happened at UBTH bus stop along the Benin-Ore Expressway. Another sinister fact is the selective stealing of polling materials. The implication of this is that only one out of four voting units voted in UBTH. If factor in the fact that many voters were posted to fake units and the fact that each polling station has about five hundred voters, you will arrive at the conclusion that only one tenth of UBTH voters got the opportunity to vote. It was rumoured that our ballot papers were in the home of the PDP Deputy-governorship candidate’s house. Some went to allege that thumb-printing had been going on since Friday night. Some curious men went there to demand for ballot papers but they were chased away by heavily armed mobile policemen. My story has not ended, In the University of Benin which is in Ovia North East Local Government, voting took place in one unit. The second unit started voting late by that time many disappointed voters had left. Later in the evening I ran into another set of election observers from St Patrick’s Catholic Church who covered wards 8, 9 and 10. None of them had a list of the units and none could locate units 001, 002,003, 005, 006, 008, 009, 010, 011, 012, 013, 014, 015, 016, 017 018, 019,020, 021, 026 and 027. The implication is that on the day of the April 21, these same people will not vote. It is a well known fact that UBTH and Uniben have voted consistently against the PDP. It is also known that Egor is the stronghold of the PDP’s running mate. It appears there was selective stealing of polling materials to favour the local bigwig. The implication is that the intellectuals in Benin-City were denied an opportunity to vote on Saturday. What happened in UBTH and Uniben on Saturday is a shame. This is definitely not how to conduct an election. Nb Muyiwa Enuaye is the penname of the author who is a medical personnel employed by the PDP controlled Federal Government in Benin-City Edo State Nigeria.

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