On Thursday, 27th of January, Agnes (not real name) woke up at 3:30am and quickly went through her morning ritual. Her normal wake up time was around 5.30, so understandably, she was yawning like a hungry lion in a Kenyan safari. Despite this, her movements took on a hint of urgency, and then, by 4:00, a hint of hysteria. She hurried out of her little apartment in Lugbe, and walked at a brisk pace, worried because of the dark and the lack of human activity on the dirt road from her house to her destination.
She breathed a sigh of relieve when she finally got to the corner store about 15 minutes later- she had met no drama on the lonely road, and there were only 5 people (3 men and a woman) standing around the store. She made small talk with them while signing her name on a list one of the men was holding. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so she made herself comfortable on a concrete slab, jacket wrapped around her, waiting for daybreak and the INEC representatives that were to register her so she could vote for the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan.The Nigerian voters registration has been plagued with problems from the get go. Nothing much was reported to have gone wrong during the planning stages, but from current events, we have to conclude that several things did. I can’t say much about other cities, but in Abuja, if you wanted to get registered, you got to the registration site at around 4:00am and waited. If you decided to go back home and come back at 7:00/8:00am, you ran the risk of finding a whole other list, and so, you were back to square one.
Now don’t ask me why the list business came up at all. Why didn’t people just line up upon arrival? The list was simply complicating issues and giving people the opportunity to ask for bribe- notably the policemen and civil defense staff that were sneaking names into the list, or tearing earlier made lists up.
Then of course, is the problem of the Digital Data Capturing machines themselves. Most of them didn’t work. And if they did, you could bet on about 30 entries a day. A lot of people were on the line for 3 days. Last week, a girl fainted. Another was on the line for hours with her month old baby. A young lady was robbed early one morning on her way to register like Agnes. A few men went to the site early with mattresses. A Hausa man started adamantly claiming a girl’s name (Amaka) who was being called but hadn’t shown up, “I don stay for dis line for 3 days, why my name no go change?” he replied to indignant disbelieving shouts.
I believe all this confusion was caused by two main things: first, inefficient procurement processes, most probably characterized by skimming some money off the top, and so, ending up with DDC machines that look new, but aren’t. And second, the lack of foresight of INEC to see that it is virtually impossible to register millions of eligible voters across Nigeria in 1 month, 1 week, and 2 days. INEC, instead, should have started this process months ago to allow for machine testing and more registrations.
Thankfully, the voter’s registration will become a continuous process in any INEC office near you. But if you didn’t register, you can’t vote in this coming election. That’s a shame since, probably for the first time, awareness and willingness of the masses to vote in the April 2011 elections has been something close to awe-inspiring. Nigerians are believing that their votes will count, and that’s something special. Still, this registration exercise has been a sham, characterized by bribes, frustrations, rumors, and anxiety.
Photo Credit: We Heart It and Thisday Newspaper