In hindsight, the moment we all should have known the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had committed themselves to making fools of us all was when, after sending out a directive for corps members interested in applying to be ad-hoc staff to report to various designated centers at 8 AM, they took their own time getting to the various centers, finally reaching ours at some minutes after 2 PM. You’d think they’d have the decency to apologize for wasting our time but nah, the reply we were given in response to grumbled complaints for was: “If you had common sense, you wouldn’t have come that early.”
In hindsight, that was when many of us should have stood up and walked out. Not a single person did, however. You see, we didn’t apply because we thought we would be treated well or that it was going to be a good experience, but because for many of us, the total INEC remuneration, at just over ₦30,000, would be a welcome addition to the grossly inadequate monthly allowance of ₦19,800 we got.
Two days after the beginning of the training (on a Sunday, no less!) we finally finished and wrote their test and left for our respective homes expecting an initial training fee of ₦4,500 to be credited to our accounts, and a text message for those selected for the elections proper. Till today, not one person has gotten a kobo of the money promised, and as for the list of final candidates picked, well, eleven days after the training ended, they’d neither sent a text to anyone nor released a list, and everyone I knew was getting worried. Thursday was Valentine’s Day and I slept over at a friend’s, woke up early the next morning to wash some clothes I brought along, and got back upstairs to see a text message from INEC telling me I’d been posted to Enugu East LGA and to report there that day.
My place of primary assignment (PPA) is a private firm and they begrudgingly gave us permission to attend two of the training days. The new challenge was to convince them to let us go to the local government so we’d know exactly where our polling units were, and what positions we held in the polling units. To cut a long story short: we got to work, finished the scheduled meeting, called and managed to get permission from the regional manager, left the office for our homes to get our khaki and gear and a change of clothes, and any other thing we might have needed for sleepover at the local government that night and the election proper the next day. I live in a Corper’s Lodge and when I got there, it was a beehive of activity, everyone rushing to get ready on time and others on their way out of the city.
Now this is where we have to take a close look at the logistical nightmare INEC found itself in due to incompetence.
Several people did not get the text message I got that morning, and had to go to their local governments where a list of names was posted to check if their names could be found on it. While some were on their way to their LGAs and postings, (some were posted to far-flung areas like Udi, Igbo-Etiti, Awgu) many others were still at LGs trying to find out if their names were on the lists to know whether to return home to get their stuff and travel, or to return home and sleep.
At this point we still had not gotten training allowances and had already received reports of our colleagues posted to other states having received theirs. My friend and I eventually left for the LG and got there to meet many people already crowded around the lists. After trying, and failing to get to the front of the crowd to see if they had the right names/account numbers, we decided to go to the office making corrections anyway and check, which we were eventually able to do.
After doing this, we went to the restaurant opposite to get something to eat, met teammates to go over election material with, and made plans for where to sleep that night. After taking a stroll with friends to the junction for airtime and deciding to sleep at a mutual friend of theirs while walking back, we agreed that after getting back to the LG the girls would go see the INEC official they knew, and we’d pick up our bags and leave. On getting there, however, the INEC official told us to stick around, that they’d come to address everyone with some vital information at 2 AM. We shelved our plans and found a corner to lay our wraps, huddled together for warmth, and gave our devices to the person in the middle to keep safe for us. We joked around for a bit and fell asleep around 11 PM and slept for what seemed like a minute before we were awakened by people running toward the pavilion shouting something about Ghana-must-go bags. This was around 12:30 AM.
We all ran to the pavilion as quickly as we could, thinking we were finally going to be paid our training fee. Now this was illogical since we knew that they would only be paying into accounts, but that’s what we did anyway. Only to get there to see that it was food that was being shared. This was around 1 AM. Now picture this: INEC only provided food to eat at 1 AM, after hours of deliberation, and it was while we were eating that reports started coming in from Sahara Reporters that the election would be canceled.
Of course, other reports came in from other sources claiming otherwise, but even then, with our mouths stuffed full of the surprisingly tasty rice, we knew we’d just made all those preparations for naught. After eating, we went back to sleep for a while, and sure enough, soon after, we were woken again with word that the election had officially been canceled. People started leaving and by 4:30 AM, my friend from the corper’s lodge and I boarded a bus going to Liberty bus-stop and from there walked to Abakpa junction because there were no buses. From there, we got lucky and found two buses to take us home.
The next day, social media was abuzz with recriminations against the federal government and INEC, and accusations flew around. I noticed a very surprising one: a faction of people decided that the treatment meted out to corps members by INEC was somehow our fault and that it was brought on by our greed.
Apart from the obvious absurdity in that, with us knowing the state of Nigerian politics, especially during elections and with the full knowledge of electoral violence taking the lives of so many of our colleagues in previous years, accusing us of greed would at the very least be ignorant.
For many of us, the opportunity to make an extra ₦30,000 is nothing to be sniffed at, especially seeing as we’re expected to survive for a month with ₦19,800. As of this time, 9:48 AM, 21of February 2019, we have still not been paid our INEC training fee of ₦4,500 and are still expected to show up to the LG today for “training” and tomorrow to sleep there again before the election on Saturday.
Some final thoughts on the matter:
- Instead of just posting lists at the LG, why couldn’t INEC just make the list of names into a simple PDF format to be shared on CDS groups?
- Why did they take so long in releasing a list in the first place, literally on the day before the elections were meant to take place?
- What assurances do we have that things will be handled better this time?
- The last time, people hurried out of the LG as soon as it was noticed that the security forces had left. We were lucky enough in my LG, but in other LGs and other states, we heard a lot of terrible things happened to corps members.
- We keep hearing how we’re the “property” of the federal government and that we’re under their protection, but that hasn’t happened.
- Special shout out to the public transport-taking corps members from the LG that day. With the way people were rushing, they could have taken advantage of the situation, demanded more money and gotten it. They didn’t; thanks for being decent human beings.
- INEC Enugu pay our training allowance first, pleaase. Some people have lost interest in the ad-hoc staff thing and just want their training fee. Honor your commitment and pay them please.
To every corps member and the entire electorate, we know how bad things are in the country.
Here, we face a choice: vote for that to continue, or take a chance that things can change and vote accordingly. Bear in mind that politicians are our employees. If you hire someone to manage your company and he leads it to the brink of ruin, when the time comes to renew his contract or terminate it, make the same choice you’d make then in this situation.