OPINION

Chronicles Of An INEC Ad-Hoc Staff, By Aliyu Kasimu

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) called for applications from students of tertiary institutions, members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) amongst others to be deployed at polling units for the 2019 elections earlier slated for 16th of February, 2019 and 3rd of march, 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly and Gubernatorial and State Assembly respectively. 

I will be talking about what happened in the Nasarawa Eggon Local Government Area of Nasarawa state, where I applied as ad-hoc staff. As reports from other places have it, the situation across the country isn’t any different from this one. 

The first disappointment was in the application process itself. Before the commission announced an online application, student unions in tertiary institutions (such as the Students’ Representative Council ( SRC) in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria) called for students to send some of their biometric details to their social media accounts. Thereafter, the commission’s offices in Local Government Areas accepted applications which would usually consist of application letters attached with some credentials. 

It was quite clear that the normal “who you know” aggrandizement would play a major role on who gets the job until the commission announced an online application. I was particularly delighted and hopeful since it would close the gap of nepotism and would try to close the equal opportunity gap for everyone. I was wrong after all. In the end, it didn’t count for anything as it wasn’t adopted at all. 

A new lightening of hope and reassurance enveloped me when I saw different reports credited to big wigs in INEC that asked any interested and qualified person to be available for the training, which would eventually be a major basis for selection.

THE TRAINING 
The training was simply a sham show. It spanned three ill days viz; Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We were divided into groups of undergraduate students, SSCE holders and graduates (NCE, BSc, ND, etc) and were required to sign the attendance everyday until the training was completed.

On Friday and after few minutes of introduction to the ad-hoc job and what it entailed, we were asked to pay 10 naira each for photocopy of “pre-test” question papers. We were going to have a test! Anyone who answered those questions only on the basis of knowledge gained in the introductory part of the class must have failed woefully. Don’t refuse to think that the tutors failed in that regard too. I had downloaded the manual from my school’s whatsapp group two days before. Perhaps my school training made me not hesitate to skim through the 124 paged draft before going for the training.

In my school, any good student would study course notes before coming to class for many reasons, one of which is “you simply don’t know what would happen” and so we would always “prepare for the worse”. After completion and submission of the test script, our tutor announced the answers which had me and those who trusted me enough to copy my answers score 9/10.

The training had more than 95 percent of trainees standing throughout the session; now try to imagine the circumstances of the test. I leave that to you, but not without an idea note that it was worse than a “short gun” in a faculty course lecture session in our government owned tertiary institutions. 

On the last day (Sunday), we managed to see the Smart Card Reader (SCR). She had worked us through the functions, features and whatnot earlier on. So when it arrived, we were asked to touch, observe the key features and pass on to the next person. At the end of that exercise, my PVC was used to show how verification and authentication worked. At the surcease of the session, we wrote a post test which was unexpectedly an exact photocopy of the pretest. We had paid for photocopies on Saturday. To be fair to the tutor, she did her best with the resources available to her.

SHORTLISTING OF SUCCESSFUL CANDIDATES 
The list was pasted on the 12th of February, 2019 on the outside wall of the commission’s office and all applicants thronged there to check their names. Some were happy while some where disappointed. Maryam Ahmad Turaki, a geology student of Federal University, Lafia with whom we went for the training confirmed to me that her cousin who was in fact, completely absent during the training period was shortlisted.

It is balanced to think that she wasn’t the only one in such a bewildering situation. While some of us saw our names, she and many others didn’t. I felt sad for her particularly. Maryam was a very jovial friend and kind at heart.

DOCUMENTATION 
A notice was also walled far beside the list of names. It was to the effect that all shortlisted candidates were to come back on Friday, a day to the elections for what they called “accreditation”. I like to think of it as “documentation” as that gives a clearer description of what actually happened. 

We arrived on Friday only to be notified that another list was again, pasted, but this time, at the secretariat which was a few meters from the commission’s office. On my arrival at the secretariat and out of the corner of my eye, I espied the colorfully dressed Khadijah Musa, a 3rd year student of the gutsy University of Maiduguri. We had met during the training. She is truthful, honest and suspiciously shy. 

The list at the secretariat was more detailed. It showed the respective positions of the shortlisted candidates and their exact polling units. But the list didn’t come without disruptions. Some had their wards changed while some claimed that they didn’t see their names, despite seeing it in the earlier list. 

On ascertaining the presence of their names and respective wards, candidates were to report at the commission’s office for documentation. The process involved is topic for another day. Suffice to say that we were a crowd compared to a stampeding herd of wild-eyed cattle, making wild, uncontrollable noises like some unfortunate swarm of angry bees.

WELFARE 
We hung around in waiting, while documentation went on. We had been told not to leave the venue. When it was 11pm, I and a few others had made up our minds to pass the night there. What was the point in going back home when election was in few hours and there would be no movement of vehicles from 6am, we brainstormed. It was bright-line unwise to leave at that time. 

In all the time we spent there, not even sachet waters were given. Nay, they didn’t even speak kindly. When it was time to sleep, they made it clear through their body language, that everyone one was on his/her own; just find a place to catnap before dawn. 

For me and Ahmad Balarabe, one of the commercial danfo buses had been our resting garden. We thought it wouldn’t make a bad place to spend the night either. Alaji and another person joined us soon after we made that decision. Then came a lady; “abeg I fit sleep for that back seat?” she asked, confidently. Deep inside, I had reservations. “You’re welcome” I quickly said. We stepped down to allow her go inside. The girl slept and snored away – the strongest evidence that she didn’t give a damn. She woke up very early in the morning (well before 5am), thanked us for the hospitality and left.

News of possible postponement had started to creep in since 12am. But another news credited to one of INEC’s commissioners debunked and dismissed it. This rekindled some hope. At about 2:50am, I was woken up by obstreperous noises buzzing out in inconsistent ranges such as to make one ponder about how far the noise makers were to his/her coordinates. I asked and was told that the elections had been postponed.

Knowing fully, what people can do and how some people’s happiness thrived on spreading fake news, I assumed they acted based on the earlier news I saw; so I asked if the person had seen it himself. His answer was negative. My mind dismissed it even more until I saw buses which were parked since morning and painted with INEC stickers vamoose. I started nursing doubts as well. Fast forward, I confirmed my self and left for home when I found a car that would go my way at about 4:50am. Many others did the same.

ALLOWANCES
On the 20th of February, 2019 we went to the commission’s office to collect a 7,000NGN stipend. The news got me thinking why they would ask that we show up to collect money after they had collected our account details during documentation. Some of my friends proposed hypothesis; they claimed that from experience, it would be very difficult for us to get all the money allocated for us and that posting monies to our bank accounts was as a result of the sinister motives, bad business. 

They had asked us to come for the stipend a day before. The news had been spread by word of mouth and it reached me through the same channel. The allowance comprised of 4,500NGN training allowance and 2,500NGN feeding allowance. We had waited for very long before we were granted permission to enter the gate; if opening the already pressured gate can be termed like that. We queued up according to our respective wards with our media of identification. The Supervisory Presiding Officer (SPO) would verify information by cross comparing our ID’s and the list with him. He would then make a mark against our names and hand us two forms to append our signatures. Some people had problems with verification; some had problems of valid phone number but distinct names while for some, it was the reverse. This category of people were asked to standby for some more time. They cursed the SPOs as they harangued. I left after I had collected mine.

For me, it was an experience worth passing through. I learnt a lot of things and made knew friends. On this note, I urge the commission to seek to improve the welfare of their ad-hoc staff. Crowd control is also very important.

Aliyu Kasimu 
aliyusoffice@gmial.com
Twitter handle: @ialikasim

PS: please find attached, a photo I snapped at the INEC office in Nasarawa Eggon LGA, Nasarawa State.

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