INEC and corps members’ one night of horror
Nigerians were once again caught in a vicious circle following the sudden postponement of Saturday’s general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the poor treatment of corps members deployed as adhoc staff for the elections.INEC postponed the presidential and National Assembly elections till 23, February 2019, while the governorship and house of assembly elections have also been shifted from March 2 to March 9.
INEC’s chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu attributed the suspension of the scheduled elections to logistics and operational problems.He said it would afford the commission the opportunity to address the identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of Nigeria’s elections.Nigerian elite and other electorate in their millions condemned the decision describing it as a threat to democracy.Some of the major victims of the postponement were the corps members that INEC deployed as ad hoc staff.
The welfare of ad hoc staff for general elections, especially corps members has always been a topic of worry in this part of the world. It has become a tradition that in each season of electioneering, young people selected as temporary umpires are faced with challenges such as insecurity or lack of good plans for accommodation; thereby exposing them to the risks of death and attack.
In 2016, a corps member, Okonta Samuel, was killed during the Rivers rerun election in Ahoada west local government area of the state while two other corps members with him at the time of the incident escaped from the scene through the help of security agents.Also, 2011 witnessed the loss of lives of about 10 corps members who were killed as a result of violence.
This comes after several yearly assurances by INEC that adequate security would be provided for all ad hoc staff of the commission, especially members of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) that participate in general elections.Between Friday night and Saturday morning, social media was awash with pictures and videos of corps members sleeping in very terrible conditions because no arrangements were made for their accommodation.
Gunmen invaded a Registration Area Centre (RAC) at Orogbum Primary School in D/Line, Port Harcourt and robbed corps members recruited as ad hoc electoral officers of their valuable items. A corps member Falabi Nifemi on her tweet handle said the hoodlum who invaded the primary school at about 5:15 a.m with lethal weapons, brutalized corps members, and took away their phones, shoes, bags and other items.
Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Obo Effanga confirmed the incident to The Guardian, explaining that normally when elections are conducted, enough police security is usually deployed to the RAC centres on the eve of the exercises to secure electoral materials, but because of the abrupt postponement of the election the police who ought to have accompanied materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria did not return to the RAC where the incident occurred.
Also, a post on Instagram by a corps member serving in Bauchi alleged that 10 of his colleagues died while waiting at the INEC office to be posted to their stations as ad hoc staff during the postponed elections.But the State Coordinator, NYSC in Bauchi, Afolayan James, described the rumour as false, malicious and misleading.
Afolayan said, “Nothing like that happened and you know these days, people just cook up stories and post online to mislead and misinform the public. There is no truth in the story that 10 corps members died at the INEC headquarters in Bauchi.”
Corps members’ hellish tales
Some corps members spoke with The Guardian, sharing their encounters, in what they termed, “national disgrace and maiming of graduates”.A corps member serving in Delta State, Iwuchukwu Chisom (not real name) claimed he and the over 300 other graduates were subjected to various harsh and gruesome living conditions as they slept in a very bushy surrounding, not minding the dangers.He said, “At about 8: 00 p.m after loitering around waiting for the said sensitive and non-sensitive materials, we went to a guest house and we were told that one room would cost us N8, 000. We couldn’t afford, so we left”
“We were all stranded with nowhere to lay our heads to sleep because we came a long way from home, most especially me, spending over N4,000. Thoughts of returning home came to mind but due to the violent nature of my host community, going back wasn’t an option. So, I and a few fellow corps members sought an alternative”.He continued: “At this time, the two options we had were to either to sleep in one of the public schools around or to sleep in stationary abandoned vehicles. I opted for the former, although some opted for the latter. For fear of being robbed or raped by hoodlums, many female corps members were told to lay down out in the cold compound of the INEC office or the LG council”
“Mosquitoes had a field day by sucking our blood. Some of us were bitten by scorpions and were rushed to the general hospital nearby… Some had their phones and other accessories stolen while jostling for sleeping space and what to eat.”A presiding officer in one of the Local Government Areas (LGA) in Lagos told the Guardian that apart from the lady who uploaded the attack incident in Rivers, her colleague in Mile 2 was also robbed of tangible accessories including money.
“We were told to come to the local government by 3:00p.m. so as to be taken to our various RAC centres, but it happened that no bus came to convey anyone until past 8:00p.m. when we were told to find our way down to the place. Then we were kept in a classroom without provision for mattress or mat, neither was there any means to bath. Then to crown it up, there was no security personnel with us. We, both male and female, lay there on the chairs and tables.“Even when the election was declared postponed, no one called to inform us, we were still left alone, in trying to find our way back to the local government and going home, some got robbed.”
Another corps member in Sokoto, added, “It was not funny at all, here in sokoto. We arrived at our centre around 4:00pm to check our names, as some corps members didn’t get to see their names after the training they attended. We were there all through the night, without a word from neither INEC nor SPO, in the cold, without shelter”.“Not until 12 midnight we started getting information on the postponement of the election. The worst of it is that till now, no one has addressed us and no one even came out to apologise.”He said the experience was very bad but that had motivated him to conduct the election very well, to ensure that credible and people’s choice leaders emerge.
According to Sunset Favour, a corps member in Ibadan, the electoral body negates the totality of what democracy stands.She said, “It was a highly embarrassing state of affairs. Security was so loose, and the officials didn’t care.“We were left to sleep or sit on bare floor with wrappers. It got colder and some still didn’t even know where they would be posted. At dusk people resorted to finding a safe arena as cabs and motorcycles had stopped functioning.
“No one from the office even came out to apologise or tell what was going on. In fact the news about postponing the elections was first seen on twitter. Confirmed at about 3:00a.m. bus drivers all came around and drove off, leaving already vulnerable people more vulnerable. Between the hours before postponement announcement came up, corps members were in cubicles, bare floor, tree roots all in search of comfort before going home”, she added.
But for how much?
It might not be about the pay, rather sacrifice; but it’s very alarming to realise that for these dangers, threat of possible violence, attack, rape and exposure to mosquitoes and all manner of harshness of the nights, these young graduates are entitled to a meagre allowance of N35, 000 only, out of the N22.6 billion budgeted for this election.
Its also very painful to know that some of these corps members never got their training allowances of N4, 500 at the rate of N1,500 each for three days until yesterday when they later gathered at the various INEC offices in their States.Dorcas, a Lagos serving corps member said she got her money on Saturday after long delay that preceded the horrible experience during night, without any compensation, apology or whatsoever
However, experts and concerned Nigerians have identified means which INEC can adopt to appease and compensate the graduates to prevent future boycott of the rest of elections. They also suggested ways for the electoral body to ensure security and welfare of its ad hoc staff.A public opinion analyst, Simon Joseph said that NYSC and INEC have failed corps members and Nigerians demand “An apology from NYSC to all corps members.
Shina Akande, said, “You see, we can get to a point that things that destroy lives won’t bother us. INEC’s welfare office failed corps members. The logistics office failed everyone. And we should talk about all of these so it doesn’t happen next week and beyond.“Another concerned citizen, Olu Michael, added, “This is a proof that what INEC said in the media is different from their action in terms of welfare and security of corps members. Welfare and security of the corps members must be prioritised and assured before the eve of the new election date”.