“… under the sun or in the rain, with dedication and selflessness, Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve.”
Quite a lot of Nigerians especially those who had to serve the country for one year are familiar with the above song from the NYSC Anthem. This might have been written for corps members, but more Nigerians than expected are living the words of the song.
Ahead of the upcoming general election, I had to also register alongside millions of Nigerians to collect my PVC. I had completed my registration online, but I was asked to visit an INEC office for an appointment in four weeks.
I left home at 10 am on Friday, June 19, not knowing what to expect. My appointment at the INEC office was scheduled for 9:30 am, but the rain had held me back.
I partly blamed myself for lacking enough patriotism. If I was patriotic enough, the rain wouldn’t have deterred me from honoring a civil appointment.
I got to the INEC office serving residents of Shomolu/Bariga around 10:33 am and saw people of different ages forming into clusters and groups. Everyone looked confused and tired.
Some were standing, some squatting, others sitting on chairs under the canopy. The canopy, I would later find out, had more holes than a kitchen sieve.
These ones sat with so much comfort like they had executive appointments.
“Good morning, sir. Please where do I go to? I have an appointment here this morning,” I said as I approached a middle-aged man and his friend. They were both talking about what to do to ensure that they didn’t have to spend too much time at the INEC office.”
“Just move down there and approach the guy with glasses on. He will tell you what to do,” one of the men answered. He pointed tiredly towards the left. He looked fragile, like one that could fall anytime.
I hurried towards the direction of his finger and joined a smaller group of people waiting. There was an INEC official among them. He looked like he was in his early 30s. He wore round glasses and also had a thick moustache.
I would later find out that his first name is Idris. I joined Idris’ group and heard people calling out numbers. He was on 18. He assigned 19 to someone. One person and I shouted “20” at the same time.
I didn’t know what the number was for, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. After waiting for about 15 minutes trying to understand what was happening, Idris, with all sense of pride, called out the numbers again. The other person who shouted “20” with me was faster this time, so I settled for 21.
Another five minutes, and all Idris was doing was capturing. I cautiously called his attention. “Sir, I have an appointment here today. Do I belong in this group?”
A wave of official pride washed over him and he said with anger in his voice, “I have told you people before. You should only come here when you haven’t registered at all.”
He pulled his right ear for emphasis and continued, “I am not going to repeat myself. Only come here when you are registering for the first time.” He scowled and returned his attention to his phone.
I edged closer to him among the different bodies and repeated, “I have registered online and it’s obvious I don’t belong here. Where do I go?”
He looked me over and said, “Madam, go to the next building for your printout and then go over to that canopy. They will attend to you there.”
I followed his directives only to discover that there was no cafe next building but in a narrow street across the road.
I got back into the compound around 11:35 am and joined fellow Nigerians under the canopy.
There was a small gate manned by two security operatives in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) uniforms. They both spoke Yoruba and one of them had tribal marks.
The gate they manned judiciously led into a building where the offices are situated. It was like the gate to eternal life. Nothing uncertified or unapproved by them passed through.
The crowd surged towards the gate. I followed quickly and noticed a fair woman with glasses on. She held a long list of names. She stood on the other side of the gate and called out numbers and names.
“Number 60, Olanipekun; Number 61, Chinonso,” she bellowed.
While she called out the names, the security personnel serving as gate men held the gate open narrowly. Whoever was to pass through would have to squeeze themselves through.
Chinoso and the other nine whose names were called danced forward. They rejoiced like they had been banished into eternal bliss.
The rest whose names weren’t called stood back with dejection. One of them looked pitiful. She said, “I’ll await my turn but it’s unfortunate she only calls 10 names per batch.”
“Excuse me, I have an appointment here this morning,” I said to the woman who had her nose in the air.
“No, you can’t come in. Just stay under the canopy,” she answered snobbishly before walking away.
She came again to call another set of names. Anyone who tried to explain one thing or the other was shooed away by the overzealous security men.
I moved forward again. “My name is not on this list but I have completed my registration online. Can I go in?”‘
“No,” she answered angrily.
Public servants seem to enjoy people waiting on them for one reason or the other.
“You will have to wait like everyone else.”
“Yes, but I obviously don’t belong in the category of those waiting. These people are yet to register at all,” I tried to explain.
“See, madam, don’t stress me. Just stay under the canopy or you go home,” she said, turning on her heel and going inside. Those she had called in beamed with unfeigned smiles.
Their expressions read, “I have been lucky; I wish yours would come too.”
She came the third time, this time around it was drizzling. The clouds forming earlier were starting to pour.
“Madam, I have the printout from the INEC website. Can I at least know what to do next?”
“See, don’t disturb me. I’ve told you to go and wait under the canopy like everyone else.”
This was around 11:40 am and this time I had no choice than to obey. The rain came and poured for nearly two hours. While it rained, everyone huddled under the canopy for shelter, the old, young, literate and unschooled, all willing to put up with each other for the rain to pass.
“There are better canopies in their store there. I wonder why they had to put up one that leaks so badly,” an elderly man lamented.
“Is our government so poor that they can’t afford a good canopy?” Another elderly man asked.
“I wonder how things got this bad but the narrative might change soon,” another answered.
“APC change!” Someone said humorously.
“No,” about three to four persons answered at once.
“We are no longer voting for the party, but for anyone who is capable of doing the job. Things have deteriorated too much for us to keep voting a political party,” he finished.
As the rain poured in torrents, a grandmother moved closed to me. She was partially wet. “Wahala awon people yi ti poju. Ati ojo Tuesday ni mo ti n para ibi bayi (I have been visiting since Tuesday without any positive outcome),” she said as the rain drenched both of us from underneath the canopy.
“I have been to Sabo for affidavit and now I’m back here, but I haven’t got anywhere. I want things to witness a better Nigeria. Things should be better for my children and grandchildren.”
While we all waited for the rain to stop, the officials peeped at us from their window. There was probably nothing they could do other than that.
Everyone stood and waited for the rain to stop. No one was willing to go home until they were registered.
While people shivered and waited for the registrations to begin again, a young man who seemed to be in his early 20s went to get boiled corn for everyone.
He said, “Please help yourselves to this corn. This hot boiled corn will help you deal with the cold while we wait for them to resume the registration.”
Everyone was hesitant until he emptied the first bucket of corn by serving his friends. And then he brought another and another until everyone had something to keep their mouths warm.
The rain subsided and names and number calling resumed.
At this point, I was frustrated to my bones. I was ready to tell them I am a journalist and that I should be allowed in but just then, the woman acting like the Almighty earlier came and asked those of us who had registered online to form a queue and then we were allowed to go in through the narrow gate. This was at 1:15 pm.
There were four officials operating the INEC customized systems inside and there were only a few people. The entire process didn’t last more than five minutes.
It began at 1:33 pm and ended at 1:41 pm. Mine was longer because Sope, the official who took my biometrics, was interrupted at intervals for petty talks by another colleague.
When I finished, I stepped out and heard people saying they’d been at the registration center since 6 am. Another said 6:30 am and another 7:00 am.
One man I engaged said, “If you come here as early as 4 am, you will be shocked to find people here. People are really determined to get their PVCs.”
“In my case, I have been here since 6:00 am and this is 1:57 pm. There are a lot of people still under the canopy, who have been here since before dawn too, and they are still there,” he said.
The Nigerians I met at the Shomolu INEC office were so resilient that the rain could not stop them. This could mean the beginning of a new Nigeria. There are interesting times ahead.
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