Wunmi* was an ad-hoc staff in Lagos at the just concluded presidential and national assembly election. She spoke to Citizen about the experience and how expectations differed wildly from reality. She’s calling it quits with INEC, who expect her to turn up for the gubernatorial elections on March 18. She says the pay is peanuts and not worth being “treated like trash.”
Editorial Note: Navigating Nigeria is a platform for Nigerians to passionately discuss policies and politics with little interference to individual opinions. While our editorial standards emphasise the truth and we endeavour to fact-check claims and allegations, we do not bear any responsibility for allegations made about other people founded in half-truths.
What to expect in this episode:
- Where INEC ad-hoc staff sleep
- How much INEC pays (guess)
- How INEC staff are exposed to compromise
Walk us through your experience
TL;DR – Have a backup plan for working with INEC because accommodation isn’t guaranteed.
I got a call from a relative who works in the local government (LG) that they need people who’ll work for INEC. He said they’d pay us ₦25k; I told him I was interested. He also asked me to inform any of my interested friends. I was like, “ok, cool money for one day’s work”.
I started calling my friends, and they all showed interest. They told us that INEC would contact us, but we didn’t receive any call. On the morning of February 24, a Friday, he sent me a document with all our names. The list had about a thousand and five hundred names on it. They arranged us in groups to different locations, which were our polling units.
He told us to head to the LG to verify our names and get any needed information. That was all he told me. At 3 p.m., I was at the LG. I’d told some friends to come so we didn’t miss out on any info. Because they were all coming from different places around Lagos, the plan was for them to all converge at my end after we got the relevant info since my place was close to the LG. I asked my relative about accommodation during the election, and he told us they’d provide somewhere to sleep if we worked very late and couldn’t go home. My friends would follow me to my house if the accommodation weren’t conducive.
Ok, good plan so far
However, they didn’t attend to us in time, and there was a curfew that day. I decided to run home and get food, bedspreads and mats for myself and my friends. We were seven. When I got back, there was a crowd of people. Nobody was saying anything, so we didn’t know what to do. We saw some people checking a list of names posted on the boards, but it didn’t click that we were supposed to do that to know who our Presiding Officers (PO) were. None of us knew what POs or Assistant Presiding Officers (APO) were. Eventually, using the numbers attached to our names, we located our POs.
(Editorial note: A presiding officer is an official in charge of a polling unit. In Nigeria, this responsibility usually falls on corp members trained by INEC.)
TL;DR – LG offices of INEC can be places of fun and chaos in equal measure.
At 10 p.m., nobody said anything to us. The same thing happened at 11 p.m.
We knew we were on our own. Inside the LG was a DJ playing music with speakers and a microphone. Some women cooked food too. It was like a mini-party although the food wasn’t for us. The LG was congested, so we had to lay our mats on the pavement opposite the LG office.
Around 1 a.m., we heard again that they were calling names, so we all ran inside. Someone was trying to address the crowd. The man on the microphone asked us to locate our Supervisory Presiding Officer (SPO). At the time, I had no idea what that meant.
It was a disorganised process with plenty of confusion. You had to ask questions to understand what to do, like locating the number of your Registration Area Centre (RAC), aka ward. I saw several buses outside the INEC office, which I’d discovered were to convey election materials to the polling units. Most of us were lucky to be in the same RAC, so we were still together till 5 a.m. We couldn’t sleep and couldn’t return to that pavement because it was empty outside, and we felt unsafe.
Meanwhile, not all of us in that compound were INEC ad-hoc staff. Some were party agents. By 5 a.m., they started calling RAC 1, where I belonged. It was also the closest ward to the LG. We assembled, along with our PO, inside the office. At this time, I realised election materials were within that building. I thought they were going to bring them from elsewhere.
The POs started picking their materials according to their materials. They gave them activated Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines for data capture. They also provided a SIM card to log in with their details. The POs were corp members, and I assumed they got trained on how to go about the process. We, the ad-hoc staff, didn’t get any training.
TL;DR- You learn quickly that you’re on your own during an election period. Be prepared for long periods without bathing or food while working for INEC.
Funnily, when I met my PO hours earlier, she asked me if I knew how to navigate proceedings, and I told her I didn’t. INEC had trained them, after all, and I wasn’t. If she wasn’t sure of what to do, how could I?
In any case, we marked an attendance sheet and a log sheet to tick the materials we received in a bag. It was my first time seeing ballot papers before elections. We didn’t tamper with it. All we did was count and record the materials we received.
It was around 6:30 a.m now.
People were looking for how to brush and freshen up. There was nowhere to bathe. The toilets at the LG needed fixing. We started to go our separate ways. My friends and I agreed to reach out should we experience any issues on the field. I was in polling unit 2 (PU), so we were among the first set of people to leave. We found our driver, who wasn’t even sure where the PU was. He only had an address and had to locate its whereabouts.
For example, the PU would be somewhere, but there’d be no number, so you have to scan for yourself to know exactly where the PU should be. I called my SPO to give us a landmark to describe where we should be, but even he didn’t know. He told us to ask around.
We located the PU, but we had a new problem. There were no chairs or tables on the ground for us to set up. I called my SPO again, but his line was understandably busy because he got calls from other people. When I finally got through to him, he told me to be patient and that the chairs and tables were coming.
We got to the PUs some minutes past eight. As of 9:00 a.m., nothing was on the ground. There was a man around who had some experience with elections that guided us on what to do. So we started posting our banners and posters and setting up the voting cubicle. Some minutes to ten, people had begun gathering around. I helped some of them using a list I had to direct them to their PUs. We were supposed to paste this list publicly, as they later told us. There were arguments that the list should have been placed days before and not on election day.
The register has two copies, in coloured and in black and white. After I confirmed with my SPO, we placed the black and white posters on the wall with the help of the voters. All these things delayed the voting process. When it was close to eleven, I had to call again for tables and chairs because we couldn’t commence without those. The SPO raised his voice at me and told me that the chairs and tables he said were on their way were meant to be provided by party agents.
TL;DR- Nothing prepares you for what you’ll meet on the field. A calm head is required to navigate the tough life of an election official.
This was new and unexpected information. I had to inform the impatient voters that party agents had to deliver the needed tables and chairs. Arguments ensued. I was scared because I’d never done this before. I kept begging them to calm down. We got a table, but it was too high. Eventually, we found a workaround by asking food vendors to provide us with their benches and tables. This was how we were able to begin the accreditation process.
We still had other issues. We forgot the covers of the ballot boxes in the early morning rush to get to our PUs. The voters refused to vote until we had the covers in place. They volunteered to drive one of us down, along with a security agent, to pick up the covers at the LG office. That was how we settled that. When they returned, I climbed on a pedestal to address the crowd that voting was about to commence. I was an APO 2. I’d read the voting guidelines for INEC officials, which I relayed to them, explaining voting procedures.
We noticed that not all parties had representation on the ballot papers for the senatorial and house of representative elections. My guess was they didn’t have candidates for those positions. I explained this to the crowd.
Eventually, at about 11:30 a.m., the voting process started. As you can imagine, there was a long queue. For the first fifty or so voters, the process was seamless. However, after some time, the BVAS started having network issues.
TL;DR – For polling officials, elections don’t end on the afternoon of election day. There’s a whole new world of stress ahead after counting ballots. Brace yourself.
We improvised by connecting with a hotspot. The issue occurred at intervals, and we had to take turns using our phones to connect to the BVAS. Some people couldn’t find their names on the list we placed but swore that they were in the right PUs because they’d voted there for years. We checked their PVCs, and for most of them, they’d changed their PUs to somewhere else. This frustrated many voters and affected turnout because many had gone around and couldn’t vote.
By 1:00 p.m., about 100 people had voted, and the queue had significantly reduced. But we were exhausted. We hadn’t brushed, bathed, or had any water or food. By this time, we had established a cordial relationship with the voters and party agents who provided us with water. Someone ordered gala for the crowd, and people scampered around to get their share. A kind stranger brought three for myself and my colleagues, although I couldn’t eat mine because I was busy.
The number of registered voters at my PU was 750, but only 106 voted. No one came around till 2 p.m. The party agents were still present, but the security agents had gone. The agents kept asking us for their food, which they claimed they had paid for. But we didn’t have any. We were starving too.
At 2:30 p.m., the security agents returned. This was when we decided to do the sitting and counting of votes. In my PU, the APC won by a wide margin. The party agents signed the result sheets, and I also took pictures. I called my SPO, who sent a driver to our location to pick us up. The bus went around a couple of other PUs to pick up some of us who had finished our duties. Together, we headed for the collation centre.
We learned there that we had to cancel out unused ballot papers. We had a lot of sheets to cancel because only 106 people voted across the presidential, senatorial and house of representatives elections. Party agents were making videos of us cancelling, which was annoying. My colleagues and I cancelled over 2,000 sheets while our PO tried submitting our results sheet to the collation officer.
That’s a lot of work
TL;DR: Did you know Wunmi didn’t get 25k as promised? Wait till you read what she earned after the work she put in.
At my collation centre, the collation officer refused to collect the BVAS until we had uploaded the results. He directed us to the RAC technicians (RACTECH), who handled any technical issues with uploading. We also had to tie the used ballot papers with a rope and keep them sealed. It was close to 7 p.m., and we were all drained by this time—still no food.
Our PO hadn’t successfully submitted her results sheet, and the whole place had become chaotic. Party agents were on our necks as though the delay with uploading was our fault. We had to beg them to stop harassing us.
At 8:00 p.m., we were still at the collation centre. We contacted our SPO to ask him if our driver would still be coming around to transport us back to the LG office. He said he didn’t know and referred us to the electoral officer (EO). It looked like we were on our own. I was angry and frustrated. I’m an ulcer patient, and the only thing I’d had all day was water. My uncle had to drive down with some mama put rice, but I couldn’t eat it.
Before we completed the collation, it was midnight on election day. It was only then we received ₦4,500. We discovered then that our pay wasn’t even ₦25,000 but ₦17,500.
They told us they’d send the balance of ₦13,000 to our bank accounts. Till today we’ve not received the balance. We don’t know the year that will happen. Some people told us they’d pay after a month or at a time of INEC’s convenience. Some guys got angry and wanted to cause chaos with all the added information regarding the sealing and tying of ballot papers. They refused to because they didn’t inform them about it earlier.
There was tension everywhere. Some people walked to the LG office from the collation centre. Eventually, all my friends got attended to.
We left the collation centre around 1:30 a.m. It rained that night, and we couldn’t sleep on the pavement like before because the ground was wet. We were lucky that we had someone who volunteered to drive us. He was a Surulere resident, so he dropped us all at my home before he departed for his end.
What’s your takeaway from this experience?
Almost every one of us broke down from this experience. They admitted one of us to the hospital. I’m getting admitted today. INEC hasn’t paid our balance, and they expect us to return for the governorship election. I’ve decided that I’m not going. I can’t go ahead because of the peanuts they want to pay to get treated like trash.
*Name changed to protect their identity