– Roland Digieneni, with additional reporting from Gift Obomu, Ogbotobo Osita, Elizabeth Andaebi, Best Uso and Okonta Emeka
Voting in an election in Nigeria is one civic obligation that every adult citizen wants to exercise with an unfettered access. Yesterday was no different as people were anxious and eager to vote for candidates of their choice; this was evident in the massive turnout of voters.
“I am deprived of my right to vote”
However, at polling unit 1, Bayelsa state, it was a mixed bag of feelings for elderly voters. Pa Monikumo John is 87, the oldest man in the community, arrived to cast his ballot only to find out his name was not on the list. He explained: “It is sad to note today that I am deprived of my right to vote. The first time I am experiencing an incident like this in my life. They [INEC] say I do not have Permanent Voting Card (PVC), but I was duly registered and voted in the 2011 polls. It was not a fault of my own.”
When asked about his experience of past elections Pa John had fonder memories: “In those days when I was a young man, conduct of elections were very orderly. You queued up behind your preferred candidate and were counted. These days elections are made cumbersome with the so-called modern gadgets. His vote would have been more than an act of duty, he said: “The fact that I could not vote in an election where my son, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a man of Ijaw extraction, [a minority tribe] the ‘goose that lays the Golden Egg’ [oil] is the most vexing thing; I have been deprived from being a part of history.”
Elizabeth Andaebi interviewed elderly voters in Bayelsa. She reported that “elderly ones are complaining that they prefer the old pattern of voting because the new pattern is strenuous and time consuming considering their age.” She added that community members tried to ease their discomfort by giving up their place in the queue or fetch seats for the elderly to rest on as they waited.
In time past the elderly and disabled were given preferential treatment during elections
Albert Otokolo, 81, a retired teacher, who suffers from arthritis, was also unable to cast his vote. “My mobility is severely impaired due to my medical condition, however, by the time I got to the polling station with my PVC, I was not allowed to vote, because, according them, accreditation was over. I was told I should wait and vote in the next election. This is injustice against we the elders of this land. Things were not done like this in time past. The elderly and disabled were given preferential treatment during elections. I wonder what is happening to this generation?”.
Card reader technology was deployed to speed up the voting process and ensure a higher level of credibility, but as polling stations struggled to get to grips with the new method, there was a lack of awareness about the role of the technology among elders, says Gift Obomu in Delta State. She says the system was introduced without considering that elders may need a more focused orientation than Nigeria’s digital natives:
“Older men and women in my community say they don’t understand what the card reader is all about. What is paramount to them is the arrival of a ballot box and the proper process of accreditation.”
In a number of polling stations across the country, glitches with the card reader technology caused significant delays to the voting process, to the frustration of those waiting.
A waste of time and money
Seventy-year-old voter, Mensa, said she thought the system was “a waste of time and money”. At the same unit, pastor Reverend Alfred Osiobe, whose card was rejected by the card reader said he feels “the new system is a form of oppression to deprive eligible voters.” He said it had been a “bitter experience” which he had never faced in previous elections.
In Onelga, Rivers State elder, Bella Gazi, was able to vote using the new technology, successfully marking her ballot paper for the fourth time having first voted in 1999. For her, the new system can’t eradicate a sense of “reluctance” about casting her vote, as she says it has yielded nothing in the past. “I am voting because it is a duty”, she said.
As some voters queued in the midday sun, and others waited in the rain, people were on the look out to ensure older voters had extra support. “The elderly and disabled are finding it hot because the line is not moving and the [card] reading is slower,” said Ogbotobo Osita.
In Bayelsa, Elizabeth Andaeb said plastic chairs were provided on the pavements for those less able to stand and Okonta Emeka said elder voters were being given “preferential treatment” in his ward. While there were provisions made, he said by mid-afternoon he was “yet to see any disabled voters” while Damasus Henry in Delta state felt that “disabled people have no choice other than to sit at home.”
Back at Polling station 1, Igbegi Abel Olotu, a widow in her late 70s, was still in the queue as evening fell. She recognised that the queues were long but said she was happy to wait: “My son, no sacrifice is too big to ensure victory.”