Inside Shomolu INEC office where Nigerians challenge the odds to get PVCs

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“…sun or rain, with dedication and selflessness, Nigeria is ours, the Nigeria we serve.”

Many Nigerians, especially those who had to serve the country for a year, know the above song from the NYSC anthem. It could have been written for the corps members but more Nigerians than expected are living the lyrics of the song.

Before the next general election, I also had to register alongside millions of Nigerians to collect my PVC. I had completed my online registration, but was asked to come to an INEC office for an appointment in four weeks.

I left the house at 10 a.m. 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 kept me there.

I blamed myself in part for lacking patriotism. If I was patriotic enough, the rain wouldn’t have deterred me from honoring a civilian appointment.

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I arrived at the INEC office serving residents in Shomolu/Bariga around 10:33am and saw people of different ages forming in clusters and groups. Everyone looked confused and tired.

INEC office sign in Shomolu

Some were standing, some squatting, some sitting on chairs under the awning. The canopy, I would find out later, had more holes than a kitchen sieve.

These were seated with so much comfort as if they were having executive appointments.

“Hello sir. Please where do I go? I have an appointment here this morning,” I said as I approached a middle-aged man and his friend. They were talking both of them about what to do to make sure they didn’t have to spend too much time at the INEC office.

“Just get down and approach the guy with the glasses. He’ll tell you what to do,” one of the men replied. He pointed wearily to the left. He looked fragile, like someone who could fall at any moment.

I rushed in the direction of his finger and joined a small group of people waiting. There was an INEC official among them. He looked like he was in his thirties. He wore round glasses and also had a thick mustache.

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I would learn later that his first name is Idris. I joined Idris’ group and heard people calling numbers. He was 18 years old. He attributed 19 to someone. A person and I shouted “20” at the same time.

I didn’t know what the number was for, but better safe than sorry. After waiting about 15 minutes trying to figure out what was going on, Idris, with a sense of pride, called 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 did was capture. I cautiously caught his eye. “Sir, I have an appointment here today. Do I belong to this group?

A wave of official pride swept over him and he said angrily in his voice, “I’ve told you people before. You should only come here if you are not registered at all.

He pulled his right ear in emphasis and continued, “I’m not going to repeat myself. Only come here when you first register.” He frowned and returned his attention to his phone.

I approached him among the various bodies and repeated, “I registered online and it’s obvious that I don’t belong here. Where am I going?”

He looked at me and said, “Madam, go to the next building for your impression, then head to that awning. They will take care of you there.

I followed his directions to find that there was no cafe next to the building but in a narrow street across the road.

I returned to the compound around 11:35 a.m. and joined other Nigerians under the canopy.

There was a small door manned by two uniformed security guards from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC). They both spoke Yoruba and one of them had tribal markings.

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The door they held wisely led to a building where the offices were. It was like the door to eternal life. Nothing not certified or not approved by them is passed.

The crowd rushed to the door. I quickly followed and noticed a blonde woman with glasses. She kept a long list of names. She stood on the other side of the door and called out numbers and names.

“Number 60, Olanipekun; Number 61, Chinonso,” she bellowed.

As she called out the names, security personnel serving as gate men narrowly held the door open. Anyone who had to pass had to sneak.

Chinoso and the other nine whose names were called danced forward. They rejoiced as if banished into eternal bliss.

The others whose names were not called fell back in discouragement. One of them looked pitiful. She said, “I’ll wait my turn but it’s a shame she only calls 10 names per batch.”

“Excuse me, I have an appointment here this morning,” I said to the woman who was looking up.

“No, you can’t come in. Just stay under the canopy,” she replied snobbishly before walking away.

She came back to call out another set of names. Anyone who tried to explain one thing or the other was chased away by the overzealous security guards.

I made further progress. “My name is not on this list but I have completed my online registration. May I come in?”‘

“No,” she replied angrily.

Civil servants seem to appreciate people waiting for them for one reason or another.

“You will have to wait like everyone else.”

“Yes, but obviously I don’t belong to the category of those who wait. These people are not yet registered at all,” I tried to explain.

“You see, ma’am, don’t stress me out. Just stay under the canopy or you go home,” she said, turning on her heels and entering. Those she had called beamed with unfeigned smiles.

Their expressions read, “I got lucky; I wish yours would come too.

She came the third time, this time it was raining. The clouds that had formed earlier were beginning to pour out.

“Madam, I have the printout from the INEC website. Can I at least know what to do next?”

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“See, don’t bother me. I told you to go wait under the canopy like everyone else.

It was around 11:40 a.m. and this time I had no choice but to obey. The rain came and poured for almost two hours. As it rained, everyone huddled under the canopy for shelter, the old, the young, the literate and the illiterate, all ready to put up with each other for the rain to pass.

“There are better awnings in their store there. I wonder why they had to install one that leaks so badly,” an elderly man lamented.

People are waiting in the queue

“Is our government so poor that it can’t afford a good awning? Another elderly man asked.

“Wonder how things went wrong, but the narrative could change soon,” replied another.

“Change of APC!” Someone said humorously.

“No,” about three to four people answered at once.

“We no longer vote for the party, but for anyone who is able to do the job. Things have deteriorated too much for us to continue to vote for a political party,” he concluded.

As the rain poured down, a grandmother approached me. She was partially wet. “Wahala awon people yi ti poju. Ati ojo tuesday ni mo ti n para ibi bayi (I’ve been visiting since Tuesday with no positive results),” she said as rain flooded the two of us under the canopy.

“I was in Sabo for an affidavit and now I’m back here, but I have nowhere. I want things to show a better Nigeria. Things should be better for my children and grandchildren.

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As we all waited for the rain to stop, the officials peeked at us from their window. They probably couldn’t do anything more than that.

Everyone got up and waited for the rain to stop. No one was ready to go home until he was registered.

As people shivered and waited for registration to resume, a young man who looked to be in his twenties went to get boiled corn for everyone.

He said, “Please use this corn. This hot boiled corn will help you weather the cold while you wait for them to resume listing.

Everyone hesitated until he emptied the first bucket of corn while serving his friends. And then he brought another and another until everyone had something to warm their mouths.

boiled corn

The rain subsided and the calls for names and numbers resumed.

At this point, I was frustrated to the core. I was ready to tell them that I am a journalist and that I should be allowed in, but then the woman acting like the Almighty earlier came and asked those of us who are were registered in line to form a queue and then we were allowed to enter through the narrow door. It was at 1:15 p.m.

There were four officials operating INEC’s custom systems inside and there were only a few people. The whole process took no more than five minutes.

It started at 1:33 p.m. and ended at 1:41 p.m. Mine was longer because Sope, the official who took my biometrics, was interrupted at intervals for small talk by another colleague.

When I finished, I went outside and heard people saying that they had been at the registration center since 6 am. Another said 6:30 and another said 7:00.

A man I hired said to me, “If you come here at 4 a.m., you’ll be shocked to find people here. People are really determined to get their PVCs.

“In my case, I’ve been here since 6 a.m. and it’s 1:57 p.m. There are still a lot of people 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 couldn’t stop them. It could mean the start of a new Nigeria. There are interesting times ahead.

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