© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Ekiti Election: How smart card reader disenfranchised septuagenarian who has never missed voting since Nigeria’s independence
The July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State was adjudged peaceful, despite skirmishes in a number of communities. One of the under reported issues of that election was the frustration of disenfranchised voters who remain aggrieved even after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had announced the winner of the election. The ICIR Editor, AJIBOLA AMZAT, who was at Ado-Ekiti during the election met some of those aggrieved voters. The case of a particular old man was striking, yet familiar. The ICIR reports:
PA JIMOH Ilesanmi, 78, left his personal house at Bank Road about 7:30 o’clock on Saturday morning July 14 to his family house at Oke -Isa, Ado-Ekiti local government area, Ekiti State.
The journey was fifteen minutes of brisk walk. But it took longer time that morning because the septuagenarian went in company of his wife whose footsteps were not as hurrried.
Yet it was necessary he leaves home that early because there were two important tasks to carry out that day. By leaving the house at that hour of the day, he had to forgo his breakfast. But that was unimportant considering the task ahead. For weeks past, he has been making ready for this moment. The first task is to vote, and the second is to assist his 102-year-old mother, Rabi Ileshanmi, also to cast her vote.
Mother and son have been voting since the first republic when Action Group, the party led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, ruled the South West politics. “I have never missed voting in elections,” he told The ICIR.
The polling unit where the two were registered to vote last Saturday is located right in front of his family house. Being the ward leader, and the patriarch of the family, Pa Ilesanmi was instrumental to the delimitation of his father house as a polling unit. Before his arrival at the polling station that morning, his mother had been all set to cast her vote.
Though INEC had announced that voting exercise would begin at 8 o’clock in the morning, it was not until 9 am that voting started in Ward 10, unit 4 and many other polling units in Ado-Ekiti. When the exercise eventually started at 9:22 am or thereabout at Ward 10, Madam Ilesanmi was the first to be called for verification. But the smart card reader failed to recognise her fingerprint until the fifth attempt.
Just as she was about to go cast her vote, her son vacated his place on the queue to assist his aged mother, but the INEC presiding officer, a youth corps member in her early twenties, would have none of that. Of course, she was unaware of the filial relationship between the two senior citizens. “Marking of ballot paper by voter must be done in secret,” she read a line from the INEC voters’ education manual, despite the people’s call to her to let the old man assist his aged mother.
At that time, Mr. Ilesanmi became livid with anger, and his two eyes turned scarlet. “I will assist my mother, and you will not do anything about it,” he said in a voice that belied his advanced age. The confused, but bold-looking young INEC official glanced from the middle-age policewoman on duty to the Civil Defence officer for help, but the two were also as dumbfounded as everyone else. The audience though seemed to be much more amused by the little drama.
There was no way of knowing that the elderly man was the son of the old woman, until neighbours confirmed their relationship. Then, the presiding officer gave in, and the old man’s anger disappeared instantly. Had the lady refused to allow him assist his old mother, Pa Ileshanmi said he would have protested more vigorously. “I am the first son of my mother; and the law permits children to assist their aged parents to vote,” he later told The ICIR during an interview.
At the voting cubicle, with their back turned to the voting crowd, the son asked his mother, “which party do you want to vote for,” and the old woman responded, “Umbrella party,” then he held her thumb and guided it down to the right box. Satisfied, he led her to where she eventually dropped the ballot paper into a transparent plastic box, and returned to his place on the queue.
CARD READER FAILURE
When it was his turn to vote, the card reader failed again. For the umpteenth times, the machine would not read his card. “This has never happened since 2010 I collected this card. I always used this card to vote. In 2014 governorship election, I was number 263 on the voters’ list. This year, my number is 285,” he said to the INEC official. The lady tried one more time to read his number, and the card failed again.
When other voters started to get restless, Pa Ilesanmi was advised to step aside. The presiding officer assured him that she would attend to him again after other people on the queue must have voted. The old man then found a seat by the pavement a distant a way, and waited for his second turn.
Indeed, Pa Adesanmi was not the only one who had problem with a card reader that morning, there were several others across the state, including the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, Kolapo Olusola. Media reports confirmed that he was manually accredited before he could vote at his ward at Odo Iro unit, Ikere Ekiti. The story is the same for Kayode Fayemi’s wife, Bisi.
But while the two prominent figures were able to vote eventually, Pa Ilesanmi could not. And so were many others like Mr. Gbenga Abudu, 50, who said he came as early as 6:30 am, and Mr. Fakoade Kolawole, 58, who trekked a long distance from his house at Awedele to Oke Isa.
The ICIR raised the issue of card readers’ malfunction with the INEC Deputy Director of Publicity, Mr. Emeka Ugboaja.
He said the Commission had provided for extra card readers which presiding officers can request for when a card reader fails, but the presiding officer at Ward 10 insisted the card reader she was using was fine, only that it momentarily failed to recognise the card of Pa Ilesanmi and a few others. And it was hard doubting her because the machine worked perfectly most of the time.
It was in the hope that the card reader would eventually allow him vote, that Pa Ileshanmi decided to wait, but that did not happen because people kept coming to vote till 3 pm, one hour later than the official time. And the presiding officer could not help but stop the voting exercise, especially when other polling units have started announcing election results.
At that point, Pa Ilesanmi had no option than to accept his fate, and waited with bated breath for the result of the election at his polling booth. After the vote count, PDP scored 103, while APC got 98. The entire polling unit erupted in jubilation. Everyone, including children was shouting slogans of the party– “P-D-P…P-D-P…P-D-P”. The old man himself was giddy with relief. PDP’s victory was his victory.
“It is a blessing for Olokori compound that PDP won. Since this place has been designated as a polling unit, we have never lost to APC. And we will not, for as long I remain the leader of this ward. And I am not doing it for money. At my age, it is not for me to be dealing on votes racketeering. No politician has ever given me a brass penny, but I am doing this for Fayose whom I found to be a truthful leader and a lover of the downtrodden.”
Pa Ilesanmi’s joy would however be short-lived when the candidate of APC, Kayode Fayemi was declared winner the following day. The ICIR visited him again in his house, and it was a sober Pa Adeshanmi who responded to questions. At this time, the world has started to look less cheerful for the old farmer. “The Ekiti election was a fraud,” he said.
He said the “see and buy” strategy used by the opposition party accounted for their “fradulent victory”, but what the old man did not know is that his party, PDP, also compromised the integrity of the election by bribing voters. And the evidence is here.
Notwithstanding, Pa Ilesanmi still agonised over his inability to vote. Though his vote would not have changed the fortunes of his party, he believed his right to vote has been denied for the first time since Nigeria became independent. And for him, that was the greatest tragedy of the July 14 Ekiti election.