Congratulations. You have taken a giant step, which you’d always be remembered for. I do not mean that the government will remember you- they really never do- but your spirit will bear deep witness; that you rose up for your country at a very dangerous time in her history; that you made people’s votes count; that you were an important part of democratic development and consolidation. You had very many reasons not to participate, but you somehow made a decision, took a risk. Whether that risk is worth it or not is not a paramount consideration in this piece, since any answer given will largely be subjective; indeed, the most objective of any such replies is fatally opinionated. I am very sure that you will know the worth for yourself at the end of the exercise- if you are not killed, of course. And this is the simple truth. I am not trying to be a pessimist or a kill-joy, I am merely telling what previous elections have done to your predecessors. Some of them have died while serving their country. For them, it was more of ‘on the earth or in the ground’ than ‘under the sun or in the rain’. The greatest harm you can do to yourself is to be deluded so much you do not know this, for knowing is good for prevention. I am well aware that most of you are taking this risk for different reasons. For some, it’s a money affair; for another, it’s the ‘runs’ and deals that they will make on election day; for yet another, what will they rather be doing when their mates are making cash on the field? Only a tiny number will do it because they want to be part of the making of a better Nigeria. The merit of your motive is left for you to evaluate, just like the worth of the risk you’re taking. Whatever motive you (might) have, I say thank you very much for willing to be at the polls. Democracy will be achieved through you, and if it is subverted through you, bravo! You also will have a place in remembrance : your children and family and loved ones will live to experience the consequences of your mess. And you’d be a big fool for sacrificing their future for instant gratification. Within days, that huge money you make will be gone and your customers will never even remember how your face looks like, even if they came to inspect a damaged road in your area that took many lives, and acidentally saw you. Your mistake will hunt you when they do not repair that road and you are in daily fear for the lives of your myopic self, your adorable children, your ‘Darego’ wife and or your special family of orientation.
I am going to tell you some truths and give you some orientation about best behaviour and safety measures. Here’s why: I am a youth corps member like you. I participated in Permanent Voters Card distribution as Distribution Officer 1 for Kofar Yahuza polling unit (Ashige Ward, Lafia LGA) and Assistant Registration Officer for Ashige Ward, Lafia LGA, both in Nasarawa State. Take note that Ashige ward has twenty five polling units, and yes, I was in charge of computer registration for the twenty five units. It was a damn hectic job but I pulled it off. I wasn’t beaten or anything like that, instead, I was in full charge of my territory. If you consider how petite I look and appear, you’d doubt that I did that. Most of the people I dealt with were illiterates who school was as funny to them as the exact way I pronounced ‘Makaranta’ (Makaranta is Hausa word for school). But they learnt to listen to me and respect my authority. I teach introductory government in the Department of Local Government Studies at Nasarawa State Polytechnic and I teach ND2 students (the rough equivalent of sophomore level in the university). I guess I had good experience already in maintaining decorum and being in charge of my jurisdiction. More than that, I was determined not to be beaten or slapped; it was a test of my education. I had friends who were beaten. I had friends who ‘did runs’. They were all over the place. I participated because I studied Political Science and I felt it was a great opportunity to be on the field, away from the the theory-dominated education I received in the University of Ibadan (Aren’t schools in Nigeria like that? UI was even a bit better). Also, it was a good step in the right direction, since I desire a career in public service. So, everyone has a motive that keeps them going even in the face of hard slaps. I wasn’t prepared to receive no such slap just because I wanted an experience. Maybe I’d have taken it for money (peanuts that were paid?) or ‘runs’. Ludicrous, right?
The first thing you should take with you to the polls is respect. Dig it up and let your mama be proud of you. If you weren’t so privileged, the internet is now everyone’s mama in times of need. Treat your voters as polite as you can. If you’re in a village or not-so-developed area, you can avoid a face-off by sticking to this truth. Treat others as you’d like to be treated.
Next, recognize key people in the queue who are like thought leaders. This is very essential. Try to win them to your side reasonably and they can stick up for you in trouble times. Don’t just look to educated people, some lousy uneducated ones are more powerful thought leaders. I used this strategy to my advantage and it worked very
well. In fact, they enjoyed working with me so much they came to help the next day. I couldn’t have performed their role: they were the middlemen between my little self who couldn’t speak Hausa and the people who didn’t understand English.
Next, establish your authority. They will likely want to take advantage of you, since you’re just a ‘common Corper’. Except maybe you’re a macho man. Especially the touts and street guys. What you need to do is to demonstrate without coming off as rude that you’re in charge. Speak out; tell them to be on an orderly queue; let them know they’re the losers if they don’t behave and make things move fast; if they still don’t listen, find a way to silently invite the soldiers. It works every repeated time. Soldiers are their ‘husbands’. Just sighting an approaching soldier is enough to restore sanity to their minds. I said soldier, not police or civil defense or man o’ war.
Next, treat everyone equally, on the basis of where they stand in the queue. From my own experience, there is nothing that makes the common man very mad as the feeling that they’re being cheated because of education or class/status, right in their community. Do it in the government house, not in their ‘lungu’. Do not answer anybody feeling too big they cannot queue up. Direct them to follow the procedure. Let them know, and let the people hear it if possible, that those who have come to queue early are also humans like them. The people sure like it when they see you’re sticking up for them. I was once in that difficult situation when my NYSC Local Government Inspector brought someone from nowhere to my desk for registration. Of course, I delayed him and let him face the people.
If you are unfortunate to be provided with problematic equipments by INEC, do not be cocky about it. The people will get mad and fling insults around. Identify with their frustrations and concerns and let them know you’re also not happy at all; that you’d react just like them if you were in their shoes; that what is happening is not right and therefore not acceptable. You’d do yourself harm by trying to defend INEC or the government. What’s there to even defend? In such a case, like when the finger scanners I was given were problematic, try to confirm that you feel their pains by being nice. Buy them a bag of pure water if you can. I bought different things: pure water, sugar cane, coke, etc.
Last but not the least, be watchful and careful. Even if you know they’re insulting you, do not attack them or dignify their manners or a lack of it with a bad response. Maintain your calm and cool. Know what you’re to do very well and do it excellently. They are thrilled by a show of rich knowledge of your tasks and greatly irked by a meaningless dance around your job. Although you’d find this piece more beneficial if you’re working in a village or rural area with little education, it’s not totally useless for literate settings. Do your job well, come out alive and let Nigeria be proud of you. We’re counting on you. Remember, ‘Nigeria’s ours and Nigeria we serve’.