Travelogue: Anambra 2021 elections: An observer’s diary
Kareem Itunu Azeez put to pen the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Anambra state where he spent four days observing the 2021 governorship election of the state
Though the 2021 Anambra election had come and gone, many odysseys evolved around the results, many cheers to the winners and losers of that time.
As a neophyte in matters of the state, my duty was to observe and carve a name of being a hero of democracy. But much more, Anambra in four days, a reporter’s verdict, is what I possess.
Idemili-South, Idemili-North, Aguata, Onitsha, and the exaggeration of “We were there when heads roll”, when shots scare you to stupor, where the first words I learned were “Gbedeọma”, “ụtụtụọma”, “ehihieọma” and the black, red and green colors of a flag hoisted high in some places.
I tell you friends, times and history would remember me, in fact, us, for being there when it was hot.
Well, all this prelude, just to burst your bubble, it was never “HOT” as clamoured, but technological glitches rule the day. Yet it was all peaceful and the people have chosen their leader.
At this stage, it’s needless to say where I was coming from. For where I was headed was supposed to be hostile and a bloody warzone based on what I saw, and the hyperbolical gesture of good wishers, in their tens, saying to me, “Please don’t go!” like the 1960 crying shames solo. I was coming as an election observer.
Have you ever tried to put down experiences, so extensively that you do not know where or how to get underway? That’s my close to one week in Anambra, plus another day in Delta, thanks in no small measures to the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism; the recourses would come as always for young journos to demonstrate their own in defending true democracy.
Nightfall in Onitsha
It all started in Onitsha, the time was 11:24PM when I landed in the market of Onitsha, through the Lamb of God motors. There I met a fellow observer from Ekiti state, Jerry by name. The paths as typical of most Nigerian roads were filled with hiccups and needs total surgery, plus the eyes of many night crawlers don’t look too good. Even though the people of Anambra are good, times like these change men and even the most subtle.
Being in a strange place helplessly isn’t a good thing anyway, but when PTCIJ is your grit you can always be smart enough to know how to uncover your way.
Mind you, there were warnings that Onitsha is not safe at night, plus the gunshots we heard while on our way, but I like such journeys too. Moreover, where is the safe zone in my country today? This isn’t my first, neither will it be my last. So I was well equipped mentally.
Onitsha is popular for its robustness when it comes to “Shine your eyes”. A little bit of losing guard could ruin your plans for weeks and months and I didn’t, neither did my partner. Even though, small local motels and lots of local harlots welcomed us with their ring tones “Brother make I help you carry your bag na”, “Make una come rest for my place this night na”
We got a place to lay our head for the night, it was no different from the four walls of a prison, plus there was little we can do. This gave me my first test of sleeping in a local motel. My mind didn’t sleep, it raced past time to the next morning, leaving my flesh alone.
At my destination
We got to Witness Garden the next morning where we would be lodged for the next few days. It was a different picture entirely, let me say it was like the home of Cubana on the streets of UNIZIK. Though the streets were rough, the garden was the best around. And I never regretted any moment of my days there. That was where we would be trained about observing elections and how to survive during times and tide.
Our fate has already been decided even before you understand the nature of what you would be doing. However being registered under PTCIJ, as an election observer, our details has already gotten to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and we were posted to different LGs and Poling Units. I was posted to Idemili South, the main horizon of the scariest places currently, and also housing the largest numbers of voters in Anambra.
From then on, I realise why the selection process was rigorous and unbiased. It dawned on me in an instant why more than 50 students who were called got trimmed down to 30 and at the death, just nine were chosen.
For this reason, I did not take any single training for granted, not even while being taught about the Anambra terrain. I appreciate the PTCIJ team, from the ever ready to listen Mr. Mboho, to the popular program director Mrs. Ajibola Busola nicknamed (King of Boys) and Jessica Odudu. These people deserve more than a paragraph from me, but tomorrow means we still have many things to do together.
I remember, while on a ride, I asked a driver about Idemili South. He said “Before you do anyhow, dem go don dig your grave for you, that place no be am oo.” But I still believed Anambarians are lovely people.
And I as got down, I looked back with the hope that no one is digging my grave through observations, a case when the observer becomes the observed and the hunter, the hunted.
It was obvious I can’t go to such places, especially when Mrs. Busola is your coordinator. Her guidance earned her, “King of boys” from inception to the last person to get home. She was everywhere at the same time, I tell you she’s a mother and a leader!!
But a soft voice keeps telling me, “Don’t worry, you will be alright!”
Maybe it was the voice of the young Anambra lady who sold me fruit salad, where throughout my stay, I go every night, she was Chinonye. She was my gist partner who wished we had time to take a tour around this place. Or was it the other lady I bought some indigenous delicacies from? Amaka was her name. Either way, I was sure it was a female voice. I tell you there are beautiful people here too.
Even if I forget everything, I won’t forget Mrs. Busola’s teaching session. She had asked us to meet two new people. Not just that, we should ask them about their strengths and weaknesses. That was how I met Mukhtar and Nurudeen, which also extended to more friends, Jerry, Udoka, Nicholas and Prestige. I made friends that in due time we shall write stories and paint beautiful pictures of a time now buried in the past.
Did I forget to mention I met Mariam Hamzat again? Yes after our short Memoriam in FUTA, a place I had gone for convergence of “MOROUNMUBO”. This time, we had time together even after leaving Anambra. We spent the night sashaying through the beautiful streets of Asaba, where we saw many beauties helplessly by choice? Mariam had lofty dreams buried in-between uncertainties, yet you won’t know. For this reason, I want to see her again and again.
A journo’s verdict
Our time in Anambra didn’t mean we forget the fact that many citizens yet have not been able to understand their true power as electorates. Nonetheless, it is understandable that those who turned out were the patriots of Anambra state who wanted things to work in their way. And hopefully, our agitations would be turned towards the right process of doing things. Another four years would come soon.
The images we took, the nights we walked through the rigorous roads of Awka with Miss Oge, the threats from Mr. Mboho of excising anyone who comes late to training, the bold actions of “King of Boys”, the swimming pool palaver, the space in-between not wanting to leave each other and the pretense that it was stressful, to the many things I can’t put down on paper, all these made my stay in Anambra-cum-Delta state a beautiful one.
While we give glory to the Maker who narrated this voyage and used us as the practical creation, let us not forget to felicitate with the winner of the Anambra governorship election, Professor Charles Soludo, and the good people of Anambra. The world would remember us as heroes of democracy promptly rather than later.
About Kareem Itunu Azeez
Kareem Itunu Azeez, a one-time Editor-in-Chief, of Association of Campus Journalists, Lagos State University chapter, writes from Lagos-Nigeria.
A graduate of Political Science and Education from the Lagos state university (LASU), he has written several opinion and feature stories, published locally and nationally.
He loves to travel and on numerous journeys, he puts down into narration everything and all that which fascinated him.