On Tuesday, August 15, more than 400 hundred people thronged the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Ikorodu, Lagos, to participate in the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.
However, as at 4pm—of the same day—when SaharaReporters left the office, no more than thirty people had been registered.
The reason for this, SaharaReporters discovered, was because some of the INEC officials, in cahoots with touts, illegally sneaked in people who had paid them N1,500 to fast-track their registration.
Prince Chucks, a huge, dark-complexioned man, is the most sought-after individual at the Ikorudu INEC office, not for his physical appearance, but for his reputation as the go-to-man if one is unwilling to go through the chaotic registration process at the Ikorodu office.
SaharaReporters arrived Ikorodu Government Reserved Area (GRA), where the INEC office is located, at exactly 7:34am, on Tuesday. At that time, more than 300 people had penned down their names on the arrival list, with not less than 200 people physically present.
The people, residents of Ikorodu, came from different parts of the town, with some complaining that they had arrived as early as 2am.
“This is the third time I am coming for registration,” Adeola Stella told SaharaReporters. “I got here about few minutes to 7 [a.m.] and I met more than 250 names on the list.”
SaharaReporters’ undercover reporter, who paid Chucks for the registration, got the INEC CVR registration form in less than 15 minutes; whereas Stella had been on the process for three days without success.
Stella and many others, who had left their homes thinking they were early enough, did not get to register that day. One of the INEC officials, a tall, bald man informed the waiting crowd that only 60 people would be attended to. Stella and hundreds of others lurked around, pushing and yelling at one another, hoping they would be lucky enough to get registered but they never did, except for those who were ready to pay.
SaharaReporters discovered that out of the 60 slots available, there were fictitious names inserted by touts who then sold the names as slots. The slots sold for N500 or more, consequently frustrating early comers, who had abandoned other activities to ensure they register.
However, while the touts took control of the free flow of the process and deprived early comers their due slots, the likes of Chucks and his accomplices seemed the bigger problem, as buying a slot does not necessarily guarantee fast-paced registration; it only assured that one is among the 60 lucky people that would be called—if the cover is not blown— from the long list.
Chucks, on the other hand, does not bother cramping the list with fake names, he directly sends names of his clients to the INEC officials in the registration hall. Chucks works with Oluchi and Owolabi, two INEC officials at the Ikorodu office.
While our correspondent, who was at the centre for two days, did not witness any direct interaction between Oluchi and Chucks, some of the people who paid Chucks were directed to Oluchi. On the other hand, SaharaReporters, on Tuesday—day one at the centre— observed Chucks as he sent some names to Owolabi through WhatsApp, an instant messaging application.
“I have sent your names inside,” he said, as he assured the new clients he just gained.
On Wednesday, August 15, SaharaReporters returned to the centre and found the fee had skyrocketed from N1,000 to N1,500. According to Chucks, the officials now demand N1000, which would leave him and the security guard— a ferocious military officer who almost knocked a woman over to prevent her from gaining access into the INEC building— with nothing if he continues to charge N1,000.
“It is now N1,500,” Chucks said to a fair lady who came to seek his service. “The officials now take N1,000; the security collects N200,” which leaves him with N300 for each registration.
Chucks, Oluchi and Owolabi are not the only ones in the racket. The ‘deal’ is an open secret among all the INEC officials at the centre. On Wednesday, it was Dayo, another INEC official, who called in names on Chucks’ list, while those who had been at the centre as early as 5am languished under the sun.
The registration hall is a market square, with every official scampering to attend to ‘their people’. Lara, a bespectacled, petty lady, who exuded energy way too enormous for her frame, bullied registrants—even those who had paid N1,500— as she sorted the registration of those brought in by her front, a dark-skinned, rotund woman.
Every single INEC staffer at the Ikorodu centre is aware of the sharp practice, but none of them seem bothered, as they all benefit from it. This is not surprising. The commission itself seems unwilling to curtail—if not totally halt—this act of extortion. Six weeks ago, this website published a detailed multimedia investigative report on extortion by INEC officials at an Ogbomosho registration centre in Oyo State, but the commission is yet to reprimand the erring officers.
The electoral commission has just announced the extension of the registration exercise by two weeks, which—sadly—also implies more days of extortion for corrupt INEC officials and frustration for many Nigerians, because certainly, this act will continue except INEC actively seeks to expunge these bag eggs.