“Ekene, how are you doing? I hope you won’t be taking part in the coming state governorship election?” thundered my sister from the other end of the cell phone call, sending my ear ossicles into reverberations.
“No o! I won’t! We all know how hot the election would be.”
That was me deceiving myself few weeks to the Kogi State Election Day—16th November, 2019. I had even told everyone that cared to listen that the probability that I would partake in the election is negligible. Though I later attended the INEC training, I did so strictly for the allowance attached to it. I had to register my name to the book of Corps members in need of money biko.
Just few days to the election date, pressure started piling up. I mean my colleagues: Ademola, Kehinde and Cynthia all declared their interest except Edet. Confusion reared its face too, altering my sagacity. Each time I read a positive update about the election, I felt enthusiastic to partake in it. But whenever I bumped into anything negative, my optimism gradually maneuvered into pessimism. The mixed feeling went on and on and on till a day to the election proper. I finally braced myself up to work for INEC. I would say it was because of the encouragement I got from Jacy, Lola and the enthusiasm of my colleagues. But the love of money really took hold of me, I no go lie.
On Friday morning—15th of November—I and my colleagues were already at the collation center of my LGA, Ofu. This was where the first piece of frustration set in. There, we waited for so long before we could get transported to our Registration Area Center (RAC). The RAC is where the INEC officials would camp before dispersing to their various Polling Units (PUs) on the day of an election. God! I had to put myself together with good words. We finally boarded a bus after scuffles and headed to the RAC together with our SPO (Supervisory Presiding Officer) and INEC materials, both sensitive and insensitive ones at about 9:10pm. We got there safely at about 10:15pm to the glory of God.
News had spread that we would need to use an engine boat (as they called it) to get to our destination, that is, our Polling Unit. I refused to absorb it. Me? I shrugged it off joor.
“Hey Corper! You’ll need to get your life gadgets and those of your assistants.”
“Oh my God! This is real. God, you know I hate water. I didn’t sign for this to get lost in the river. Pls God…” I kept murmuring to myself, spitting everything negative about water. The same water I’ve found most useful. It’s just that the situation had changed. How the incidence of Titanic flashed on my memory is still inexplicable. The scenes of the capsizing Titanic… I mean I saw those gruesome stuffs in the video. Reminding myself that it was going to be my first time on boat, I swallowed hard.
Off I went with my team to the place of my assignment. A team comprising three security men, my three assistants and I, the Presiding Officer. I had consoled myself that I’ve come a long way to give up on the mission. No going back. But at this point, something reminded me that it was about to hit twenty-four hours and I had no plan of taking a bath. “Hmm, Ekene, you’re about to set a record.”
On getting to the river bank, my heart attempted failing me. The young man tried to bounce off my chest. Wetin I see no be am at all. I felt horrible. To say I was just scared would be an understatement. If I was called a weakling, I would’ve accepted it in good faith. That river was not just for me please. I sighted afar, all I could see was an endless water body. I had thought it would be a case of crossing the river, like 100 meters stuff. I didn’t know it would be a sort of voyage.
“Jesus, is this where you’ve granted these people to finish your son? My life journey cannot end on water please. We both know it’s not yet my time.”
It was at this juncture I realized that what I was told to be an engine boat was actually an engine canoe. Yes, I would call it engine canoe. That’s what it was. I would always be unapologetic about it. I wouldn’t care after all I felt deceived. I felt deceived because there should be a difference between an engine boat and an engine canoe. Canoe is canoe abeg. People should be careful with their words. But again, no going back. Forward forever.
So we drove off. I knew the greatest mistake I could make was to sit by the side of the canoe. So I avoided it by sitting in the middle. That would feel better of course. Getting farther away from the bank, I could picture myself standing in between two broad worlds—the Upper and the Lower worlds—gazing sternly at each other. The Upper world looked welcoming but very far away while the one nearest to me was the scary world. My heart plunged into series of electric dance and this was without my permission. I mean I’m aquaphobic, at least that’s what I told myself and every part of my body knew it.
It was totally incredible that we remained on water for thirty minutes, then an hour and then two hours before we finally reached to our destination. Imagine, a first-timer like me on water for almost two hours. But surprisingly, I was more scared in the first thirty minutes of the journey than in the last thirty minutes. The fear was astoundingly diminishing with time.
I just couldn’t care more about anything else than setting my feet on ground. Water was not just my thing. I didn’t care to know whether the river is that of Niger or Benue or the conglomerate emanating from the confluence of the two rivers at Lokoja. I didn’t care to ask questions. It wasn’t the time for useless questions. Such questions wouldn’t get me off the dreadful hands of the river after all.
It took us exactly an hour and fifty-six minutes, safe to say two hours, to get to our destination. I kept time. I mean I had to keep time because I knew if I made it out of the river alive, my children’s children must have a story to tell.
Overall, I would say the polling at my PU was successful and peaceful. I used peaceful because, at least, there was no fighting, no snatching of ballot box, no destruction of INEC materials, just several altercations during which we had to halt polling, regained control and continued again. That was it. I had prayed for the spirit of God/Allah to befall the villagers so that they wouldn’t turn us into canoes or mistake us for fishes. God, my strength and comforter, answered my prayer.
Returning to the river bank where our journey on water began was generally scarier than the going. The water current was now flowing in opposition to the direction of movement of our canoe. Now when I say our journey became sluggish, I know you’d understand what I mean. Situation got worse when the canoe engine tripped off. Hence, our canoe made a swift u-turn yielding to the force of the oppositional water current. My female colleague, Corper Cynthia, nearly cried at that instant.
“God has always accompanied me in my goings and comings, this can’t be different.” I invigorated myself with those words. My fear absolutely fizzled out. I was even loving the horizon, appreciating nature. Now, I could emerse my fully stretched hand into the water pleasing myself with the sputtery and soothing sound it was eliciting.
“This is a wonderful experience,” I told myself. “My first time on water and here I am enjoying it instead of gnashing my teeth in phobia. I thought I was aquaphobic. Hmm, what’s now happening to me? Where has the aquaphobia gone to?” I kept talking to myself while our canoe sluggishly took us away from the cold hands and snares of the river. Immediately we got to the river bank, sighs of relief filled the air. People jumped off the canoe in euphoria. At last, we cheated drowning. I quickly checked my time and it was 6:30pm. A returning journey we started at exactly 3:10pm. You can imagine how long we spent on water. That’s three hours and twenty minutes as against the two hours spent on our way going to the PU. What an incredible journey!
Over the course of the electoral activities, several records were set. Yes! Personal records. First time traveling on water. Two days of no bath. Two days of eating junk foods. Of course, I lost weight overnight. I had to tighten my belt joor.
Finally, my partaking in the electoral process was eventful. Lessons were learnt, experiences were gained, records set and stories obtained.
In all and for all, otito dịrị Chukwu; tsarki ya tabbata ga Allah; ogo ni fun Ọlọrun; glory to God.