The first point of call for voters was the first assistant presiding officer’s table. The APO 1 had Jega’s card reader. He would authenticate the voter’s permanent card to ascertain whether the card was from INEC and belonged to this polling unit. This successful, he would then verify that the card holder actually owned the card through finger print matching. If this was successful, the voter proceeded to the APO 2 for his name to be marked on the voters register; otherwise he would come to me the polling officer and overseer of the unit for manual verification. A most trying routine under the blinding Osun sun.
Besides verifying ownership of cards by peering at dry faces, I was fighting sleep. I hadn’t slept enough last night. For one, the distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive materials ended around 2am. Then I began a long call with IBK to coach her and encourage her on her INEC duties. She had missed the practical day of the first training and the refresher training and was supposed to be demoted to an APO 1 but complained of still been PO. This call ended by 4.30am, and I managed to fall asleep on the mat immediately, but was woken at 5.30am for the polling unit. I would have murdered my APO 3 for interrupting my sleep if not for the fear of the Lord in me; although this didn’t stop me from subjecting him to a generous tongue-lashing.
To keep from nodding off where I sat, which would have shamed NYSC and their bureaucratic cousin INEC, and having filled all the forms on my desk, I began to do a percentage comparison of IBK and Helen on paper. A few days back, Micah had said, “Forget IBK, Helen is your heartbeat.” Only by rating, would I know my heartbeat.
Beauty: Helen 78%, IBK 82%.
Acceptance to mama: Helen 75%, IBK 40% (I smiled; this is the Age of Sons, mum).
Trustworthiness: Helen 50%, IBK (l sighed) 49.9%.
Ability to stand by me despite pressure: Helen 58%, IBK 50%.
Intelligence: Helen, 65%, IBK 62%.
I hissed. This wasn’t the true test of the better woman. I decided to do a negative check. A shadow descended on my crowded desk. I frowned as l looked up. An old woman was smiling a toothless smile at me. Her finger verification had failed. I looked at the picture on the card, it was her alright. I registered her.
By the time I was finished with her, two girls were standing behind the woman.
“What are these girls doing here?” I asked my APO 1.
“Their fingers doesn’t print,” he replied.
I ignored the bad grammar and directed the girls to wait to retry their finger verification. They went away, murmuring.
I went back to Helen and IBK.
Ability – no, possibility to break my heart: Helen 60%, IBK 85%.
I swallowed hard.
Ability to successfully manage other runs: Helen 55%, IBK 76%.
The importance of money to love: Helen–
“Corper!” Someone knocked on my desk.
I looked up at a disagreeable middle-aged face.
“Copy me,” he said as he handed over his PVC. It was his face on the card, but I shook my head.
“You have tribal marks now, but you are almost handsome in this card,” I growled.
“No,” he argued, “na me, I swear. That time I no well, native doctor give am mark in face.”
“It’s not true,” I countered. “This is your brother’s card.”
“Ah, I swear God is me.”
We were interrupted by an outbreak of a big quarrel in the queue. I couldn’t tell what caused it because the entire scene played out in sharp Yoruba. But I wasn’t bothered. The polling unit was tightly secured. There was the fifty-something-year-old policeman in oversized butts, an Immigration officer in slippers and a pretty Road Safety woman. Top notch security we had.
Nothing divided the corpers in the Cemetery Lodge so sharply like the presidential election. Edwin, Agatha, Fatima, Faith and Tina were for Change, while Micah, IBK, Mercy and the Rastafarian Agu were for Transformation. Uncle Dayo said, “Let the will of God be done.” But I suspected he believed Jonathan to be the will of God. I was neutral, initially, but as the results trickled in and my best friends Micah and IBK became very anxious, I began to share their feelings and say to myself, “Jonathan isn’t that bad, you know?”
On the night of Monday, the tension in the Cemetery Lodge nearly came to blows. APC was announced to have won 1.9 million votes in Kano, 1.4 million (I think) in Kaduna, 1.1 million in Jigawa, and Edwin began to scream with happiness, “It’s over, change, change! Sai Baba! We have won.”
Agu told him to shut up or manage a broken nose. Edwin told him to go to hell. It took a quick intervention of Uncle Dayo to avert a nose-break.
Fisayo locked her door and sang, “Godwin”. IBK lay on her bed, sick with the imminence of defeat. Mercy sat on the bed, Micah stood on the door, and I gave them hope. “This is initial gra-gra. Rivers, Delta and Akwa-Ibom votes will definitely cancel Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa. Remember Jonathan already has Middle Belt in the bag.”
“But he’s losing South West,” Micah said.
“It doesn’t matter. Imo state alone will take care of all APC gains in the West. Calm down,” I urged.
“I can’t sleep tonight,” IBK said. “Jonathan, that gentle man that doesn’t want trouble… Why are they against him?”
“Sentiment,” Mercy said.
“Aswear,” Micah affirmed.
I told them not to worry. “Jonathan has won. He has mapped the whole thing. You guys should sleep now and conserve energy for tomorrow’s celebration.”
Agu came into the room, panting like a dog on heat.
“If Jonathan win this, I will cook you ora soup, even if I have to go to Ore to get the leaves,” IBK promised.
“I will donate a crate of malt,” came from Micah.
I looked at Agu. “Personally I will prefer weed from Jamaica.”
The laughter was on Agu. He almost smiled.
But the next day offered us little to laugh over. Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat was confirmed. Micah and I watched the proceedings in the football viewing centre converted into election situation room by the pro-change owner. IBK and Mercy had gone to the market in the neighbouring village. Uncle Dayo was away for some NCCF assignment. Agu was at home romancing his weeds and calling on the phone at intervals to say ‘How far’. I kept giving him hope. But after PDP agent Orubebe snapped, called Jega biased and caused pandemonium on live TV, I told Micah it was over. We left.
At the lodge, we met IBK full of energy, humming.
“How far?” She looked up from the generously cut pieces of meat she was washing. “Agu said we are winning.”
“Did you get the ora?”
“No. I will cook you egusi today. Tomorrow I will go to Oshogbo and get you ora. Right?”
“This girl is crazy about you,” Micah said in Hausa.
“She’s crazy about Jonathan,” I corrected.
“It’s goat meat o, I hope you like it,” IBK cut in.
“He-goat or she-goat?” I asked, and she threw her beautiful neck back and her hair splashed with breathtaking abandon as she laughed. How could I tell this babe that her hero had been defeated? I felt like an Okonkwo about to slay innocent Ikemefuna.
“When will they call the final result?”
I entered my room and slumped on the bed. Love was a powerful thing. Less than forty-eight hours ago, I was indifferent over who became president. Now a potent depression was tightening at my intestines over the fall of Jonathan.
It was on twitter, more than an hour later, that I saw that Jonathan had called his opponent to concede defeat. It was now official, sealed. It was a matter of time before Edwin and the mob came back and set the lodge ablaze.
IBK opened the door, carrying a tray of her goat meat egusi. One look at my face and her smile froze, and evaporated. “It has happened?”
I nodded. “He just called Buhari to congratulate him.”
“Eiyaa, eiyaa, that gentle man. Northerners! But what did he do wrong? After all he did for them…” She placed the tray on the desk, buried her head on the wall, and wept.
I walked over to her. “Politics is a mystery,” I said, placing a comforting palm on her shoulder.
She turned to me, hid her face in my shoulder and wept freely.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu