You can tell it is the collection centre because of the people pressing in against the gate, waving their temporary voters cards in the air, some new, some yellowed from age. There are two sets of people: those who registered in 2011 and those who registered in 2014. And there are others like you who have lost their temporary cards.
You will have to get used to the dust on this narrow dirt road where almost two hundred people are milling about, complaining, about the inefficiency of the INEC staff handing out permanent voters cards (PVC).
“Are you the last person on the queue?” you ask.
When he scrunches his face, you realise he doesn’t understand what you asked. You switch to Hausa.
“Kai ne na karshe a layin?”
His face relaxes. He is the last person on the queue.
Ten people are allowed past the gate at a time to search through piles of cards. One hour passes and not a single one of the ten has come out. The queue breaks into groups of people discussing, cursing, laughing, arguing.
“See eh! Make I tell you, if I get like one billion, I no go change…”
“Na big lie!”
“Money get spirit make I tell you. You go change.”
“I swear to God I no go change. See, I go keep de money first. Comot like 100 thousand. Go find beta woman, go hotel, go rest small.”
Everyone bursts into laughter except the fair plump woman. She is not amused.
“Why I go vote? Person wey don win election don win. Na so Nigeria be. Why I go waste my time?”
“Me I register for town but my house dey inside Kapuwa. Why I go suffer myself. Shebi dem talk say no movement dat day.”
“I just wan collect de PVC because dem talk say anytin you wan do now you need am. Weda bank o, even to go abroad now, if you no get PVC you no fit go. Das why I still dey here o.”
It is 2 pm and the sun is high in the sky. The queue has moved only a little bit for the past three hours. People are leaving to eat and return. People are returning to discover they have lost their place on the queue.
A small police car attempts to drive into the premises with a woman at the back. The crowd at the gate is suspicious and reluctant to move. The policeman in charge of security speaks with the policeman driving the car and suggests that the woman get down and enter on foot. People realise the policemen are trying to smuggle the woman past the hundreds who are outside into the PVC collection centre. The women grumble and slowly the men join in too.
Chants of “No!” ring out in the air.
“We no go gree!”
One policewoman tries to punch her way through the crowd of mostly women who have formed a barricade. She makes her way through but is unable to drag the civilian woman across. The policeman in charge, first tries to threaten, then plead with people to let the woman in. No one agrees.
He back down when he sees the resolve of the crowd. They drive the woman away in the police car.
“For the last election I sell my sef, dey tink say, maybe na dat one go beta for me. Election finish, na me regret. Dis time, e no go happen to me again.”
“As you don see de light dis time, e get plenty people wey still foolish like you.”
People burst into laughter at an old man’s retort to a repentant young voter.
The young man continues: “Me I don tell my guys say, if politician bring money, we go collect, shout im name. But if e turn im back, we go vote wetin we like. We go chop de money.”
Another young man nods vigorously.
Everyone seems to agree that this is the way to go. Take the money. Vote the candidate you really believe in.
At 5 pm most of the people who were at this Garki PVC collection centre have still not collected their PVCs.
The officials declare they have closed.
You are exhausted but you have enjoyed listening to all the banter.
“Na wetin dem want be dis,” an old man complains, “dey wan carry all the PVC go do wetin dem want wit am.”
“I get business to do. I no go come here again. I no fit suffer like this.”
As you listen to this middle aged man swear he will not return, something tells you, if you come back here tomorrow, you will find him standing.