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UK elections, the spirit of Orubebe and lessons for Naija –Toni Kan



British Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria Starmer greet supporters outside Downing Street 10, following the results of the election, in London, Britain, July 5, 2024. REUTERS/Hannah

On Thursday 4 July 2024, I went with wife to vote in the UK parliamentary elections.

See forget everything you have been reading and read my own account which is not the truth and nothing near the truth.

On our way we saw 6 area boys near the park. They were smoking something and waving sticks and bottles. One came very close and blowing smoke in my face asked – who are you voting for? Orishirishi or YamaYama?

Before I could answer, the second one snatched my wife’s bag and said – Are you omo ibo or yoruba?

The third one who looked like he was carrying a ballot box stuffed with ballot papers was going to ask another question when I shouted – get thee behind me you spirit of naija politics!

And poof, they disappeared.

In the 2015 elections in Nigeria, I voted in Gbagada where I lived before I moved to Anthony Village, all in Lagos state.

As the 2019 elections approached, I was concerned as was my friend and former nieghbour in Gbagada. He had moved to Lekki and together we went to Ogudu to see whether we could get our polling stations moved on account of our new places of domicile.

We went back about three times and each time a new requirement was requested for us to be re-added to to the voters register until eventually we gave up and on election day, I contemplated walking the 7.6 kilometers to and fro to vote because, of course there was no movement allowed.

I eventually braved it and drove. I recall making a video and posting it on social media.

That experience was on my mind when I received notification after the UK local elections in May that no one was registered to vote at my new address in the UK where I moved to in 2022.

Although a resident, I am not a citizen and I did not think I was qualified to vote but the notice was clear and a few days after I Googled – Am I qualified to vote in the UK elections? I received a pop up message on Instagram asking me to register.

Google search algorithm will sell all of us one day!

My wife and I registered and received reference numbers almost immediately: “Dear Anthony Onwordi, Thanks for your application to be added to the electoral register …. Your reference number is ADBWZBXXX. We’ve sent your application to London Borough of Bromley Electoral Registration Office, they will send you an email or letter about your application within 10 working days. If an election is taking place in your area, it might take longer.”

Elections were due for July 4th and we became apprehensive when on Monday July 2, we hadn’t received further word but on Wednesday morning as I took the trash downstairs I saw two brown envelopes (not that kind of brown envelope, please!

We had been sent a letter notifying us that our names were to be added to the Electoral register in August 2024 but there was a caveat. If an election held before August, we were qualified to vote BEFORE OUR NAMES WERE ADDED!

My first thought was Oyibo has come again. How can you vote when you are not on the register?

In my first job in the UK I worked for an advocacy group which focuses on Black and Minority Ethnic communities. One of our campaigns was with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Shout Out UK and the focus was on getting black and brown people to be aware of changes to the UK electoral rules especially the requirement of Photo IDs for elections. That was my baptism in UK politics and elections but somehow I had neglected to ask whether I could vote.

As time approached and after I received the notice, I did a quick check and the rules were clear: “…to vote in an election for the UK Parliament someone must: be registered to vote in the constituency; be of voting age – 18 years old on polling day; be either a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland; and not be subject to any ‘legal incapacity’ to vote – prisoners serving a sentence for a conviction cannot vote in UK parliamentary elections and neither can peers in the House of Lords.”

And something else no one tells you is this; voting is good for your economic and legal standing. It helps when you wish to buy a house or take a loan. Yes.

Anyway, reading closely I noticed that the letter which we had received in the brown envelope did not state our polling station but you see there was no need to go to Kosofe LGA office at 53 Ogudu Rd, Ojota to check and be told to bring my great grandmother before I could be re-added.

I simply logged on to which is the UK government’s witchcraft website which has information on everything about you (even that ponmo you smuggled in on your last trip.). I typed in a simple query – where do I vote?

The witchcraft website replied with a simple answer – Type in your post code.

I did and it sent me my polling station which was 12 minutes away and on the morning of Thursday July 4 2024, madam and I walked gingerly to the polling station. (Note that in the UK, if I was sick or too lazy to vote, I could have sent my wife to vote for me. Yes, you can vote by proxy or by post or in person.)

Confession Time: we did not see any area boys. There was no restriction of movement and no public holiday. Men and women were hurrying as always to work and buses were picking and dropping off passengers. Kids were all over the place and young boys in hoodies were smoking that thing as we passed by the park.

We got to the polling station at 8.03am. (Elections began at 7am and would run till 10pm.) There was no MOPOL at the polling stations; just two women wearing reflective jackets at the entrance to the polling station.

“Can we take pictures by the Polling Station sign?” I asked and one of the women said “Sure.”

Inside two other women wearing reflective jackets pointed us down the corridor. At the end of the corridor another woman asked for our ID and address and when we told her she said “Turn to your right.”

There were two people seated at a long table. One oyibo and one dudu.

We told them we had come to vote and they gave us the ballot papers.

“Go over there. Tick your candidate and drop the ballot paper in the box.”

“Can we take a picture of you guys?” I asked. “I am a Nigerian journalist.”

I had said that before I realised that ha, they could say “Nigerian journalist and you want to vote in the UK” but the woman just smiled, asked the black guy whether we could take pictures. Uncle Dudu said no (yimu!) so we turned to the booths made of carton (for privacy) ticked the ballot paper, dropped them in the box and were out.

The time was 8.08am as we took turns taking pictures outside. If we hadn’t asked questions, we would have spent just 2 minutes.

It was an astonishing experience. In 2015, I remember queuing for over 5 hours in the sun with INEC officials changing the goal post every hour and people shunting. I remember I was on that queue with Liborous Oshoma, the public affairs analyst

Why did I want to take pictures? So I can tension dem, abi? No. AIT had asked me to come on Kakaaki to share my experience and so I wanted to have some evidence and when it was time for the interview, I sat on the fence outside the polling station and spoke to the Kakaaki presenters via zoom.

No party agent or area boy or MOPOL came to ask me why I was “camera-ing dem.” If it was in Lagos, someone would have attacked and maybe injured my enemy!

On Kakaaki, I told them my experience and noted that by 11pm, we would start hearing the results. In the last general elections of 2019, Newcastle upon Tyne announced results by 10.27pm, 27 minutes after elections ended and there was no Orubaybay to disrupt the process.

The same thing happened this year. By noon on Friday, the Labour Party had been declared winner, Rishi Sunak had gone to Buckingham Palace with Keir Starmer to see the King and tender his resignation

He came back to No 10 Downing Street, gave a short speech, accepted responsibility for the loss, entered his car and vamoosed. Labour had beaten the Tories hands down and there was no court case, no Appeal, no mention of power of incumbency, no bloodshed.

Keir Starmer moved into Aso Rock, sorry No. 10 Downing Street shortly after. They did not repaint or renovate or buy new furniture and by that evening he started announcing his cabinet.

They did not wait until May 29 for a big inauguration and banquet.

Omo, there are many lessons for Nigeria to learn from the UK election but we will never learn.


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