The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) have begun discussions to address possible encumbrances to the participation of inmates in the electoral process.
Both organisations agreed that it was high time inmates were granted voting rights in compliance with an existing High Court Judgment in Benin which ruled in favour of inmate voting.
The agreement to work towards actualizing inmates voting came when the Comptroller General (CG) of the NCS, Haliru Nababa, represented by the Deputy Comptroller General in charge of Operations, Daniel Odaro, led a team on a courtesy visit to INEC Chairman and his team at the INEC Headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday, 19th July, 2022.
Prof. Yakubu affirmed that INEC was committed to inclusivity, including the rights of inmates to vote during the elections. He pointed out that inmates’ voting rights have been recognized by Kenya and South Africa in the African continent, and Nigeria was ready to tow a similar path.
He however raised some germane issues which need to be addressed in order to allow for successful inmates voting. The INEC Chairman said “we need to discuss the practicalities of how this can be achieved in Nigeria”.
“Let me start with the Legal Framework. Section 12, sub-section 1 of the Electoral Act 2022 lists five qualifications for registration as a voter in Nigeria, because you have to register as a voter before the right to exercise that right is conferred . That section of the Electoral Act has at least 5 qualifications”.
He continued: “Number one, the prospective registrant must be a Nigerian citizen. Number two, he or she must be 18 years of age, at least. Number three, he or she must originate, reside or work in the local government or be covered by the registration center or the point of registration. Number four that citizens of Nigeria must present himself or herself to the registration officer for registration and support. And number five, which is really critical to our discussion today is that he or she must not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule, or regulation imposed in Nigeria”.
Prof. Yakubu added that “this is one area that we need to discuss so that we know the categories of inmates that will exercise the right to vote and I’m happy that you came with your Director, Legal. We therefore need to work things out carefully. We want transparency of the process. Because everything that we do in the Commission, particularly when it comes to the rights of citizens to vote, must be done transparently”.
Other germane issues raised by the INEC Chairman include; Location of Polling Unit for inmates, possibility of political party campaigns in the correctional facilities, voter education for inmates, voter registration for inmates, and observers access to correctional facilities to monitor elections if polling units have to be situated in the facilities”.
Prof. Yakubu harped on the need to address the issues militating against inmate voting as soon as possible, as he pointed out that the 2023 general election was in 7 months away. He said “the sooner we’re able to address these issues, the better for the process. But remember, we have only a little over seven months to the next general election. But the next general election is not going to be the last election conducted by Nigeria. So even if we don’t meet all these critical thresholds, or 2023, we’ll continue with a discussion to see what happens beyond 2023”.
Earlier, the representative of the CG of NCS, Haliru Nababa, Mr. Daniel Odaro, explained that the purpose of their visit was to discuss the issue of the inmates’ voting rights.
He referenced the ruling from the High Court which ruled in favour of inmates voting and said they were in the Commission to discuss the modalities to actualize that.