The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has noted that inmates in Nigeria Correctional Centres might vote during the 2023 general election.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, gave the hint on Tuesday when he received the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Haliru Nababa, and his team at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
At the parley, both organisations agreed that it was high time inmates were granted voting rights in compliance with an existing High Court judgement in Benin City, which ruled in favour of inmate voting.
As of 2020, there were about 73,726 inmates in Nigeria’s correctional facilities across the country.
The INEC chairman noted that the commission was committed to inclusivity, including the rights of inmates to vote during elections.
He pointed out that inmates’ voting rights have been recognised by Kenya and South Africa on the African continent, and Nigeria was ready to toe a similar path.
Yakubu, however, raised some germane issues which needed to be addressed in order to allow for successful inmates’ voting, adding that “there was need to discuss the practicalities of how this could be achieved in Nigeria.”
He said, “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.
“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 centre or the point of registration. Number four, that citizen 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.
“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 issues raised by the INEC chairman included location of polling units 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 had to be situated in the facilities.
He stressed the need to address the issues militating against inmates’ voting as soon as possible, as he pointed out that the 2023 general election was seven months away.
Yakubu 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 in 2023, we’ll continue with a discussion to see what happens beyond 2023.”
Earlier, the CG of NCoS, represented by Deputy Comptroller-General in charge of Operations, Daniel Odaro, explained that the purpose of their visit was to discuss the issue of the inmates’ voting rights.
He made reference to 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 actualise the idea.