Prisoners Can Now Vote In Nigeria
Hon. Justice Mohammed Lima of the Federal High Court sitting in Benin City has affirmed the right of prisoners to vote in Nigeria. He stated this while pronouncing on a fundamental right application seeking whether having regard to the provisions of sections 14 (1) (2) (a) (b), 17 (2) (a), 24 (b), (c), 25, 77(2), and section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended in 2011) and Article 13 (1) and 20 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, inmates in Nigerian are not entitled to cast their votes at any election.
The applicant counsel Aigbokhan President, Esq by an originating summons in representative capacity filed as VICTOR EMENUWE & 4 ORS V INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECOTRAL COMMISSION & ANOR in suit no: FHC/B/CS/12/14 asked the court to direct INEC to register inmates in prisons across the country and also seeking that the court restrain INEC and Nigeria Prisons from disturbing, precluding, discriminating and secluding inmates from participating in elections conducted in Nigeria nationwide.
According to the counsel in his written submission, voting is one of the most fundamental issues in the school of democracy; therefore the right to vote behind the bars or as an inmate is as important as the democracy itself and that the 1999 Constitution states that every adult citizen has the right to vote in any election conducted in Nigeria. According to him, this right extends to inmates in prison or police custody.
According to Aigbokhan, denying inmates the right to vote imposes negative costs including torture on prisoners and the penal system. It removes a route to social development and undermines correctional law and policy directed towards rehabilitation and integration which is integral in the millennium development goal chase and the 365 days human right global standard. He argued further that erosion of inmates’ rights to vote creates dangerously fragile environment for overall human rights in the prison. He asserted that “If inmates were to lose the right to vote, it would signal a fundamental departure from the Nigerian Constitution and practice of a constitutional democracy in the past 15 (fifteen) years”. He added “it places society on a slippery slope of creating second class citizens”. He asked the court to determine the status of inmates in democratic setting if same cannot vote.
The court upheld the argument of counsel and urged INEC not to disturb, preclude, discriminate and seclude inmates from participating in election conducted in Nigeria forthwith. The court also held that Section 12 of the Electoral Act which gives INEC chairman the discretion to decide location of polling unit cannot override 1999 constitution. The court did not grant the applicants relief seeking Independent National Electoral Commission to make provisions for voting centers in prison yards. According to Justice M. Lima, there can be special arrangement to take the inmates to the nearest polling centers as it is done when they are taken out for community service.
Author: Aigbokhan President, Ekikhalo Chambers, Benin City Edo State, Nigeria