The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) met on Tuesday July 19, to discuss possibilities for allowing inmates to vote.
Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman who spoke after the meeting held at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, noted that there are a lot of areas to be addressed before a decision can be taken on allowing inmates to vote and these include location of polling units, format for electoral campaigns, access to correctional facilities for election officials, the media and observers and many others.
Haliru Nababa, controller-general of the NCoS was represented at the meeting by Daniel Odaro, deputy controller-general in charge of operations.
“Section 12(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 lists five qualifications for registering as a voter in Nigeria because you have to register as a voter, before the right to exercise that right as a voter is conferred.
“That section of the electoral lists five qualifications — the prospective registrant must be a Nigerian citizen; he or she must be at least 18 years of age; he or she must originate, reside, or work in the local government or ward covered by the registration centre; the citizen must present himself/herself to the registration officer for registration as a voter; he/she must not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote.
“This is one area we need to discuss so that we know the categories of inmates that will exercise the right to vote. 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 right of citizens to vote, must be done transparently.
“So, will inmates vote outside or inside the prison? Are we going to set up polling units outside or inside the prisons? Since the majority of inmates are awaiting trial, we believe some of them are already registered voters. If they are registered voters, what they will do is to transfer their registration. Will they transfer their registration to the correctional centres for that reason?
“Will political parties be allowed to campaign inside the correctional centres? This is a matter that you need to advise the commission. Will observers and the media be allowed access to the correctional centres on election day, so that the process is really transparent? Will INEC officials be granted access to the correctional centre for voter education? These are matters that we need to discuss.
“Will elections hold in all 218 federal correctional centres currently holding inmates nationwide or there are some correctional centres where this process can start instead of all the 218? We understand that some correctional centres are not holding inmates at present. So, will the process be allowed to cover all the 218 centres?
“So, these are some of the issues that we need to carefully discuss and resolve before a decision is taken. But in principle, the commission is committed to ensuring that all Nigerians are given the right to vote and be voted for — but in this particular case, the right to vote, which is exercisable under the law.
“The sooner we are 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 the last conducted by Nigeria. So, even if we don’t meet all these critical thresholds for 2023, we’ll continue with the discussions to see what happens beyond 2023.”