- Prof. Lai Olurode (A former INEC National Commissioner)
I think when I was at the commission with Prof. Attahiru Jega, there was a plan to extend the frontiers of citizenship to people in incarceration such as prisoners and people awaiting trial in police custody. So, it is a good practice because it is done in most advanced countries. But there are challenges associated with extending voting rights to prisoners. The most formidable one is the one that has to do with the general apathy in the larger population.
When you are talking about people that are incarcerated, there will be a need for intensive voter education for them too because it is not just enough to allow them to vote. If you go to the polling unit and don’t have a correct grasp of the issues involved, it may be preferable for you not to vote; because if you vote under the condition of ignorance, you may be inadvertently strengthening the hands of potentially oppressive political parties since you have no information on the choices before you as to what a party stands for.
It can be argued that in this country, there is no difference between party A and party B, but the point is that you must be very clear about your choices while you are casting your vote. So, if that has to be done, I know that the commission, like most other federal institutions, are underfunded and I think it will need to do the politics of getting more resources. But you need to define a kind of special information that will reach the prisoners and I don’t know the extent to which they watch television or listen to radio so that they can make informed choices.
The second challenge is that there is a need to train inmates in such a way that they will be friendly with the election officers that will likely be deployed. The election officers will also need special training. They will need to show special courtesy to those in incarceration so they don’t believe you are talking down on them. So, I think there is time between now and 2019 for INEC to perfect matters regarding voter education in the prisons. I think it is a good move in spite of the challenges that may crop up. I think Ghana and a few others have been doing it for quite some time and I think the next phase should be for people in diaspora. They should have the right to vote because they send money to Nigeria and they should have a say in electing those who will lead the country.
- Akin Osuntokun (A former Special Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Political Affairs)
First, what is the legal implication? Are prisoners eligible to vote? This poser arises because definitely they cannot be voted for. Second how conversant are they with the issues they are invited to vote upon? What is the level of their exposure to contemporary politics? Third, what is the population of Nigerian prisoners – Is it significant enough to warrant making it a priority? What is the practice in other countries? I don’t know what the law says but regardless I don’t believe this should be a priority. Whatever disbarred prisoners from being voted for should likewise render them ineligible to vote.
If Nigeria wants to give attention to the welfare of prisoners, it should be in the area of general prison reforms which is crying desperately for attention. We are told that there are many of them who have not been tried and have been languishing in jail for years.
The prison housing facilities are grossly inadequate and it is a miracle they have not become centres of pandemic outbreak. I get the impression that INEC is probably looking for avenues to justify or spend idle capital votes. For an institution that has generally performed below expectation, I am surprised they have no better way of maximising the efficiency of their operations.
- Mr. Somina Johnbull (Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association, Yenagoa branch)
The mere fact of imprisonment does not disentitle a Nigerian from enjoying rights provided by the constitution and the extant laws.
Thus, a Nigerian, who is imprisoned, has a right to vote in an election and to be voted for except he is convicted.
It is, therefore, incumbent on the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that imprisoned Nigerians exercise their right to vote in 2019.
- Mr. Kayode Adebisi (A lawyer/human rights activist)
To start with, there are different categories of prisoners. We have those who are awaiting trial, we have those who are undergoing trial, those who still have their appeals pending and those who have been convicted by the court. In my opinion, those prisoners who still have their cases pending, should be allowed to vote because it is their constitutional right. The court may discharge and acquit them at the end of their trials, but the convicted prisoners don’t have the right to vote. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission could extend the grace to them (convicted prisoners) and allow them to also vote if it has enough resources to carter for them.
The awaiting trial persons should be allowed to vote in 2019. INEC can create polling units on the premises of prison facilities and allow inmates to vote. If they are allowed to vote, I believe this will deepen our democracy. For those of them who are not registered voters, I think INEC can create special registration exercise for them between now and the election time, but this should be done in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act. Their registration could be manual. For those inmates, who had registered before they changed their locations to the prison, I believe their registration will still need to be confirmed because they now have special status. They are no longer ordinate free citizens.
- President Aigbokhan (Benin-based legal practitioner)
Yes, prisoners should be allowed to vote because they should have a chance to decide those who will determine their future. In 2014, we filed originating summons at the Federal High Court Benin City, Edo State, in suit number: FHC/BC/CS/12/14 for the court to determine the rights of prisoners to vote. It was a matter instituted by Victor Emenuwe and five others on behalf of inmates of Nigerian prisons versus the Independent National Electoral Commission and another. The decision of the electoral commission to allow prisoners to vote is an enforcement of the court judgment in 2014.
Court orders are bound to be obeyed. In a society where court decisions are not obeyed, anarchy will reign. The right to vote is a fundamental right that cannot be taken away from prisoners regardless of the crime. Also, allowing prisoners to vote will help in their re-integration into the society.
Participation in the democratic process is part of civil obligations required from the citizens by the Nigerian Constitution. Furthermore, voting right for prisoners represents the views of all persons irrespective of their location. For me, linking a ban on voting with imprisonment is arbitrary and, therefore, wrong. Section 25 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria confirms that the definition of who a citizen is covers the position of inmates.
- Mr. John Baiyeshea (A Senior Advocate of Nigeria)
Personally, I think that is taking things too far. I think the government should concentrate on giving them education, empowering them and teaching them skills so that when they get out of the prison, they can be more useful to themselves and become better citizens prepared for the future. Asking them to vote is not even a priority matter.
Also, there is a way you give too much latitude and you do not even allow prisoners to understand why they are in prison. Allowing them to vote will diminish the value of deterrence. Personally it does not sleep well with me. If we were to talk about legality, once someone is put in prison, he is going through reformation and regulation to reform his life. The person cannot enjoy rights or freedom. The person’s rights are lost and are virtually seized. By law, there are certain things they are not entitled to. Once you are convicted for an offence and you are incarcerated or jailed, it is no longer a matter of right; it is a privilege that they want to extend to them, and I am saying that that such privilege is misplaced. There are more issues that we should prioritise than facing the issue of giving prisoners the right to vote. To me, we are even wasting precious time, energy and resources considering that we have more important things to do.
We should concentrate first and foremost on how to get the elections right according to law. You are dissipating energy and spreading yourself out in so many areas, putting pressure on a system that is already having problem. It is like shifting your focus away from the important matters and going to little issues. No nation succeeds like that. In the first place, we have not even succeeded in curtailing criminal activities properly and put things in check that will then allow criminals to go on with their nefarious activities.
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Prof. Lai Olurode (A former INEC National Commissioner) I think when I was at the commission with Prof. Attahiru Jega, there was a plan to extend the frontiers of citizenship to people in incarceration such as prisoners and people awaiting trial in police custody. So, it is a good practice because it is done in […] Read Full Story