Going to prison means losing access to many nice things like freedom, privacy and owambe weekends. But if you’re locked up in a Nigerian prison, one of the nice things you’re technically still entitled to is your right to vote.
At all at all naim bad pass
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Electoral Act 2022 that dictate voting guidelines don’t explicitly rule inmates out from voting. But prison inmates have been fighting for a chance to exercise this right because no one cares about it.
The Federal High Court in Benin City ruled in 2014 that prisoners should be allowed to exercise their right to vote.
Justice Mohammed Lima said, “To deny inmates the right to vote is unconstitutional, illegal, irregular, unlawful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. Being an inmate is not an offence that impedes their registration and voting right under Section 24 of the Electoral Act.”
The court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to update its register of voters to account for the prisoners. The order was not acted upon when INEC conducted the 2015 general elections the following year. This was because the court narrowed down the ruling to just the five inmates that filed the lawsuit, even though the applicants had filed on behalf of Nigeria’s entire prison population.
When the applicants appealed the ruling, the Court of Appeal in Benin ruled in 2018 that the right should apply to every inmate in prisons. But Justice S. Oseji still did not approve an application for INEC to create polling units at prisons. That order also took no effect during the 2019 general elections.
And that’s where senators come in
Senator Abba Moro raised a motion during the Senate’s plenary on March 8, 2022 to discuss the right of prisoners to vote. He argued that the right of every eligible Nigerian to vote remains sacrosanct even if they’re sitting in prison.
He said, “Being a prison inmate is not an impediment to the criminal’s registration and voting rights as enshrined under Section 24 of the Electoral Act 2022, and denying prison inmates access to the electoral process constitutes an infringement of their rights as citizens of Nigeria.”
This is the section of the Electoral Act Senator Moro quoted.
Senator Moro’s motion didn’t specify if prison inmates on death row — Nigeria has more than 3,000 of them — should be able to vote too. When Senator Matthew Urhoghide raised a point about death row inmates voting, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said, “Many of us have that kind of thinking that maybe certain things here may not necessarily be…this thing. It depends on the workability. It’s okay.”
So, we’re guessing he doesn’t really know how it should work.
At the end of the debate, senators approved five resolutions:
1. INEC and all relevant agencies should carry out a voracious voters’ enlightenment in all prisons in Nigeria to educate the inmates on their rights and the necessity to exercise their franchise in the general elections.
2. INEC and all relevant agencies should update their registers of voters to take into account the prison population for the purpose of election.
3. INEC should collaborate with the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) to locate voting centres at custodial centres across Nigeria to be used for voting.
4. INEC should allow duly registered and eligible prison inmates to exercise their franchise during all general elections in Nigeria.
5. INEC should determine the prisoners that are constitutionally and legally qualified, to be registered as voters and vote during elections.
Will prisoners vote in 2023?
We asked INEC about the resolutions that were approved and what the commission plans to do. Rotimi Oyekanmi, the media aide to INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission won’t make any decisions until it receives official notification from the Senate.
He said, “The commission will definitely make its decision public.”
An INEC official representing Yakubu at a public engagement in November 2021 said the commission was already thinking about setting up a structure for prisoners to vote. But it’s unlikely that this will happen before millions of Nigerians go to the polls to vote in 2023 due to time constraints.
Nigeria’s electoral laws, backed by court orders, show that the answer to “Should prisoners be able to vote?” is yes. The real question is, “Will they be allowed to?”