One of the prominent questions many Nigerians have asked on the issue of voting rights in Nigeria, especially as the 2023 general election draws nearer is whether political parties will be allowed to campaign in the correctional centres.
Meanwhile, The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make plans and extend voting rights to prison inmates in its custody, however, the electoral umpire is worried about such foreseen development.
Haliru Nababa, the controller-general of the NCoS, made the call when he led the team of the service on a visit to the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters in Abuja.
The NCoS controller-general who was ably represented by assistance controller-general, Daniel Odharo, said the meeting with INEC was to map out the modalities for the inmates to vote in the forthcoming general elections in line with the recent court ruling.
Mr Nababa recalled that the court had recently given a judgment in favour of inmates voting in elections. However, “the modalities to meet the process is what needs to be worked out and so we need to be here to discuss with INEC to find out how this process can be achieved,” Mr Nababa noted.
The INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu on his part revealed that the commission was committed to inclusiveness, including the rights of inmates to vote during elections. He referred to Kenya and South Africa, the two African countries that extend such rights to inmates however reminded all that some critical issues must be taken into consideration
The INEC boss firstly made a case from the legal framework, one of the issues he raised as a hindrance to such development regarding prisoners voting is the fact that the law required that citizens of Nigeria must present themselves to the registration officer for registration as a voter.
Another issue that he considered as one that is critical to the discussion is that an intended voter must not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule, or regulation imposed in Nigeria. “So this is one area that we need to discuss so that we know the categories of inmates that will exercise the right to vote,” Yakubu said.
“The INEC would want to maintain transparency in its process because everything that we do in the commission, particularly when it comes to the rights of citizens to vote, must be done transparently.”
The commission is also in doubt if the inmates would be permitted to vote outside the correctional centres or inside the correctional centres. The INEC chairman believed that majority of inmates are awaiting trial, hence they might already be registered voters among them.
Would election be held in all 218 federal correctional centres currently holding inmates nationwide? This is another angle that the electoral commission raised issues.
“Maybe there are some correctional centres where this process can start instead of over 218. We informed that some of the correctional centres are not holding inmates at present. So will the process be allowed to cover all the 218 centres?” Mr Yakubu asked.
While many Nigerians are in support of prisoners voting in Nigeria, the INEC has said “these (above discussed) are some of the issues that we need to carefully discuss and resolve before a decision is taken.”