19 Dec 2014

Court upholds prisoners’ right to vote

A Federal High Court sitting in Benin City on Thursday ruled that inmates of the Nigerian prisons have the right to vote in all elections conducted in the country.

The court, presided by Justice Mohammed Lima, who gave the ruling in a suit instituted by Victor Emenuwe, Onome Inaye, Kabiru Abu, Osagie Iyekepolor, Modugu Odion (for and on behalf of inmates of Nigeria Prisons), against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Controller-General of Nigeria Prisons Service, also directed the defendants to ensure that the applicants are not disenfranchised.

The plaintiffs had in an amended originating summons asked the court to determine “whether having regards to the provisions of Section 25 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended in 2011, and section 12 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, the plaintiffs are not entitled to be registered as voters by the 1st defendants.”

Other reliefs sought by the plaintiffs were that the court should determine whether having regard to the provisions of Section 77 (2) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 12 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, the plaintiffs are not entitled to cast their votes at any election; and whether the failure of the 1st defendant to make registration and voting provisions for the inmates in the custody of the 2nd defendant does not constitute an infringement on their rights as citizens of Nigeria as enshrined in section 14 (1) (2) (a) (b), section 17 (2) (a), section 24 (b), (c), section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, Article 13 (1) and Article 20 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

In his judgment, Justice Lima declared that “any act by the 1st defendant to deny inmates the right to vote is unconstitutional, illegal, irregular, unlawful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

He added that the defendants do not have the constitutional right to deny the claimants their voting rights; that being an inmate is not an offence that impedes their registration and voting right under section 24 of the Electoral Act; and that the exclusion of inmates in elections conducted in Nigeria is illegal, ultra vires and null and void.”

The judge thereafter made an order of mandatory injunction restraining the 1st defendant to update and include in the national register of voters names of citizens in the custody of 2nd defendant and an order of mandatory injunction directing the 1st and 2nd defendants, a body totally known to the constitution, have the constitutional mandate, capacity or authority to include the plaintiffs and make the environment comfortable for them to exercise their franchise.”

Speaking, counsel with the plaintiffs, Aigbokhan President, lauded the judgment and stated that erosion of inmates’ rights to vote creates dangerously fragile environment for overall human rights in the reign of 365 days of human right being the theme of human right in 2014.

He asserted that “the judgment is a wedge on the slippery slope of creating second class citizens in Nigeria.

Credit: Adibe Emenyonu/ThisaAy

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