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INEC worried about prisoners voting in 2023 general elections

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The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to extend voting rights to prison inmates but the latter is worried.

The comptroller-general of the NCoS, Haliru Nababa, made the appeal when he led management of the service on a visit to the INEC headquarters in Abuja.

Mr Nababa, represented by assistant comptroller-general Daniel Odharo, said the meeting with INEC was to work out the modalities for the inmates to vote in the 2023 elections in line with recent court ruling.

“The court recently gave a judgment  in favour of inmates voting in elections. The modalities to meet the process 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 said.

On his part, INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu noted that the commission was committed to inclusivity, including the rights of inmates to vote during elections.

He cited Kenya and South Africa as two countries in Africa that extend such rights  to inmates but noted that some critical issues must be considered.

“Let me start with the legal framework. Section 12(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 lists five qualifications for registration 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. Number one, the prospective registrant must be a Nigerian citizen,” Mr Yakubu explained. “Number two, he or she must be 18 at least. Number three, he or she must originate, reside or work in the local government or ward covered by the registration center or the point of registration.”

The INEC chief further stated, “Number four that citizens of Nigeria must present himself or herself to the registration officer for registration as a voter. Number five, which is really critical to our discussion today is that he or she 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.”

He maintained that 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.”

Mr Yakubu wondered if the inmates would be allowed to vote outside the prison or inside the prison.

Mr Yakubu also stressed that since the majority of inmates are awaiting trial, they might already be registered voters among them.

“If they are registered voters, they can’t be registered. What they will do is 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 we need to advise the commission,” Mr Yakubu further explained.

Raising further queries, the INEC chief said, “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 centres for voter education? This is a matter that we need to discuss.”

He also wondered if elections would be held in all 218 federal correctional centres currently holding inmates nationwide. 

“Or there are some correctional centres where this process can start instead of over 218. We understand that some of the correctional centers are not holding inmates at present. So will the process be allowed to cover all the 218 centres?” said Mr Yakubu. “So these are some of the issues that we need to carefully discuss and resolve before a decision is taken.”