By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
The ongoing exercise of enlisting qualified Nigerians as prospective voters in the national data by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be implemented with all sense of decency and patriotism.
This is because of the primacy of the voter’s card to the electoral process in the country and because there is just no way a citizen can be deemed eligible to vote if he\she does not have a valid voter’s card. During the headship of INEC by Professor Attahiru Jega, there were proven cases of systematic exclusion of voters from the South under different dubious guises to an extent that millions of potential voters of Southern Nigeria origin cried foul that the electoral panel deliberately disenfranchised them prior to the 2015 poll. The voters registration exercise in the last dispensation was messed up to the extent that hundreds of thousands of so-called permanent voters cards were hoarded in the offices of this electoral commission whilst hundreds of thousands if not millions of potential voters were disenfranchised.
The efficacy of seamless voters registration exercise was marred to the extent that Nigerians who could not withstand the elements such as the burning sunlight resorted to hiring mercenaries to stand on the long queues for them pending when it is their turn to be so enrolled. In Abuja, some prospective voters seeking to register with the electoral commission even went as far as hiring street urchins from Niger and Chad who loiter around to stand on the lines for them.
Voters registration exercise under the last dispensation was so inelegant that suspicions grew that there were plots to scheme out certain segments of the population from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed human right to vote and be voted for. There were insinuations that the then chairman of INEC who hails from Jigawa State deliberately frustrated the South from obtaining the voters cards as a way of conferring advantage to a presidential candidate from the North.
Again, the independent National Electoral Commission is conducting continuous voters registration exercise and allegations have surfaced that in the South-East of Nigeria, the officials of the electoral commission have deliberately introduced bureaucratic encumbrances/obstacles to frustrate eligible and prospective voters from enlisting their details for the purposes of being issued their valid voters cards.
There are allegations that the officials doing the registration are demanding the production of valid National Identity Cards or International Passports before accepting to carry out their statutory duty. Other officials are even said not to have been given the necessary tools for work even as the officials of the same commission in the North are said to have more working tools even as underage voters are being captured and issued voter’s cards as I write. This obstacle placed in the way of prospective voters must be dismantled because apart from the fact that it is unconstitutional, it is discriminatory because in other parts of the federation those who have showed up to be registered are not being required to possess valid national ID Cards or international passports.
By the way, where does INEC expect prospective voters in the East to afford the extravagant costs of obtaining international passports? Moreover, registration for national identity cards has never been seamlessly accessible to all those residing in the rural communities. Section 12(1) of the Electoral Act, amended on the 29th of December, 2010 spells out the qualifiacation for registration to vote for all Nigerians.
Section 12(1) says; “a person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter if such person- (a) A citizen of Nigeria; (b)Has attained the age of 18 years; (c) Is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from the local government area council or ward covered by the registration centre; (d) Presents himself to the registration officers of the commission for registration as a voter and (e) Is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule or registration in force in Nigeria.
Section 17 (1) of the Nigerian constitution provides as follows; “ (1) The State’s social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. Subsection (2)(a) of this section affirmed that: “ In furtherance of the social order- every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law”. Section 42(1) of the constitution absolutely prohibits such practice of discrimination when it averred thus: “(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions. (2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth”.
In all of these relevant provisions of the extant Electoral Act that relates to qualifications for registration to vote, there is nowhere that it is obligatory that a potential voter coming forward to obtain the voter’s card must produce the national or international identity card even when it is as clear as the day light such a person is a citizen of Nigeria in accordance with section 25(1) a-c of the 1999 constitution.
For avoidance of contradiction and doubts, the above provisions regarding citizenship provides as follows: “25. (1) The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth-namely- (a) every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria; Provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria by virtue of this section if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria. (b) every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and (c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria”.
A meticulous perusal of all our laws relating to citizenship and qualifications to participate in election shows that the extra-legal requirements being bandied about by officials of INEC in a part of Nigeria remain absolutely unlawful, null and void and must be discontinued forthwith. Therefore, the Bauchi State-born Professor Yakubu Mahmood the head of INEC must be wary of any subterranean plots to scheme out any member of any segments of the Nigerian society from the voter’s registration exercise under any guise. The hierarchy of INEC must note that public policies are to be implemented transparently and in such a way that equality before the law for all becomes sacrosanct.
In the book entitled: “public policy: formation, implementation and evaluation,” the author stated that: “public policies are formulated by what Easton calls the “authorities” in a political system, namely, “elders, paramount chiefs, executives, legislators, judges, administrators, councilors, monarchs, and the like.” Flowing from the above fundamental knowledge, the way to know who a citizen is does not amount to rocket science.
Almost all INEC’s local government offices are located next to where the traditional and local authorities reside. There is virtually no Nigerian citizen that has no original parental place of origin which is traceable using the knowledge of the trado-local institutions such as the paramount chiefs and local council officials. This is the reason for the letter of place of origin that are usually issued by the trado-local institutions. Even for purposes of obtaining international visas, a letter of place of origin authored by a local council office is valid and acceptable as a public document. So, if for, instance, United Kingdom or USA amongst others recognise our Reference letters of origin from our Local government councils, why does INEC in the South- East of Nigeria require the production of valid international passports or national identity card before enrolling a citizen as a voter?
Let the supremacy of the law be restored in the current exercise of registration of voters in all parts of Nigeria. Let state governments and non-state actors like civil society organisations and community based organisations be vigilant to ensure that nobody is deprived of his/her Constitutional Rights to participate in determining the caliber of Nigerians who should form the central and sub-national governments.
Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)
accountable government structures and which ensures that public offices are based on law and consent; (d) Attention not only to central government institutions and processes but also to the attributes and capacities of sub-national and local government authorities and to the issues of political devolution and administrative decentralization.
These noble objectives may be farfetched should officials who ought to register voters be seen implementing a divide-and-rule policy which offends our laws.
Let the supremacy of the law be restored in the current exercise of registration of voters in all parts of Nigeria.
Let state governments and non-state actors like civil society organisations and community based organisations be vigilant to ensure that nobody is deprived of his/her Constitutional Rights to participate in determining the caliber of Nigerians who should form the central and sub-national governments.
Onwubiko is head of the Human rights writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)