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Bill Seeks to Amend Electoral Act to Grant Voting Rights to Nigerian Prison Inmates

A bill submitted to the National Assembly aims to amend the Electoral Act, 2022, to grant voting rights to inmates in Nigerian prisons. The proposed legislation, titled ‘Bill for An Act to amend the Electoral Act to provide for the right to vote of persons detained or incarcerated in custodial institutions and other places of detention; and related matters’, was obtained by DAILY POST.

The ‘Electoral (Custodial Inmates) Bill, 2024,’ is sponsored by the Carmelite Prisoners Interest Organization (CAPIO) and drafted by the Association of Legislative Drafting and Advocacy Practitioners (ALDRAP), led by Dr. Tonye Clinton Jaja.

The bill proposes amendments to sections 9, 12, 13, 40, and 152 of the current Electoral Act, 2022, to facilitate inmate voting. Specifically, it suggests adding a subsection to Section 40, mandating the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to establish polling units within or near custodial centers in consultation with the institution heads.

Additionally, the bill seeks to establish voter registration centers in prisons by amending Section 9. It also allows inmates registered in different locations before incarceration to transfer their polling units to their prison locations by amending Section 13.

CAPIO argues that the right to participate in governance should not be denied to any eligible voter, whether free or detained. They cite global and regional legal frameworks, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which uphold the right to vote without discrimination. Similarly, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance guarantee participation in governance.

Despite the Nigerian Constitution not explicitly preventing inmates from voting, prisoners have historically been disenfranchised. This proposed amendment aims to address this violation and promote the observance of inmates’ voting rights.

A 2014 Federal High Court ruling in Benin supports the initiative, asserting that prisoners have the right to vote. Justice Mohammed Lima ruled that denying inmates this right is unconstitutional and ordered INEC and the Nigeria Prisons Service to ensure prisoners are not disenfranchised.

However, inmates have yet to be allowed to vote in elections. The bill aligns with the court’s decision, emphasizing that the Nigerian Constitution does not specifically prohibit convicts from voting, and many inmates are awaiting trial and presumed innocent.

In March 2022, the Nigerian Senate passed a resolution urging INEC to allow eligible inmates to vote and to collaborate with the Nigerian Correctional Service to set up voting centers in custodial facilities. INEC has yet to act on this resolution.

CAPIO insists that inmates have a right to vote in general elections, reinforced by court judgments and constitutional provisions. The ongoing amendment of the Electoral Act, 2022, presents an opportunity to rectify the disenfranchisement of inmates.

With over 80% of Nigerian prison inmates awaiting trial, the inclusion of inmates’ voting rights in the electoral reform is crucial. The bill, if passed, would establish the framework for voter registration and elections within custodial centers, ensuring inmates can participate in the electoral process.

The legislation would also outline funding for the conduct of elections in these facilities, making significant strides in upholding the democratic rights of all Nigerian citizens, regardless of their incarceration status.

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