Allow seven million Nigerians complete voter registration, SERAP urges INEC
SOCIO-ECONOMIC Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), at the weekend, urged Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to give seven million Nigerians, who have carried out their voter registration online, the opportunity to complete the process.
The commission recently said of the 10,487,972 citizens that undertook pre-registration online, only 3,444,378 completed the exercise at a physical centre. This represents just 32.8 per cent of completed online capturing.
In a letter signed by the deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP observed: “The right to vote is not merely the right to cast a ballot but also the right to be given the time and opportunity to complete the registration process, so that the right can be meaningfully and effectively exercised.
“Closing the gates on eligible Nigerians and denying them the time and opportunity to complete their registration cannot preserve trust in the electoral process.”
According to the group, denying a significant number of eligible voters the chance of completing their registrations for Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) would impair right to vote in the 2023 elections and result in disparate and unfair treatment of the affected Nigerians.
Citing Section 14(1)(c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the rights body submitted: “The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
Similarly, it said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation, including right to vote.
The correspondence reads in part: “The failure of the applicants to complete their registration may be due to factors entirely outside of their control, especially given the well-documented challenges faced by many Nigerians at registration centres across the country.
“Unless they are given a reasonable time and opportunity to complete the registration process, and to obtain their voter cards, these eligible Nigerians will not be able to vote in the 2023 general elections.
“If citizens’ chance to vote is denied, that would amount to violation of their fundamental right to vote, just as it would be if they are prevented from casting any vote at all.
“The alleged failure of the applicants to complete their registration at INEC-designated centres is not sufficiently weighty to justify their exclusion from the 2023 general elections.
“Any proffered justifications of saving time and cost are therefore wholly insufficient. Administrative convenience is simply not a compelling justification in light of the fundamental nature of the right to vote.
“This severe vote deprivation cannot be justified by any perceived considerations of saving time, especially because Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that ‘the registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.’
“Providing fresh opportunity for the over seven million Nigerians to complete their registration would promote and preserve the right to vote and ensure that legal and eligible voters are not inadvertently and unjustifiably turned away from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”
SERAP added: “By refusing the over seven million Nigerians the opportunity to complete the registration for their PVCs, INEC has unfairly, unreasonably and unjustifiably denied them the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner as to the reasons for not completing their registration.
“Voter distrust is apparent in virtually empty polling places on election days. Nigeria, historically, has had low levels of voter turnout.
“Allowing eligible Nigerians to complete their registration would improve citizens’ participation in the electoral process and public confidence in the electoral system as well as the ability of INEC to discharge its constitutional and statutory responsibility fairly, justly and reasonably.”