SERAP Writes INEC, Seeks Recognition Of Right To Vote Securely

SERAP Writes INEC, Seeks Recognition Of Right To Vote Securely

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to use the mandates of INEC to pursue constitutional and legal reforms that would explicitly recognize Nigerians’ right to vote and to vote securely in free, fair and honest elections as a fundamental right.

SERAP also urged the INEC Chairman to promote constitutional and legal reforms that would contain explicit mandatory provisions on internet voter registration, and the use of modern technology, including in casting and counting, voter registration and systems for reporting results.

This was disclosed in a letter dated 28 October 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.

In the statement, SERAP said: “The explicit recognition of the right to vote and to vote securely would improve the right to representative democracy in the country.

The organisation said, “The continuing resistance by politicians to bring the country’s electoral legal rules up to date with modern technology, and make the use of technology mandatory in our electoral process is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigerians’ right to effectively participate in their own government.”

The letter read in part: “Democracy works best when everyone participates. Legally enforceable right to vote is the bedrock of any democratic society. The right to vote and to vote securely is too important to be left to the whims of politicians.

“Confidence in the electoral process is on the decline. Many Nigerians are expressing concerns about the credibility and integrity of the electoral process.

“Nigerian politicians have little incentive to pursue genuine constitutional and legal reforms that would improve the exercise by Nigerians of their right to participation in the electoral process and in the mechanisms of government.

“INEC has constitutional and statutory responsibilities to promote and advance the right of eligible Nigerians to vote and to vote securely as part of their internationally recognized right to political participation.

“Under section 2(b) of the Electoral Act 2022, the commission ‘shall have power to promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes.’ INEC also has the constitutional mandates to take the recommended measures under Section 153 of the Nigerian Constitution and paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule.

“INEC has the mandates to promote, protect and facilitate the exercise of the right to vote and to vote securely as a fundamental right. Exercising such mandates would rebuild public confidence in the ability of the commission to effectively perform its responsibilities and to act in good faith.

“The major problem facing the country’s democracy is the lack of respect for Nigerians’ right to participation and the concomitant lack of trust in election results. If citizens do not believe in the election process, then the entire system of democratic government becomes a questionable enterprise.

“The explicit recognition of legally enforceable fundamental right to vote and to vote securely in free, fair and honest elections would protect the right to participation, safeguard and strengthen the credibility and integrity of the country’s democracy.

“It would rein politicians who continue to abuse the electoral rules to distort and undermine the right to participation with almost absolute impunity. It would also amplify the voices of the people, not corrupt politicians, and modernize and secure the country’s future elections against any threats.

“The country’s electoral legal rules are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the requirements of the right to political participation, which is explicitly guaranteed under article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which Nigeria has ratified.

“The right to vote and vote securely would also impose clear obligations on the electoral commission and other authorities to ensure the ‘will of the people’ in elections, and to administer elections in an objective and neutral manner, and in conformity with modern technology.

“The crisis confronting Nigerian elections and lack of public trust and confidence in the electoral process can be addressed if the right of Nigerians to vote and to vote securely is explicitly recognized as justiciable constitutional right.

“Nigerians do not currently enjoy explicit and enforceable right to vote and to vote securely. As the 2023 general elections have shown, the absence of this right in the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] has seriously undermined the right of Nigerians to effectively participate in their own government, and the credibility and integrity of the electoral process.

“Although the Nigerian Constitution provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution’, this is not recognized as legally enforceable fundamental human right.

“Unless INEC urgently begins the process of pushing for the explicit recognition of Nigerians’ right to vote and to vote securely, politicians would continue to use the country’s antiquated electoral legal rules for personal gain, and to deny the people their right to participation.

“We would be grateful if INEC begins the process of taking the recommended measures within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our requests in the public interest.

“SERAP notes that ahead of the 2023 general elections, INEC disclosed that over seven million Nigerians who carried out their voter pre-registration online but could not complete the process at physical centres would not be entitled to vote.

“The right to vote and to vote securely as well as the right of the people to expect representative government through the process of elections is basic to democracy.

“Without the explicit constitutional recognition of the right to vote and to vote securely as a fundamental right, millions of Nigerians would continue to be denied their right to participate in their own government.

“The Nigerian Constitution and Electoral Act are grossly inadequate to guarantee citizens’ right to political participation which encapsulates the right to vote and to vote securely. Our electoral legal rules are based on a set of archaic notions that do not serve the core function of participation and a representative democracy.

“The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance explicitly assert the right to vote as part of the fundamental right to participate in democracy.

Article 25 of the Covenant, article 13 of the African Charter and articles 2, 3 and 4 of the African Charter on Democracy contain provisions on the right to participation. Nigerian electoral laws ought to be such that would give effect to the voters’ will and uphold the popular mandate through free, fair, and honest elections.

“The right to vote in a democracy is important because so many other matters depend upon its exercise. Nigeria ought not to be stuck with electoral rules, structures and procedures that violate basic ideas of participation, fairness and representative government.”

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