The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 185 Nigerians have filed a lawsuit against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), over failure of the electoral body to extend the deadline for voter registration.
Against its earlier stance, INEC recently extended the deadline for the conduct of primaries by political parties by six days, from June 3 to June 9. But the commission has failed to also extend the online pre-registration which ended May 30 2022 and the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) ending 30 June 2022.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1034/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP is asking the court to determine “whether the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration is not a violation of Nigerian Constitution, 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act, and international standards.”
SERAP is asking the court for “a declaration that the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration is a violation of eligible Nigerians’ rights to participate freely in their own government, equality and equal protection.”
“An order of mandamus to direct and compel INEC to extend voter registration by a minimum of three months and take effective measures to ensure that eligible Nigerians are able to register to exercise their right to vote in the 2023 general elections.
“An order restraining INEC, its agents, privies, assigns, or any other person(s) claiming through it from discontinuing the continuous voters’ registration exercise from the 30th June 2022 or any other date pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
In a supportive affidavit to the suit, SERAP argued that, “Enforcing unrealistic voter registration deadline while extending the deadline for party primaries would deny and abridge the constitutional and international human rights of eligible voters.
“INEC mandates ought to be exercised in a fair, just and non-discriminatory manner. The extension of voter registration would ensure that Nigerian voters are treated equally and fairly. The future of Nigeria’s democracy depends on it.
“Voters are also critical stakeholders in the electoral process. Treating all eligible Nigerian voters fairly would advance the people’s right to vote and to participate in their own government.”
According to SERAP, “INEC must not only be independent and impartial in the exercise of its constitutional and statutory responsibilities but must also be seen to be independent and impartial.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “Extending the voter registration exercise would also bolster voter confidence in the electoral process.
“One of the people’s most sacred rights is the right to vote. The commission has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to ensure the effective exercise of the right of all eligible voters to participate in their own government.
“Extending the deadline for party primaries without providing adequate time and opportunity for eligible voters to register and participate in the 2023 general elections would amount to an unfair and discriminatory treatment of Nigerian voters, and violate other human rights.
“Extending the voter registration deadline would provide more time for eligible voters, including young people, the elderly, people living with disability, as well as those resident in states facing security challenges and living in IDP camps to participate in the 2023 elections.
“Extending the deadline for voter registration would be entirely consistent with constitutional and international standards, and the Electoral Act. Any such extension would also not impact negatively on INEC’s election calendar and activities.
“The public perception of the independence and impartiality of INEC is essential for building public confidence in the electoral process, and ensuring the credibility and legitimacy of the 2023 elections.
“Where Nigerians have doubts about the independence and impartiality of INEC, they are more likely to have less confidence in the electoral process thereby undermining democracy.
“Extending the deadline for voter registration would also be justified, given reports of challenges in the voter registration exercise, especially for young people, the elderly, persons living with disabilities, and those resident in states facing security challenges and living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
“The will of the people is expressed through democratic elections. This requires that people should be afforded adequate time and opportunity to register to vote. Extending the voter registration deadline is crucial for promoting the independence and impartiality of INEC and building public confidence in the electoral process.
“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) 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.
“Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that ‘the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.
“Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation.
“These human rights treaties also require states parties including Nigeria to ensure the independence and impartiality of national electoral bodies responsible for the management of elections, as well as to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation.
“The right of people to participate in their government is a fundamental feature of any democratic society, and any undue restriction of the right would strike at the heart of representative government.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.