Elections are crucial. They are like the steering wheel of the country; they control the direction it is headed. It is, therefore, essential that all citizens participate in the country’s electoral process.
Sadly, in Nigeria’s history, some people have been intentionally or unintentionally denied their right to vote. A situation that continues to put Nigeria’s democracy in danger; a democracy is built on the principle of “government by the people,” but how can it be a government by the people if some people are not allowed to exercise their constitutional rights?
The country returned to democracy in 1999 after 16 years of military rule and citizen oppression. Since its return, the country’s political landscape has been dotted by political violence, stifling of voter card collection, dismissal of people with disabilities and many more.
To ensure you have a voice irrespective of your tribe, religion or alliances, Nigeria has continued to propose and approve new laws that protect the voters. These laws are the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the newly assented 2022 Electoral Act.
1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The constitution is the supreme law of the land. It says what should and should not be done; breaking its rules attracts stern punishment. Think of the constitution as the “blueprint” of the country, mapping out its design and functions. In this blueprint are the fundamental and political rights of the citizens of Nigeria.
Right to Peaceful Assembly
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests” (Section 40)
Do you know that you have the right to peaceful assembly? In simpler words, it means that you can associate freely with anybody and also form a political party, union, or any association for the protection of your interests. This freedom is enshrined in section 40 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution. It is no news that political members of political parties may face persecution or attacks from opponents. Mid-last year, a video surfaced on Twitter which drew the ire of users. The subjects of the videos claimed they were brutalised for walking with the Labour Party Presidential candidate, Peter Obi insignia. Incidents like this are an infringement of your constitutional rights, and this is what the law wants to protect.
Right to vote and be voted for
“Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to any legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election” (Chapter 5, Section 77)
At 18, the constitution recognises that you are an adult capable of making independent decisions. Below 18 is considered underage. In recent years, there have been concerns about electoral rigging and underage voting. In November 2022, discussion around underage trended on the issue; INEC had displayed their register for public scrutiny, claims and objections – an act that showed how infested the commission register is with underage voters
The Electoral Act.
The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enacted the electoral act. The 2020 electoral act introduced many reforms to the country’s electoral process. Stakeholders predict that the innovation would make a significant difference in lowering election rigging or manipulation in Nigeria. Besides introducing technological innovations, the act made provisions for voters’ protection.
The new electoral act acknowledged people are living with disabilities. Despite their physical limitations, people with disabilities are admitted and given a sense of belonging when exercising their inherent rights. By providing appropriate communication aids like braille, sizable embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in the proper circumstances, INEC is empowered to take reasonable steps to ensure that people with disabilities, special needs, and vulnerable individuals are assisted at the polling place.
In conclusion, voter rules and protections are essential for ensuring an election is fair and just. Voting is a fundamental right that must be safeguarded for all eligible citizens. Voter rules and protections, though generally uniform between states, can occasionally be utilised to disenfranchise particular voter groups. To make sure that they are just and equal for all residents, politicians must examine and update voter laws and protections. It is also crucial for citizens to push for changes that advance justice and inclusiveness in the voting process, as well as to remain aware of the voter laws and protections in their state.