Due to constraints occassioned by law, official duty, religion and other exigencies, a large number of Nigerians, comprising groups and individuals will not be able vote in today’s elections. BIYI ADEGOROYE and OLALEKAN OSIADE give insight to this, reporting that some of these people are disenfranchised for no fault of theirs.
As Nigerians go to the polls today to elect its president and federal lawmakers who will run the affairs of the country at national level in the next four years, a number of Nigerians, home and abroad, would not exercise their franchise either by choice or circumstances beyond their control. The quadrennial events have always taken place in the country without these individuals and groups casting their votes, for one reason or another, even as they anticipate a change in this practice someday. Among those that fall into the category of those that may not vote for their lawmakers are those on essential services, such as the police, the military, newspaper vendors, election observers and medical personnel, who are on election duties. Though, these sets of people are not barred by law, they may be restricted by their lawful duties, as many of those in these professions are usually deployed for essential services during any election.
Prominent among those who will not vote in today’s election are the security agencies, including the military and the paramilitary forces, who serves as back up and also secure the country’s borders against external aggression during the polls. These group includes the Nigeria Army, Nigeria Police and officers and operatives of the Department of State Services, (DSS). Others are the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, (NSCDC), the Nigerian Navy, the Nigeria Air Force, all of whom are involved in various security duties before, during and after the elections. Police personnel are often placed at polling units to forestall any break down of law and order. As there are restriction of movements, these officers on duty are meant to secure the populace and ensure a hitch-free election. Since the nation’s independence in 1960, many officers and some men of the security agencies have never cast their vote. They have been disenfranchised by no fault of theirs, but by virtue of their duties, a development which negates constitutional provision of freedom to vote. While their counterparts around the world vote before the election, these officers and men are men are excluded from voting in Nigeria’s elections. Perhaps in the near future, the Electoral Act can be amended to enable them to exercise this franchise by having a say in who governs the country, even if they cannot be voted for while in service as it obtained in developed democracies.
Youths corps members/INEC staff
Over the years, the majority of youths corps members have been excluded from voting, essentially because they are on election duties in various parts of the country. They are often trained in handling ballot boxes and sensitive voting materials like the card readers and guiding voters, where necessary during the elections. In some cases, they have paid the supreme price during electoral violence as it happened in Bauchi State in 2011. A number of them have been involved in vehicular accidents in the course of their duties. In the same vein, the same fate may befall some officials of INEC, who are duty bound on election day.
Journalists and local election observers
Journalists on duties also fall into this group of professionals who may not vote. In most cases, they are sent into various states of the federation to chronicle and report for their media houses and posterity, as some are posted to some volatile areas. Often times, they are accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Similarly, Nigerian election monitors and civil society groups, who are on duty may not be able to exercise their franchise. A local election observer, Elder Tomisin Anike, who gave reasons for such occurrences, explained that it was simply because many people on duty are far away from their homes or places of work, where they register. “You should know that many of us either register at home or at work, but when it comes to the election proper, we will be on duty, away from our homes and offices. This is largely the reason for not voting. “We disenfranchise ourselves in the course of duty, it is a sacrifice to our father land, but we expect that Nigeria will reach the situation of other big countries, who can vote from any place they are posted to. “We need to improve our system to accommodate all of us, including prisoners, they also have rights but we are still dealing wit outdated laws. In some developed nations, people on essential services are allowed to vote ahead of others, so as not to be disenfranchised. For instance, soldiers in the US always vote days before the general election”, he said.
Due to the closure of some schools, many students, who are currently out of their campuses, won’t be able to vote. This is because the institutions are where they registered to vote. So, due to the closure of some schools, some of them would have no access to their PVCs.
A lot of medical doctors are usually placed on standby in various hospitals across the country, in readiness for any emergency that may arise, as such, they will be on duty today, either waiting for patients or attending to victims of election violence.As for other medical personnel, which include, nurses and auxiliary staff, they are expected to be on ground at various hospitals and clinics in readiness to help with health emergencies
Seventh Day Adventists
There are religious organisations like the Seventh Day Adventists who worship on Saturdays. The Adventists have remonstrated over the years about the holding of elections on Saturday, their day of worship and sued the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation over the continuous conduct of elections on Saturday. The applicants in the matter, Chief Emeka Anyabelem, Elder Asonye Onwudebe, Felix Minikwu and Chinedu Omesurum, said conducting elections on Saturday amounts to the violation of their rights to worship and disenfranchisement of other members of their church. In the suit, PHC/2836/2018, the applicants prayed the court to declare that holding elections on Saturday, the worship day for the denomination, is a violation of the Seventh Day Adventist Church members rights. The suit read in part: “A declaration that the applicants’ known day of worship being Saturday, they are entitled to their freedom of religion and worship on Saturdays unhindered or by any means, whatsoever, under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). “A declaration that the fixing/scheduling of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday, February 16, 2019, and the governorship and state Assembly elections/Federal Capital Territory (FCT) council elections on Saturday, March 2, by the first respondent, in concert with the second and third respondents, constitute a violation of the applicants’ fundamental rights to freedom of religion.” The applicants said their rights being violated are guaranteed under Section 38 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, and Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and People’s (Enforcement and Ratification)Act, Cap A9. The applicants further prayed the court to make an order of injunction restraining the third defendants, INEC, from conducting the 2019 election as scheduled or scheduling any other elections on Saturday. Speaking with Saturday Telegraph, a member of the church told our correspondent that “it is not against the law but our church frowns at it. We worship on Saturday and we don’t do any other thing”.
To the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are no member of any political party neither do they vote in any country in conformity with their conviction that Christians should be apolitical. One of their Christian elders who chose not to be named said the action is in agreement with the doctrine of Christian neutrality which has its roots in the Bible. “Jesus said: ‘My Kingdom is no from this world,’ John 18:36. He neither voted when he was on earth, neither did he identify with any political groups. Even when he was to be made a king, according to John 6: 15, he withdrew to avoid taking such political position,” he said. However, he said they do not disturb anyone from exercising his franchise.
Nigerians in the Diaspora
Another crop of Nigerians who will not participate in the election are those in the Diaspora. This set of people are yet to be accommodated by law, though their counterparts in foreign missions and military operations are allowed to vote. Many of these people resident in various parts of the world are professionals in various walks of life, plying their businesses outside the country, but keep a keen interest in the goings-on in the country. Some of those in the Diaspora have been calling for an update of the system to ensure that they vote, but the laws are yet to be reviewed in a way that would accommodate them. A number of advocacy groups have called for the amendment of the Electoral Act to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote. The National Chairman of the Diaspora Initiative, Hon Victoria Mpamugo, said the organisation which has branches in Europe, America and Asia, with professionals in medicine, engineering accounting, law and IT said an amendment of the Electoral is overdue to accommodate this crop of Nigerians to exercise their fundamental human rights.
As for the prisoners, the laws of the country does not guarantee the freedom to vote for a prisoner who had, by law, lost all his rights, except the right to life, if not on death roll. Nigerians serving varied terms in various prisons across the country are exempted from voting. The country’s prison population, according to figures released by the Comptroller-General of Prison Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed about 68,250 inmates held in prison facilities all over the country as at March 2017. Out of this number, 46,351 are awaiting trial while the remaining 21,903 are convicted. In terms of percentage, the convicted is 32 per cent while awaiting trial persons are 68 percent.
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