For failing to yield its previous demand, public watchdog firm, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 185 concerned Nigerians have filed a lawsuit against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), asking the court to “declare unconstitutional, illegal, and incompatible with international standards the failure of the electoral body to extend the deadline for voter registration to allow eligible Nigerians to exercise their rights.”
Following this, the organization is seeking a court order to restrain INEC from suspending the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) exercise across the country.
SERAP’s latest move is contained in a statement signed Sunday in Lagos by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
Against its earlier stance, INEC recently extended the deadline for the conduct of primaries by political parties by six days, specifically 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.
The controversial extension enabled the ruling party to change its presidential primary from May 29 to 30 now to June 7 to 8, 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.”
To this end, 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.”
In the same vein, it is asking the court for “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.”
In the suit, the organization is arguing that: “Enforcing unrealistic voter registration deadlines while extending the deadline for party primaries would deny and abridge the constitutional and international human rights of eligible voters.”
Similarly, it is arguing that, “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.”
Further, SERAP argues: “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.
“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.”
SERAP is also asking the court for “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.”
The suit which was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers 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.
Recall that SERAP recently requested INEC to replicate the extension to the political parties primaries to the CVR so as to allow more Nigerians benefit from the exercise and able to vote during 2023 general elections.