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Primaries: Extend deadline for voter registration or face legal action, SERAP tells INEC

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “immediately extend the deadline for voter registration to give more time for eligible Nigerians to exercise their right to participation the same way the electoral body has extended the deadline for party primaries.”

Against its earlier stance, the INEC last week suddenly extended the deadline for the conduct of primaries by political parties by six days, from June 3 to June 9. Also, the online pre-registration ends by May 30 2022 while the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) ends by 30 June 2022.

In the letter dated 28 May 2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “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, “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.”

SERAP said, “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 the INEC’s election calendar and activities.”

SERAP also said, “INEC mandates ought to be exercised in a fair, just and non-discriminatory manner. If voting is as important as the INEC always claims it is, now is the time to show that Nigerian voters will be treated equally and fairly. The future of Nigeria’s democracy depends on it.”

The letter, read in part: “The 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 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.”

“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 including to equal treatment and equal protection, and non-discrimination.”

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 48 hours 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 request in the public interest.”

“The recommended extension would also bolster voter confidence in the electoral process, and the ability of INEC to discharge its constitutional and statutory responsibilities independently and impartially.”

“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.”

“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.”

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“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.”

“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.”

“SERAP therefore urges you and the commission to take immediate measures to encourage greater political participation by extending voter registration deadlines, and improving voters’ education and engagement throughout the country. This would show the commitment of the commission to the principles of equal protection and non-discrimination.”

“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.”

“According to our information, the INEC recently extended the deadline for political party primaries. The commission also plans to end the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) by 30 June 2022.  The commission is also set to suspend online pre-registration by May 30 2022.”

“However, following the extension of the deadline for party primaries, and the fact that the INEC has declared 42 per cent of new voters’ registration invalid, it is also fair and just for INEC to extend the deadlines for voter registration.”

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