It is widely believed world over that democracy is the best form of governance and that elections is one of the most important foundation of democracy.
Through voting, citizens make choices among the contesting parties and candidates, while the law is there to ensure accountable and transparent process. This is the basis for ensuring that the winner reflects the true and absolute choice of the voters. The power of voters to make these choices among the parties, candidates and programmes make the elected officials accountable to voters and citizens.
In Nigeria we had a lot of challenges with the conduct of elections since the return of democracy from military rule in 1999 election up to the 2015 elections.
However the success or failure of any election depends on the responsibility performance of all stakeholders including INEC, Political Parties, Voters, Election Observers, Media Houses and Security Agencies.
The voters on their side can make a huge difference in the outcome of any elections. It is therefore pertinent that the voters display the highest level of discipline, orderliness and absolute compliance to the Law and Order guiding the elections.
Responsibility of voters goes with their rights as two inseparable development factors like the Siamese twin. The State guarantees the rights of the citizen in order for the citizen to fulfill his duties to the State
The attempt here is this morning is to deliberately focus more to the rights that have direct bearing with elections and also to develop in gallant police officers and other stakeholders an awareness of the voter’s rights and responsibilities, to sensitize ourselves on the rights of the voter before, during and after elections and to encourage responsible action to secure lives and ensure a safe and enabling atmosphere for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
The knowledge of rights and responsibilities would help develop in the Nigerian Police Force respect for the dignity of the individual voter, promote tolerance and strengthen respect for fundamental freedom.
VOTERS RESPONSIBILITY BEFORE ELECTIONS
- Right to Voter Registration-Section 12 of the Electoral Act 2011 provides that once a person is a Nigerian citizen with a minimum of 18 years of age shall be registered not more than once and in not more than one registration centre, either where he is ordinarily resident, works in or originates from a Local Government Area council or ward covered by the registration centre.
- Right to conduct peaceful campaign- It is the responsibility of any voter and political party stalwarts to ensure that they conduct campaigns in a peaceful manner and to ALWAYS adhere to the laws, rules and regulations guiding elections in Nigeria. Broadcasting any campaign or political activities 24hours prior to elections or on the polling day is prohibited and is an offence sanctioned under the Electoral Act.
- Reporting election offences as soon as possible to Designated Security Officers desks and the nearest Police Stations and to participate in the election by coming out to vote is also cardinal responsibility of voters before election.
- It is also the responsibility of the voter to ensure that they did not impersonate or obtain Voter’s card by fraud or misrepresentation.
VOTERS RESPONSIBILITY DURING ELECTIONS
- Right to vote – anyone who is properly registered may vote in any election this is to help ensure the independence and impartiality of INEC is protected, guaranteed and enforced to the full by participation in the electoral process.
- 47 of the Electoral Act requires that voting shall take place on the same day and time throughout the federation. It is the right of every registered voter to be at their Polling Unit on Election Day from when it usually opens for accreditation at 08:00AM until when the results of the vote at that Polling Unit are published and posted at that Polling Unit.
All accredited voters are entitled by right and by encouragement of INEC to visit their Polling Units with their mobile devices and use them freely, they also have the right to avail yourselves of any monitoring system to report events at their Polling Unit.
- It is the right of every accredited Nigerian voter to vote according to their persuasion, their conscience, their conviction and never under duress or inducement by any politician, security agent, religious or tribal leader or for compensation. It is also the right of every accredited Nigerian voter to use their vote wisely, the people we elect in February will run the country for the next four years, their decisions will affect our lives at home and abroad, our future, our prospects, our progress, our economy, our livelihoods and much more – ensure the party that has your endorsement at the ballot box can and will affect your life as a Nigerian for the better.
- Right to secrecy of voting – It is the right of every accredited Nigerian Voter as enshrined under S. 52 of the Electoral Act to vote by an open secret ballot. A voter may keep his or her vote and political party preference secret. No one may look at or ask to see a voter’s ballot
- Right to Additional ballot paper-S. 55 of the Electoral Act provides that A voter who by accident deals with his ballot paper in such a manner that it may not be conveniently used for voting, may deliver it to the Presiding Officer and if the Presiding Officer is satisfied that the ballot paper is spoilt he shall issue another ballot paper to the voter in place of the ballot paper delivered up, and the spoilt ballot paper shall be immediately marked cancelled by the Presiding Officer.
- Right to special assistance – A voter, who has a disability or is unable to read and/or write, may receive special assistance. If you have doubts or have questions feel free to ask. 56 of the Electoral Act provides that a voter who is blind or is otherwise unable to distinguish symbols or who suffers from any other physical disability may be accompanied into the polling unit by a person chosen by him and that person shall, after informing the Presiding Officer of the disability, be permitted to accompany the voter into the voting compartment and assist the voter to make his mark in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Commission.
Sub Section 2 of the S. 56 provides that the Commission may take reasonable steps to ensure that voters with disabilities are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, Large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases.
- Right to prevent voting- S. 50 of the Electoral Act guarantees the responsibility of a Voter, an Agent or a candidate to challenge the right of a person to receive a ballot paper where it appears in anyone of the following:
- Impersonate another person in order to vote or attempt to vote under a false name
- Vote or attempt to vote more than once in the same election
- Influence or attempt to influence a voter’s voting decision through the use of force, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward.
Notwithstanding the rights of a registered voter, there are series of offences which are sanctioned by the Law;
- 129 of the Electoral Act provides that “No person shall on the date an election held do any of the following acts or things in a polling unit or within a distance of 300 meters of a polling unit-
- Canvass for votes;
- Solicit for the vote of any voter;
- Persuade any voter not to vote for any particular candidate;
- Persuade any voter not to vote at any election;
- Shout slogans concerning the elections;
- Be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in the event is calculated to intimidate voters;
- Exhibit, wear or tender any notice, symbol photograph or party card referring to the election;
- Use any vehicle bearing the colour or symbol of a political party by any means whatever.
- Loiter without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote;
- Snatch or destroy any election materials; and
- Blare a siren
Sub Section (2) further states that “No person shall within the vicinity of a polling unit or collation centre on the day of which an election is held-convince, hold or attend any public meeting during the hours of poll as may be prescribed by the Commission unless appointed under this Act to make official announcements operate any megaphone, amplifier or public address apparatus, wear or carry any badge, poster, banner, flag or symbol relating to a political party or to the election.”
Where a person contravenes any of the provisions of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 24 months imprisonment.
VOTERS RESPONSIBILITY AFTER ELECTIONS
- One most essential primary responsibility of a voter after election is to be law abiding. Voters shall keep away from all the offences listed above and to ensure that they observe high level of discipline.
All law enforcement personnel when it pertains to the electoral process are answerable to the designated INEC official at that location and they shall not act outside the remit and authority of the INEC official during the whole electoral exercise.
It goes without saying that the Inspector General of Police is also answerable to the authority of INEC when it pertains to electoral matters on all Election Days at all INEC designated electoral premises throughout the federation.
In the exercise of the voting process by these voters, the security agencies particularly the Police are saddled with the responsibility of the protection of human life, voters themselves, electoral materials and officials and also in the preservation of lawful and orderly election which are necessary for a credible, free and fair election. It is therefore important that security officers display the highest level of integrity, neutrality, professionalism and sense of duty.
The function of the law enforcement is always to maintain peace and order as well as facilitate the ability for Nigerians to observe the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
One function of law enforcement personnel on Election Days is to enforce the restrictions on vehicular movement and unauthorized travel as provided under Section 121 of the Electoral Act as follows ‘No person shall provide for the purpose of any other person to a registration office or to a polling unit any government vehicle or boat, or any vehicle or boat belonging to a public corporation except in respect of a person who is ordinarily entitled to use such vehicle or boat and in emergency in respect of an electoral officer.
Sub (2) states further that where a person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500, 000.00 or to imprisonment for six months or to both.”
I pray the Almighty in his infinite mercy will grant us very successful, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections.
Mujtaba Adamu Ameen ESQ, LLM, Deputy Director Legal Services Kano State House of Assembly, Secretary Nigerian Bar Association Kano Branch
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria