Not only that ignorance is not an excuse in a court of law but it is also not a pardonable reason for self-denial of the electoral rights enshrined in the electoral laws of one’s country. It is no gainsaying that many Nigerian citizens who are eligible to participate in an election do ignorantly deny themselves of their electoral rights. A feasibility study conducted reveals that many Nigerians- illiterates and literates are oblivious of the electoral rights conferred on citizens of Nigeria under the Electoral Act.
It is no gainsaying that when the word ‘right’ is mentioned, what often comes to mind of many Nigerians are the fundamental rights provided for under chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). One continues to wonder if there are no other laws in Nigeria which provide for rights of Nigerian citizens besides the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
It is against this background that this paper is written with a view to intimating many eligible Nigerian citizens of their rights provided for under the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015).
A meticulous and cursory study of the provisions of the Electoral Act with a view to finding out the rights provided for Nigerian Citizens reveals that the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) like the previous electoral laws of the country confers the following rights on the citizens of Nigeria.
- Right to be registered as a voter
- Right to apply for name to be transferred
- Right to apply for issuance of duplicate card
- Right to apply for a copy of nomination form, affidavit and any other document submitted by a candidate of any political party believe to be false
- Right to be issued ballot papers.
- Right to object or lodge complaint in relation to the names omitted or included in the voters’ register or in relation to any necessary correction to be effected in a name of a voter contained in voters’ register displayed in a Local Government Area Council or ward where one resides.
Right to be registered as a voter
‘A person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter if such a person:
- is a citizen of Nigeria;
- has attained the age of eighteen years;
- is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from Local Government/Area Council or Ward covered by the registration centre;
- presents himself to the registration officers of the Commission for registration as a voter; and
- is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule or regulations in force in Nigeria.’
The first condition for any person to be entitled to be registered as a voter is for such person to be a citizen of Nigeria. Who then is a citizen of Nigeria?
Section 25 of the Constitution provides that a person is a citizen of Nigeria if he/she is:
- born in Nigeria before the date of Independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria
- born in Nigeria after the date of Independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria
- born outside Nigeria but either of his parents is a citizen of Nigeria.
Apart from citizenship by birth provided for under section 25 is the citizenship by registration provided for under section 26 of the Constitution which provides that a person is also a citizen of Nigeria if he/she is registered having fulfilled the requirements that:
- he is a person of good character
- he has shown a clear intention of his desire to be domiciled in Nigeria; and
- he has taken the Oath of Allegiance.
Section 26(2) of the Constitution also provides for citizenship by marriage to the effect that a woman though not a citizen by birth but if married to a male citizen of Nigeria is a citizen of Nigeria and the provision of section 27 of the Constitution provides for a citizen by naturalization.
It is noteworthy to say here that once a person falls into any of the above discussed categories; such person has right and is entitled to be registered as a voter in Nigeria.
Right to apply for name to be transferred
This right is evident in the provision of section 13 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) which confers on a person who before the election is resident in a constituency other than the constituency in which he/she was registered a right to apply to the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the State where he is currently resident for his name to be entered on the transferred voters List for the said Constituency. The said application is to be made to the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the State not less than 60days before the date of the next election in that Constituency where the applicant is currently reside.
In applying for his/her name to be transferred, the voter’s card already issued to him/her must accompany the said application. For instance, Mr. Etomi, who registered in Ilorin North /West Constituency of Kwara State for being a resident in that Constituency during 2019 registration exercise moved to his new house in Ipata of Ilorin South Constituency after the 2019 general elections. If he wishes to participate in an election to elect a person who is to represent the Constituency where he is currently residing in the general election to be conducted in 2023, he may apply to the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the State for his name to be transferred to the transferred voters List for the Constituency he is currently residing. Electing to do so is a right given to him under the Nigerian Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015)
Right to apply for issuance of duplicate card
This is another right provided under section 18 of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) which affords a person whose voter’s card is lost, destroyed, defaced, torn or damaged as the case may be an opportunity and right to apply in person to the Electoral Officer or any other officer duly authorized for that purpose by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, stating the circumstances of the loss, destruction, defacement or damage for the issuance of another copy of his voter’s card 60days before the election day. It is to be noted that no person shall be issued a duplicate copy of his /her voter’s card on a polling day or less than 60days before polling day.
Right to apply for a copy of nomination form, affidavit and any other document submitted by a candidate of any political party that one believes to be false
Section 31(4) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) affords a citizen of Nigeria who has reasonable grounds to believe that information given by a candidate of any political party in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false and wishes to seek a declaration in the court that the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false an opportunity to apply to an Independent National Electoral Commission for a certified true copy of nomination form, affidavit and any other document submitted by such candidate. It is important to note that to have copies of those documents; the applicant has to pay prescribed fees for the certified true copy to be issued to him/her with fourteen (14) days.
Right to be issued ballot papers
This is another right given to citizen of Nigeria who is eligible to vote and who has been accredited during the accreditation exercise to be issued a ballot paper to cast his/her vote. This right is provided for under section 49 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015).
The Act provides that on being satisfied that the name of the person who presented himself to a Presiding Officer at the polling unit in the Constituency in which his name is registered with his voter’s card is on the Register of Voters be issued a ballot paper to cast his/her vote for a candidate of his/her choice.
It is to be noted that the right of a citizen to receive a ballot paper can be challenged by a candidate of a political party in an election or polling agent on some grounds provided for under section 59 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015). The grounds are:
i. Reasonable cause to believe that the person is under the age of 18 years
ii. That the applicant has committed the offence of impersonation and gives an undertaking on a prescribed form to substantiate the charge in court of law
It is important to state that section 59(2) of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) provides that a person in respect of whom a polling agent, polling officer or security agent gives information shall not by reason of the information be prevented from voting but the presiding officer shall cause the words ‘protested agent for impersonation’ to be placed against his name in the marked copy of the register of voters or part of the register of voters. But where a person admits to the Presiding Officer that he is not the person he held himself out to be, he shall not be permitted to vote and shall be handed over to the police.
Besides, this right is jealously guided to the effect that if a person claiming to be entitled to vote applies for a ballot paper after another person has voted in the name given by the claimant, he/she, upon satisfactory answers given to any questions put to him/her by a poll clerk be entitled to receive a ballot paper of a colour different from ordinary ballot papers in the same manner as any other voter. This kind of ballot paper to be issued to such person is referred to in the Electoral Act as ‘the tendered ballot paper’.
After casting the vote, the ballot paper instead of putting it in the ballot box shall be delivered to the Presiding Officer who will then endorse on it the name of the voter and his number in the register of voters and put same in a packet intended for tendered votes and the tendered ballot paper shall be counted by the Returning Officer as vote cast.
Right to object or lodge complaint in relation to the names omitted or included in the voters’ register or in relation to any necessary correction to be effected in a name of a voter contained in voters’ register displayed in a Local Government Area Council or ward
A citizen has a right to object or lodge complaint if he noticed omission of any name of voters or inclusion of name of a deceased person or wrong spelt of his name that need correction in the voters’ register displayed in the State, Local Government/Area Council Ward or Registration Area using a prescribed form by the Independent National Electoral Commission and address same to the Resident Electoral Commissioner through Electoral Officer in charge of the Local Government/Area Council that the person is not qualified to be registered as a voter in the State, Local Government/Area Council Ward or Registration Area or that the name of a deceased person is included in the register; or make a claim on the form prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission that the name of a person registered to vote has been omitted.
It is the right of a citizen to object against the inclusion in the supplementary Voters’ register of the name of a person on grounds that the person is not qualified to be registered as a voter in the State, Local Government/Area Council Ward or Registration Area or that the name of a deceased person is included in the register; or make a claim on the form prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission that the name of a person registered to vote has been omitted. This right is provided for under section 19 of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015).
It is conveniently safe to conclude this piece with all honesty that the noticeable provisions discussed above call for commending the Nigerian law makers for God guided wisdom to have those provisions in the Electoral Act recognizing the essential and basic rights of citizens of Nigeria. Kudos to the past and serving law makers at all levels for true representation at their various Assemblies.
It is hereby advised that since Law makers have done their own part by enacting those beautiful provisions that recognize the above discussed rights, Nigerians particularly those that are eligible to afford themselves of this ample opportunity accorded to citizens of Nigeria under the Act and stop crying over spilt milk. Ignorance is not an excuse in law.
S.O. Giwa Esq. a.k.a pentalk (Ibadan based Legal Practitioner)