COURT ORDERS INEC TO ALLOW NIGERIANS ABROAD TO VOTE

On May 25, 2007, Nigerians living abroad led by Professor Bolaji Aluko, Hon, Hakeem Bello and Mr Uzoma Onyemaechi approached the Federal High court sitting in Abuja, in suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/370/2007 wherein they sought the following reliefs:

  1. A declaration that the plaintiffs are entitled to participate in the government of Nigeria by voting for candidates of their choice pursuant to Article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
  2. A declaration that the plaintiffs are qualified for registration as voters by virtue of Section 13(1)(c) of the Electoral Act 2006 and Sections 77(2), 117(2), 132(5) and 178(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  3. An order directing the defendants to set up registration centers and polling stations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in all High Commissions And Embassies of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The plaintiffs’ counsel, Mr. Femi Falana submitted that by the combined effect of the Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Section 77 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and Section 13 of the Electoral act 2006, Nigerians who are 18 years and above, living overseas are legally qualified to vote for candidates of their choice in any election conducted in Nigeria. Apart from the several local and foreign authorities cited by Mr. Falana, he exhibited a list of member states of the United Nations including 15 African countries that have recognized external voting by their nationals.

In their vehement opposition to the suit, the Attorney-General and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through their counsel, Messrs Nelson Anih and Chris Erhabor, submitted that the Nigerian Embassies and High Commissions cannot be used for voting as they do not form part of the constituencies under which elections could be held in Nigeria. They further contended that they have not prevented Nigerians living abroad from traveling home to participate in the electoral process.

In his considered judgment, delivered on December 18th 2008, Justice Adamu Bello held that since Nigerians living abroad have convinced the court that they are entitled vote and be voted for it is the constitutional responsibility of INEC to put in place the “relevant machinery to assist the plaintiffs to vote from abroad.”

While agreeing with INEC that there is no provision for external voting in the law, the judge stated that “the time is ripe for Nigeria to give its citizens living abroad the opportunity to register and vote from abroad in any election in Nigeria without having to travel for that purpose.” Consequently, the Court directed INEC was directed to “approach the National Assembly by sponsoring a bill for the sake of Nigerians in Diaspora and in doing so, it can borrow a leaf from the countries that have already adopted the external voting”

In his reaction to the judgment, Mr. Femi Falana commended Justice Bello for his incisive and progressive decision, which has challenged the Nigerian government to join the comity of democratic nations by recognizing the rights and privileges of our abroad to participate in the government of their country.

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