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A Call On The National Assembly To Pass A Bill To Give Prisoners In Nigeria The Right To Vote In Elections

July 5, 2012

Prisoners awaiting trial and serving custodial sentence in Nigeria Prisons should be allowed to vote in elections and participate in the democratic process. The continued denial of voting rights to prisoners could be dehumanising and hinders rehabilitation. Prisoners are less likely to re-offend if encouraged to participate in the civic process as part of their rehabilitation. The whole essence of prison is about rehabilitation and a place to create opportunities for personal transformation. The views and needs of prisoners should be reflected in our democratic systems.

Prisoners awaiting trial and serving custodial sentence in Nigeria Prisons should be allowed to vote in elections and participate in the democratic process. The continued denial of voting rights to prisoners could be dehumanising and hinders rehabilitation. Prisoners are less likely to re-offend if encouraged to participate in the civic process as part of their rehabilitation. The whole essence of prison is about rehabilitation and a place to create opportunities for personal transformation. The views and needs of prisoners should be reflected in our democratic systems.

The right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and to deny a specific group of persons this right irrespective of whether they are detained or not, is not democratically justified in a free and democratic society such as Nigeria. Thus, Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights states that ‘every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status’.

If voting rights are given to Nigerian prisoners, their needs and interests would be taken more seriously by politicians. Politicians would need to extend their campaigns to prisons for votes and listen to the voices of the huge number of persons behind bar. Part of this campaign could involve a genuine focus on the long term rehabilitation of the prisoner which could lead to reduced re-offending rates with the resultant effects of fewer criminals and prisoners.

What is particularly worrisome are issues such as prison overcrowding and abuse by prison staff which are not treated seriously as political issues, since those most directly affected cannot vote and the public generally has little interest in prisoners’ well-being. Prisoners should also have the opportunity to have a say and or influence the formation of government policies and all other issues that affect the nation into which almost all of them will someday be released. Mistakes made by otherwise rational, beneficial members of society should not be punished by preventing their say in how that society is run or should be governed.

Nigeria should take a clue from countries like Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, etc, where there is no formal prohibition of prisoners voting rights. In about 12 other European countries, electoral disqualification or disenfranchisement depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence as is currently obtainable in the United Kingdom. It is therefore suggested that a decision to allow prisoners voting rights could be based on the nature and severity of their crime. A process could be set up that would follow a parallel path to parole procedure as part of tracking a prisoner’s rehabilitation and readiness to re-enter the society.


Cyril Ojiemen is the Facilitator of the Civil Liberty and Rehabilitation Initiative, a non - governmental organisation based in Warri, Delta state. He has his Masters degree in Law (LL.M) in London in International Law and Criminal Justice. He is qualified to practise law in both England and Nigeria. He can be contacted on 08022904822 or [email protected]
 

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