Dear Nigerians and members of the International Community
It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you today. The right to vote is a fundamental pillar of democracy. It is a right that must be protected and upheld by all. It is a right guaranteed by the Nigeria Constitution and Article 25 of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” of December 1966 (to which Nigeria is a signatory) that states thus:
“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”
Yet, in Nigeria, we are seeing a gross violation of this right, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) continues to willfully disobey a Court Judgment and disenfranchise millions of eligible voters.
As citizens of Nigeria and the world, we believe in the power of Democracy and the importance of every voice being heard through their votes. However, the recent actions of the INEC in Nigeria undermine these fundamental principles.
Despite fulfilling all legal requirements, including registering to vote, my clients were denied their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), and INEC has refused to comply with the court’s judgment which compels INEC to allow them vote using their Temporary Voter’s Card (TVC); in Kofoworola & Anor v. INEC suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/180/2023.
This is not an isolated incident. INEC’s inefficiency and ineptitude to issue PVCs has led to the disenfranchisement of millions of eligible voters in Nigeria. It is unacceptable that in this day and age, people are denied their basic democratic right to vote because of bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary rigidity.
The INEC has filed an appeal against the court’s judgment in a futile attempt to mislead the public that the judgment is no longer applicable. We have only just received their notice of appeal and application for stay of execution of the judgment today 16th of March 2023 and we have seven days (starting from today) within which to reply to them and be heard in court. It is the law that stay of execution and filing of notice of Appeal does not invalidate the existing judgement of Federal High Court in this matter. .
We will respond within time and they would have their day in court to move their Motion for Stay. However, INEC is mandated by law to comply with the subsisting judgment of court until the court of appeals decides otherwise. It is also trite law, that the judgment of Court is valid until set aside and takes effect immediately upon pronouncement by the Court, and that as soon as the Court makes the order, that order takes immediate effect. See the Supreme Court’s decision in MOBIL OIL NIG. V. ASSAN (1995) 8 NWLR (Pt. 412) S. C. 129 @ 143.
It is pure travesty of justice that INEC, the very institution charged with the responsibility of ensuring free and fair elections, has deliberately chosen to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians by refusing to issue them their permanent voter’s card, even after they have fulfilled all legal requirements and have been issued temporary voter’s cards. It is unacceptable that INEC, an institution that is meant to serve the people, has become an obstacle to democracy in Nigeria. This is not just a violation of the law, it is a violation of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens to participate in the democratic process of freely electing their leaders.
The court has spoken and its decision is clear:
“…it will amount to disenfranchisement of voters where such a person who is qualified to be registered as a voter as stipulated in the Constitution of the Electoral Act, has presented himself to be registered, is registered and issued a VIN and his name is in the Register of voters maintained and Kept by the Defendant and whom has presented himself to a presiding officer to vote simply because the Defendant failed to issue a ‘permanent voters card’ after issuing a ‘temporary voters card’ to the person. Such a voter should not be made to suffer disenfranchisement for the negligence, inefficiency or ineptitude of the Defendant in issuing a permanent Voter’s Card.”
Page 20 of the judgment.
This is not a matter of interpretation or opinion, it is the law.
Yet INEC has chosen to ignore the court’s decision and has continued to imply their intent to deny eligible voters their right to vote by not complying with the Court’s Judgment, given the fact that temporary voter’s card contains all necessary information needed by the BVAS (Bimodal Verification Accreditation System) to verify and accredit an intending voter and INEC needs no separate technology or additional efforts to comply with the judgment. This is a brazen disregard for the rule of law and a blatant violation of the democratic principles that Nigeria claims to uphold.
We call on the international community to condemn INEC’s actions and to stand with the people of Nigeria in demanding that it complies with subsisting Court judgment until if it is upturned as they have appealed it should. We call on all Nigerians who have been disenfranchised by INEC to unite in a call on INEC to obey Court Judgments.
This is not just about an election; this is about the future of our democracy. We cannot allow INEC to undermine the very foundations of our society. We must stand together, united in our commitment to democracy, and demand that INEC respect the rule of law and the rights of Nigerian citizens.
Opatola Victor Esq
16th of March, 2023.
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