For Law StudentsOpinion

Enfranchising Our Prisoners by Olokooba AbdulWasiu

Enfranchising prisoners in Nigeria

Prisoners’ franchise is indeed an indicator of a true, sincere and wholistic democracy.

I am a student of Law. I’ve had the privilege to visit prison facilities across Nigeria — from North to Southwest. My experience in those facilities, I must say, is that of sympathy and rage.

The latter, towards a Government that has walled off humans into such dehumanizing cubicles.

I suppose prisons were meant to be correctional homes, for individuals
devoid of conscience as to err. Nigerian Prisons are however nothing of such. Rather, they are oppressional yards! No drinkable water, no good medical care. In there are extremely pathetic vistas to behold.

Prior to my sojourn on the legal profession, I have read quite a handful of texts on Nigerian prisons, mostly based on personal accounts.

Wole Soyinka’s prison notes, The Man Died, gave an insight into how highly inhuman Nigerian inmates are treated. Stench. Filth.

The Nobel laureate even gave instances of how he, among others, were
handled as animals in the Maximum Facility in Kirikiri Prison. That is unfair!

Yet, unjust as these are, there is more. It is that whic.h pisses me off the most, being a law student: Disenfranchisement of the Inmates.
When I learned that prisoners are not allowed to vote during elections, I was dazed. Isn’t that a trample on the Right to Vote? Or aren’t Prisoners considered as humans too? Or is being behind those walls an automatic goodbye to one’s citizenship?

There are about a Million inmates across Nigeria, an under-represented
group within the country’s political framework. Such a population suffices to decide the fate of the Nation. Yet, they are utterly denied franchise.

This, although, has been a bone of contemplation all over the world. I find it so astonishing how most countries have found it so difficult to embrace this development. Prisoners’ franchise is indeed an indicator of a true, sincere and wholistic democracy. In a democratic dispensation, everyone is important, and so are their views and votes. Why then are inmates of prison facilities treated rather differently?

Jose Martin quipped: “The first duty of a man is to think for himself.” Every qualified adult citizens of the country, no matter their situation or who they are, should be allowed to choose with whom to trust their fate, for the next four years.

The President of the Initiative for Rural Development, Information and Legal Advocacy, IRDILA, reiterated that prison inmates are in a community, polling units should therefore be allocated to them, in accodance with Section 77 and 132 of the Constitution, they also have the right to vote, and join in authoring the future of their country.

It amazes me each time I hear that the votes of an individual or some group of people are too little to count. How wrong! Why then do politicians always exhaust huge amount of money and energy on campaigns during electioneering? Why do they distribute food items and then share money to electorates, only when elections are close? Why do they move from door to door pleading that we vote them on election day? What then is the cause of vote buying and selling?

It is therefore unjust to, just because they are convicted, refrain prisoners from voting for their candidates of choice. Their votes also count; and they are supposed to be made to.

Besides, if our law could allow foreigners who have been granted citizenship to vote during elections, why is it then so difficult to enfranchise citizens-by-birth, whom fate has remanded in Prison? As far as I’m concerned, it is the similitude of removing one’s daughter’s waist-beads and betrothing it to a neighbor’s daughter, in charity, just because the former has erred. Whose priority ought to be paramount?

Yet, Section 30 of the Nigerian Constitution emphasizes the right of
citizens-by-birth to vote and be voted for. However, even though Prisoners appear to have lost the right to be voted for, it is asserted in the Constitution that conviction does not take away one’s citizenship. Since they are still legal members of the country, they ought to be entitled to participate in election processes.

Considerably, it is often argued that prisoners’ franchise is a huge burden on the gaolers. Releasing them all at once from behind bars to cast their votes could pose security risks, among other things. Even supplying all the prison facilities across the countries with ballot materials would be an additional huge financial burden on the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Also, questions about who and who to conduct elections at the polling
units are lingering. Students and Youth Corps? Warders? As there is indeed
a great security risk in inmate and non-inmate contacts.

However, I still hold firmly and insist that all these issues have solutions. In one way or the other, they can be managed, and elections would go on peacefully in the prisons.

In any case, nothing is enough to be considered an obstacle to a true democratic practice.

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