By Hannah Nathan, Warri
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been directed by a Federal High Court in Abuja to identify the officials participating in the continuous voter registration (CVR) process in polling places across the nation who registered minors. The deadline for doing so is 90 days.
The offenders must also be produced and turned over to the proper law enforcement organization for an investigation and potential prosecution, according to a ruling by Justice Obiora Egwuatu.
Judge Egwuatu also issued a required injunction for INEC to immediately remove from its national voter registration all names of minor voters from every polling place in the federation that were collated and identified by the plaintiff and posted on her website.
The judge also issued an obligatory order, requiring the commission to provide the plaintiff with a certified true copy (CTC) of the updated national voter registration list, which includes every Nigerian citizen who is eligible to vote, within ninety days.
Alternatively, he mandated that the electoral umpire post on its website, within ninety days of the decision date, the updated national voters’ register listing every individual eligible to vote in the nation.
Additionally, he provided affirmative answers to all six of the plaintiff’s inquiries.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), INEC was sued by the plaintiff, Rev. Mike Agbon, as the only defendant in the original summons filed on March 17 under the case number FHC/ABJ/CS/367/2023 through his attorney, Desmond Yamah.
In the suit, the plaintiff posed six questions for determination including “whether the defendant is constitutionally, legally and duty bound to conduct credible CVR in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “Whether the constitution and its enabling statute bind the defendant, the Electoral Act, 2022, to act in strict compliance with the provisions of the constitution and its enabling act.
“Whether by virtue of Section 23 of the Electoral Act, 2022, it is illegal and unlawful for the defendant to have registered underaged i.e. infants and toddlers, during the CVR.
“Whether the admission by the defendant that it has a substantial number of the underaged, illegal and illegible voters published in its voters’ register, exonerates the defendant from any sanction within the ambit of the law for registering underaged as contained in Sections 12 & 23 of the Electoral Act, 2022,” among others.
Agbon, therefore, sought “a mandatory order, compelling and directing the defendant to forthwith within one month to identify, produce and hand its officials that are involved in the registration of the underaged in each polling unit across the federation over for investigation and prosecution by the appropriate law enforcement agency,” etc.
The plaintiff said that the unfortunate problem of the election processes’ lack of credibility had been a persistent issue that had seriously disrupted the political space for a long time, especially since the nation’s return to democratic rule in May 1999.
He stated that INEC updates and maintains the national voters’ registry in accordance with the terms of the Electoral Act.
According to Agbon, the national register of voters was posted on the electoral umpire’s website between November 12, 2022, and November 25, 2022, and the electoral umpire conducted CVR worldwide before to the general elections of 2023.
He claimed that after looking through the national voter registration database, he saw that the commission had registered voters who were underage, in violation of the Electoral Act’s (above) explicit requirements.
The plaintiff backed his argument with compiled copies from the INEC website of the underage registered and marked it as “Exhibit A.”
He told the court that on Nov. 23, 2022, INEC’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at a national stakeholders’ forum on elections organised by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR), assured Nigerians that based on the observations of Nigerians, the commission would dutifully clean up the register ahead of the elections.
Agbon said through his lawyer, he made a formal request for the commission to furnish him with the list and names of the underage and ineligible voters but it vehemently refused and ignored the said application.
However, despite being served with court processes and hearing notices in the matter, INEC was neither represented in court nor filed any defence.
Delivering the judgment on Nov. 28 in a certified true copy sighted on Monday by NAN, Justice Egwuatu held that the conditions for qualification to be registered as a voter was stipulated in Sections 77 (2), and 117 (2) of the Constitution and Section 12 of the Electoral Act.
According to him, the common features of these sections are that the voter must be a citizen of and residing in Nigeria and has attained the age of 18 .