A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, refused on Tuesday to grant the prayer of four plaintiffs who sued the Independent National Electoral Commission for discontinuing the voter registration exercise on July 31.
Justice Inyang Ekwo held that, going by the 90-day window period set by the Electoral Act before which the electoral body cannot discontinue voter registration, INEC would have had just a few days to continue with the exercise.
The plaintiffs—Anajat Salmat, Earnest Stanley, Chief Charles Okafor, and Mr. Samuel Oluwakemi—had prayed the court to direct the electoral body to resume voter registration, which it had discontinued “208 days before the elections of 2023.”
The suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1343/2022, had INEC as the sole defendant.
The plaintiffs had sought a declaration that the defendant was expected to continue the voter registration, update, and revision of voter registration records till 90 days before the general election pursuant to the provisions of sections 76 (2), 77 (2), 116 (2), 117 (2), 132 (2) & (5), and 178 (2) & (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), as well as sections 9 (1), 9 (6), 10 (1), and 12 (1) of the Electoral Acts, 2022.
They also asked the court for a declaration that it is the constitutional responsibility of the defendant to make sure that every prospective Nigerian voter who has shown the desire to register to vote is not deprived of their civil right to register and participate in the forthcoming general elections and an order of the court directing the defendant to resume immediately the registration of new voters and the updating and revision of the register of voters until at least 90 days before the general election slated to hold on February 25 and March 11, 2023.
INEC had contended in its argument that it ended the continuous voter registration exercise at the time so that the permanent voter cards could be printed in good time and the distribution of the cards could commence in earnest.
Delivering his ruling, Justice Ekwo upheld two of the plaintiff’s prayers, stating that “INEC is expected, pursuant to the provisions of sections 76 (2), 77 (2), 116 (2), 117 (2), 132 (2) & (5), and 178 (2) & (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) as well as sections 9 (1), 9 (6), 10 (1), and 12 (1) of the Electoral Acts, 2022, to continue voter registration, update, and revision of voter registration until 90 days before the general election billed to take place on Feb. 25 and March 11,”
He also held that it is the constitutional responsibility of the defendant to ensure that every prospective Nigeria voter who has shown a desire to register to vote is not deprived of their civil right to register and participate in the forthcoming general elections.
However, the court held that going by the date of the verdict, the court is unable to grant relief number three as INEC would have been “just a few days away from the 90 days before the general election of February 25, 2023, and March 11, 2023.”
The People’s Democratic Party welcomed the ruling and urged the electoral umpire to comply with the order barring it from continuing with the voter registration exercise.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, stated, “We have always insisted that INEC should do everything possible to make sure that as many Nigerians as possible are captured in the voter register to enable them to exercise their civic responsibility.” If, in its wisdom, the court says it is too late for INEC to extend the exercise, the law has to be obeyed. “We expect INEC to comply with the provisions of the law.”
Similarly, the Director of Strategic Communications of the PDP Campaign Council, Chief Dele Momodu, lauded the court, saying, “We are a law-abiding party, and our candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has always been an advocate of the rule of law.” “So, if the court rules that it is too late for INEC to continue with the process, we welcome this and expect INEC to do the same.”
The spokesman for the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, cautioned that it is too late for any court to direct the electoral body to resume the exercise.
Keyamo expressed concern that the call for resumption of the registration exercise is coming too late and may prove difficult to enforce.
He said, “I read that people are asking for the exercise to be continued until 90 days before the election, but whatever INEC decides or does within the law, we in the APC are good with it.”
“The point is that even the judgment itself, as I speak with you, is difficult to enforce.” This is because the 90 days are almost here already. “I think we are just a few days shy of the 90 days to the election.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the Labor Party, Abayomi Arabambi, kicked against the order, saying INEC cannot afford to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians that could still be captured.
He said, “INEC can still go ahead with the CVR.” Even if it is only two or three million Nigerians that got registered, they will be happy to be included. If the commission is convinced that it doesn’t want to disenfranchise anybody, millions can be captured in the remaining days before the 90-day limit.
But the spokesman for the New Nigeria Peoples Party Presidential Campaign Council, Ladipo Johnson, called for caution, saying whatever INEC plans to do has to be done on time before the constitutional deadline for the closure of the voter register.