A FEDERAL High Court in Abuja has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to hand over its officials responsible for registering underage voters within 90 days.
In polling units nationwide, there was so much noise about underaged voters who came out to participate in the February and March general elections earlier this year.
In a judgement delivered by Obiora Egwuatu, the judge further ordered that the offenders be brought forward and turned over to the proper law enforcement organization so that they might be looked into and perhaps prosecuted.
In addition, Egwuatu issued a mandatory order requiring INEC to immediately remove from its national voter registration all names of minor voters from every polling place in the federation that was listed on its 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, including every Nigerian citizen 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 voter to vote in the nation.
According to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mike Agbon, the plaintiff, sued INEC as the only defendant in the initial summons filed on Match 17 under the file number FHC/ABJ/CS/367/2023, through his attorney, Desmond Yamah.
The plaintiff sought answers to six issues, including “whether the defendant is legally and constitutionally required to conduct credible CVR (continuous voter register) in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“Whether the defendant is bound by the Constitution and its enabling statute, the Electoral Act, 2022, to act in strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and its enabling act.”
He also asked 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.
Therefore, Agbon asked for “a mandatory order, compelling and directing the defendant to forthwith within a period of 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 for investigation and prosecution by the appropriate law enforcement agency.”
He claimed that after looking through the national voter registration database, he saw that the commission had enrolled minors in violation of the Electoral Act, which detailed the requirements for registration.
The plaintiff used compiled copies of the underage registration from the INEC website to support his claims, designating it as “Exhibit A”.
He informed the court that on November 23, 2022, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of INEC, gave an assurance to Nigerians at a national stakeholders’ forum on elections hosted by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR) that the commission would diligently clean up the register in advance of the elections based on the observations of Nigerians.
Agbon said despite serving INEC with court processes and hearing notices in the matter, the electoral body was neither represented in court nor filed any defence.
Egwuatu, in his ruling on November 28, held that Sections 77(2), 117(2), and 12 of the Electoral Act outlined the requirements for being eligible to register as a voter.
He said that these sections all required that the voter be a Nigerian citizen, reside in Nigeria, and be at least eighteen years old.
“What this translates into is that the registration officers and an update officers of the defendant failed in their duties to carry out the registration of voters in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act,” the judge ruled.
The judge cited the terms of Section 120(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022, stating that any officer who violated their official duties committed an offence and might face up to N500,000 fine, a year in jail, or both upon conviction.