What is the legal framework for the right to political participation?
The right to political participation is not expressly mentioned as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria as Amended (subsequently referred to as “The 1999 Constitution”). However, this right is fundamental as it gives citizens the right to participate in political activities. It gives citizens the chance to contribute to the affairs of the state and also influence the decision-making of the state positively. Therefore, if there is a breach of this right, the victim can take appropriate legal actions to prevent its continued violations and damages can also be claimed (where available). Although, there are limitations to the right to political participation, but such limitations are not on the basis of sex, language, religion, colour, origin, or status of birth.
This part will highlight the general legal framework of the right to political participation.
It should be noted that by legal framework; we mean the basic legal structures which include; Statutes or Acts of the National Assembly or any other laws made by other appropriate authority. They shall be discussed under the following subheadings:
This right is protected in various International Instruments. In Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee and recognize the participation of people in the government of their countries, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
Right to political participation is also recognized in Regional Instruments. For instance, Article 13 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights specifies that every individual has right to be part in the affairs of government without any interference.
Though the right to political participation is not listed as one of the ‘fundamental rights’ mentioned in the 1999 Constitution, it is linked to those enlisted in the Constitution as fundamental rights and captured in various portions of the constitution.
1. SECTION 7 SUB-SECTION 4 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides that:
The Government of a State shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to House of Assembly shall have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council.
This constitutional provision ensures the participation of every citizen in political activities which includes right to vote and right to contest for public office at the Chairmanship and Councillorship elections at every Local Government in Nigeria.
2. SECTION 14 SUB-SECTION 2 and PARAGRAPH (C) OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION further provides:
The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
The use of the word “shall” in this section implies an obligation which must be fulfilled by the government. A country like Nigeria being a democratic state must recognize her citizen’s right to participate freely in choosing people that will represent her in power.
3. SECTION 40 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION specifies that:
Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.
This constitutional provision emphasizes the existence of the citizen right to belong to a political party in order to participate in political affairs of the country, Nigeria.
4. SECTION 77 SUB-SECTION 2 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION states that:
Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.
This constitutional provision ensures the participation of citizens of Nigeria in the election of members of Senate and the House of Representatives.
5. Section 117 SUB-SECTION 2 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION states that:
Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to any legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.
This constitutional provision ensures the participation of citizens of Nigeria in the election of any House of Assembly of each state in Nigeria.
6. SECTION 132 SUB-SECTION 5 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides thus:
Every person who is registered to vote at an election of a member of a legislative house shall be entitled to vote at an election to the office of President.
This constitutional provision makes it clear that any citizen of Nigeria who is qualified to exercise his right to vote during the election of any legislative house; National Assembly and any House of assembly of state would be allowed to participate as a way of exercising his right to vote in the election to the office of the president.
7. SECTION 178 SUB-SECTION 5 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides that:
Every person who is registered to vote at an election of a member of a legislative house shall be entitled to vote at an election to the office of Governor of a State.
Also, this constitutional provision allows every citizen of Nigeria who have been registered by Independent National Electoral Commission as voters to participate in elections into any legislative house in the country should be given chance to exercise his right to vote in the Governorship election of any state in Nigeria.
To further ensure that there is an independent body that regulates how election is being conducted in the country, THIRD SCHEDULES PART 1 PARAGRAPH F UNDER ITEM 15 (E) OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION provides that:
The Commission shall have power to:
arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain, and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this Constitution.
This constitutional provision has to do with role of the Independent National Electoral Commission in ensuring qualified citizens of Nigeria who can vote or stand as candidates at an election exercise their political rights without any limitation.
SECTION 12 OF ELECTORAL ACT 2010 states as follows:
(1) A person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter if such a person-
(a) is a citizen of Nigeria;
(b) has attained the age of 18 years;
(c) is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from the Local Government Area Councillor Ward covered by the registration centre;
(d) presents himself to the registration officers of the Commission for registration as a voter; and (e) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule, or regulation in force in Nigeria.
(2) A person shall not register in more than one registration centre or register more than once in the same registration centre.
The section reproduced above stipulates the requirements a citizen of Nigeria must fulfil before he can exercise the right to vote at an election.
In its Article 13 states as follows:
Luckily, this Act has become part of Nigerian laws. Thus, this particular article amongst others guarantees a citizen’s right to take part in the affairs of the government in Nigeria without any limitations.
This Act states as follows under SECTION 4:
(1) Persons with disabilities shall be encouraged to fully participate in politics and public if:
(2) Government shall actively promote an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in:
This Act further buttresses the democratic stance of Nigeria as it recognizes, without discrimination, the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the participation of its government. Their political rights include the right to vote and right to contest for public office without any form of discrimination whatsoever.
Political rights are not absolute rights in nature. In other words, these rights do have some limitations, which include:
Other Special limitations are as follows:
In relation to a voter participating in elections:
In relation to a candidate contesting for public office in an election:
For example, in All Progressive Congress (APC) & ORS. V Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa & ORS Case Suit No. 377/2019, the court held that in a situation where a registered political party fails to conduct primaries elections as required by law, then the political party cannot participate in the general elections.
A citizen of Nigeria who is said tonot have mental capacity and such is confirmed with a medical report would not be allowed to stand as a candidate in an election.