The right to political participation is a fundamental right that also facilitates the enjoyment of other human rights.
This right encompasses the right to vote and the right to be elected, to create political parties and participate in political debate. However, it goes beyond formal democratic processes like participation in an election and includes broader participation, such as participation in decision-making on law and policy. It is a well-established in international human rights law and operative at both regional and national levels.
It was further elaborated in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees to all citizens the right and the opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, to:
-take part in the conduct of public affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives;
-to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections; and
-to have equal access to public service. Every individual has the right to participate in politics and all other related activities.
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. The right to vote and right to contest for public office.
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. The right to participate freely in choosing people up for election.
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. The right to belong to a political party.
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.
4. The right to be registered as a voter to vote for president, members of senate, house of representatives, governor of a state and house of assembly of each state.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is also regulated by the Electoral Act 2010 in more detail. Section 12 of the Electoral Act 2010 stipulates the requirements a citizen of Nigeria must fulfil before he can exercise the right to vote at an election.
The right to political participation is also protected by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act in Article 13.
It is important to know what the Nigerian constitution says about the right to freedom of expression because the Constitution is the highest law in Nigeria. As the highest law in Nigeria;
To further ensure that there is an independent body that regulates how an election is being conducted in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission was created.
What does the Independent National Electoral Commission do?
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.
It is an independent body that regulates how elections are conducted. It arranges and conducts the registration of persons qualified to vote and maintains the register of voters. It sets the guidelines for political parties’ registration and participation in electoral processes.
Also, there are international and regional agreements between various countries in Africa and West Africa which Nigeria has signed that provide for the right to political participation.
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.
So what does these definitions mean for you? The following section explains that above definition.
Political participation includes all forms of actions taken by a person or group of persons to either express their opinions or influence a political process, decision, or government of their nation.
Everyone takes part in political activities at various points of their lives in one form or the other even without knowing it. The most common forms include:
The right to participate in political and public life is interrelated, interdependent and indivisible with other rights. This means that violations of the right to participate in political and public activities can lead to violations of the enjoyment of other human rights and vice versa. These rights are:
The right to freedom of association: 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 is the right of an individual, to join or create any group, formal or informal, in order to take collective actions. These associations may include clubs, civil society organizations, religious associations, political parties, trade unions, foundations, etc.
The right to freedom of expression: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. This is the right of an individual to carry out critical analysis and voice out for or against state and non-state policies and to conduct advocacy to express and promote shared concerns in public.
For more on the right to freedom of expression, see the guide on freedom of expression.
The right to freedom of assembly: This is the right of citizens to gather publicly or privately, to collectively promote, express and pursue a common interest. This could be in form of demonstrations, meetings, sit-ins and strikes.
For more on the right to freedom of assembly, see the guide on the freedom of assembly.
The right to freedom of information: This right allows citizens access to government documents. An applicant is able to access or request for any information in the possession of any public official, agency, or institution, whether or not such information is contained in any written form.
The government has a duty to respect, promote, protect and fulfil human rights. This includes:
This is the responsibility of the Nigerian state and all the public bodies that form part of it, including the Independent National Electoral Commission. This is because Nigeria has signed international agreements which must be followed. Not complying with these obligations would result in a breach to the right of political participation.
There are several things that could constitute a violation of these political rights. Instances of such violations are as follows:
Where the Independent National Electoral Commission unlawfully excludes a candidate after it is established that the candidate was lawfully nominated by the political party sponsoring him.