Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been forced to desert their homesteads and flee from crises. While they search for hope and try to put behind them a horrible memory, would they become amputees of the political franchise due to their unfortunate displacement?
In a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, Nigeria, amongst other neighbouring countries like Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, have borne the scourges of insurgencies, religious conflicts, farmer-herder feuds, and even natural disasters.
The report notes that over three million Nigerians have lost their homes to the ongoing crisis, especially in the country’s northern region. Adamawa, Yola, and Borno remain the most recipient states in the country hosting IDPs.
Ahead of the general election in Nigeria, the matter of IDPs participation has been raised in many corners. Although IDPs are eligible to vote, the question of where to vote has become an issue. These sets of persons are usually forced to relocate to locations with limited legal rights to exercise their franchise.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, in November 2022 stated that the commission has “put measures in place to ensure that every eligible Nigerian, including the over three million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), participate in the 2023 general elections.”
The INEC Chairman gave this assurance at a stakeholders’ validation meeting on the 2022 Revised Framework and Regulations for voting by IDPs. He said this was to ensure every eligible voter in the country isn’t disenfranchised due to “displacement, disability or other circumstances that may limit citizens’ participation in the electoral process”.
He added that the policy was incorporated to accord those affected by flood disasters the opportunity to be involved in the February polls.
In the electoral manual by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), clear-cut provisions accommodate the participation of IDPs in the forthcoming elections.
Its opening paragraph suggests that IDPs should be carefully categorised according to the location of election participation. That is intrastate (IDPs who have taken refuge elsewhere within their affected state) and interstate (IDPs who had to be relocated to another state outside their affected area).
Intrastate IDPs are permitted to vote in all state and presidential elections, but they will only be permitted to vote during the presidential elections.
They cannot exercise their franchise in the state elections of the states they are refugees in because of the challenges and scepticism that may be held about over transmission of results across state lines and constituency boundaries.
There is the provision of IDP delimitation details and voting centres. In this provision, States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are required to organise IDP voting information and identify voting centres. These voting centres and locations may be in IDP camps and centralised areas outside IDP camps. However, duplication of polling units within and across state lines is prohibited.
It is important to note that voting at a designated IDP polling centre is only by using a Permanent Voters Card (PVC). Voting by proxy is not permitted, and the Bimodal Voters Authentication System (BVAS) must be adopted according to the polling unit.
Voting by IDPs will be conducted according to the designated polling unit of IDPs, and if the situation demands, more BVAS may be added to polling units to manage congestion.
The voting procedure must be in accordance with the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CVAS) as written in the Manual for Election. Election results (EC8A series) from IDP voting centres are transported to the registration area (RA) collation centre for the ward/RA.
So, in line with Section 24(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, the commission is empowered to ensure that, as far as practicable, no Nigerian is disenfranchised on displacement issues.
From all indications, the deplorable crisis encountered by IDPs may have been adverse enough to render them homeless. Still, it doesn’t make them less Nigerian citizen who hopes to approach the polling booth and make a decisive turn that could change the country’s governance.