From Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
Prominent Nigerian senior lawyers have contended with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN over his public display of his ballot papers during Saturday’s election, but the Chief Law Officer insists that he did no wrong.
Malami found company in President Muhammadu Buhari who was the first to openly display his ballot papers at his polling unit in his Daura, Katsina Sate hometown. Senator Orji Uzor Kali, and Benue State governor, Samuel Orton engaged in similar display.
Many lawyers including Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika SAN were of the opinion that such display is against the electoral laws. They opined that such display is enough to void their votes. Olumide-Fusika on the Morning Show on Arise Television said the president may have his reason for the display, it does not remove the fact that it was wrong as it was supposed to be a secret ballot.
But Malami insisted that he complied with all extant laws and did not act in contravention of any provision(s) of the law in respect of the 2023 poll.
Earlier, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of voter education and publicity, Festus Okoye, cautioned that, “No one will be allowed to take his or her phone to the voting cubicle,” Messrs Buhari and Malami were seen displaying ballot after casting their votes for the APC.
Mr Okoye, who said the law prohibits display of ballots by voters, added that, “officials of the ICPC, EFCC and security agencies will be on hand to monitor and ensure that the law in that respect is not violated.”
However, Malami in a statement issued by Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations said that it is important to educate the general public that the section of the Electoral Law being referred to talks about individuals attempting to “obtain in a polling unit, information as to the candidate for whom a voter in that place is about to vote for or has voted”.
Section 122(3a)and (3b) provides:
(3) No person shall—
(a)interfere with a voter casting his or her vote, or by any other means obtain or attempt to obtain in a polling unit, information as to the candidate for whom a voter in that place is about to vote for or has voted for; or
(b) communicate at any time to any other person information obtained in a polling unit as to the candidate to whom a voter is about to vote or has voted for”
It is clear that the laws was referring to a third party individual seeking information about another voter’s choice and disclosing to others the obtained information of a third party choice.
Section 122(3)(b) prohibits third party individual to “communicate at any time to any other person “information obtained” in a polling unit as to the candidate to whom a voter (someone else) is about to vote or has voted for”
The law does not contemplate putting restrictions on individuals revealing by themselves and out of their own volition, of candidate(s) they voted for.
Moreover, the freedom of expression and right to belong to lawful associations are constitutionally guaranteed rights as contained in Sections 39, 40 and 42.
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