Since the return of the country to full democracy in 1999 and the coming together of Nigerians in the Diaspora through various organisations notably, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisations (NIDO), agitation has been on the increase for Nigerians living abroad to participate in the electoral process in the country.
To many, this may be absurd as those who are still within are been disenfranchised one way or the other let alone adding more burden of those in the diaspora to it.
The population of Nigerians in the Diaspora estimated to be between 17 to 20 millions with financial remittances of about $26 billion dollars annually to the Nigerian economy as well as contribution to agriculture, education or real estate, believes so much that they should be given opportunity to participate freely in the electoral process in the country. The Nigerians in diaspora who live in various continents such as Africa, Europe, Asia and Americas have gradually become direct or indirect participants in political events in their home countries which bring us to the question; who is a Nigerian Diaspora? There are lot of definitions depending on who is defining it pending the Federal Executive Committee of the Federal Government of Nigeria approval of the draft Diaspora Policy before it, one can loosely describe a Nigerian Diaspora as someone who has lived abroad for a minimum of one year, has verifiable address with an identity, legally resident and has a Nigerian passport and contributes to the socio-economic development of Country of Origin.
Flowing from the foregoing definition, it is assumed that the Nigerians in the Diaspora being referred to here must not only reside abroad, but must maintain links back home and must be legally resident abroad for at least one year. This is the crux of the matter.
It must however be pointed out that countries such as Namibia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Togo and South Africa are into diaspora voting, while Ghana and Morocco are in the process of actualizing its diaspora voting. So, what is delaying its implementation in Nigeria with the highest remittances and population in Africa?
The proponents of diaspora voting believes that participating in at least the Presidential election to test run it at various Nigerian embassies abroad with their green passport as voters card is a good starting point.
However, opponents to Diaspora voting say how well do they know their people at home,? How often do they come back home to visit or know the real situation of things? How do we determine the number of voters? How are we sure the government of the day who appointed the envoys in various countries won’t use them to favour their bosses back at home? How do we regulate the timing zones in various continents? Has Nigerian electoral laws allow for voting outside the shores of the country? These are some of the issues begging for answers.
Responding to one of the posers recently at a town hall meeting with Nigerians living in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in February 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his support for diaspora voting in Nigerian elections. He said ”I have said it severally that I am not against it. However, you will need to convince National Assembly to amend the relevant laws to make Diaspora voting a reality,.”
Spurred by this challenge, a new body, named Nigerian Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) led by Prince Ade Omole convened a one day international stakeholders conference in Abuja with all participants in attendance.
Omole said the conference was timely ahead of 2023 elections so that the National Assembly constitution review committee will take their resolutions as their contributions towards amending the relevant sections to accommodate electoral voting.
He said with both material and human resources contributions of the Diaspora to the national development, they should be allowed to participate in the electoral process from their places of abode.
The Chairman of the Council, however, called for a provision in Nigeria’s electoral laws that would enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote in home elections.
Omole who said that Diaspora voting was already being practiced in other democratic countries, added that Nigeria as the most populous black nation should not be exempted.
“It is instructive to state that Nigerians in the Diaspora make the fifth largest remittances worldwide after India, China, the Philippines and Mexico. “Interestingly, there are 115 countries world over that allow voting by their Diaspora citizens, out of which 28 of such countries are found in Africa,” he said.
He said said that it was discouraging and expensive for many Nigerians abroad to be travelling back home to participate in the conduct of their country’s elections.
He said it was important for Nigeria, as the future of Africa to entrench Diaspora voting in her electoral process, adding that the council would be working with NIDCOM, INEC and the National Assembly to articulate the modalities for Diaspora voting.
The chairman said that it should also be considered whether the country’s Diaspora voting should be by post, proxy, electronic or by personal voting at the country’s diplomatic missions.
“The process to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote is an uphill task that is far beyond party affiliation. It is a serious matter that must go beyond what it is currently. “All relevant and critical stakeholders must demonstrate readiness, and articulate a reasonable roadmap that will eventually lead to electoral franchise of Nigerians in the Diaspora.” , he added.
In her remarks, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, (NIDCOM), an advocate of diaspora voting since her parliamentary years 2003 to 2015,, said it is not about the desirability but the absence of the legal frame work.
Dabiri-Erewa urged all stakeholders to lobby the National Assembly to do the needful and make it happen during the current political dispensation. She also harped on Diaspora Mapping which will help to identify the demographics of the Nigerians in the diaspora.
Sen. Babafemi Ojudu, who represented Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria at the event said Diaspora Voting will spur citizens both at home and in the Diaspora towards national development.
Speaking in the same vein, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, said he is committed to achieving democratic imperatives which Diaspora Voting is cardinal.
He, however, added that it’s not just about doing it (voting) but it’s about doing it right with all stakeholders working towards its realisation.
Other speakers at the event were Femi Odere who represented the Chairman Nigerian Governors forum, Gov. Kayode Fayemi, Hon Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, all stressed the fact that the time is right for diaspora voting but a legal frame work needs to be put in place to achieve.
The Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan represented by Sen. Ajibola Bashiru said that the country is not ready and ripe for diaspora voting.
He advanced various reasons such as non availability or lack of inaccurate data of Nigerians in the diaspora, who constitute the diaspora, Which method of voting will they use, Which election will they be allowed to participate in, Is Nigeria ready for diaspora voting, Is it only people who migrated legally that will be given the right to vote?
“All these and more are factors to look at before we can think of actualizing diaspora voting,” he stressed.
INEC National Commissioner, Dr Muhammad Lecky, said the commission is ready and has proposed necessary amendments to the electoral laws before the National Assembly Committee on Constitution Review.
Lecky who stood in for INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, urged the National Assembly to speed up action by amending sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act (2010 as amended) to make way for Nigerians living outside the country to participate in the electoral process and vote.
He added that “INEC believes that Nigerians living outside the country should have the right to vote for a variety of reasons: they are citizens of Nigeria interested in the affairs of their own country; they make considerable contributions to the economy through huge financial inflow to the country; there is a sizable amount of Nigerian citizens living outside the country; and Diaspora voting is consistent with global best practices “.
He added that: “Allowing Nigerians living abroad to vote will allow Nigerians in Diaspora to register and vote in their country of residence”. He however pointed out that: “for this to happen, some sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act have to be amended to provide for the legal framework to allow for registration and voting by citizens living in the Diaspora”.
It is generally believes that wherever the pendulum swings, diaspora voting will change the narratives of the electoral fortunes in the country. It can be actualized if the necessary things such as introduction of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) , credible voters register, sincerity and patriotism of all stakeholders amongst others are put in place.
Doosughun Abughidyer is a Staff writer, Media, Public Relations and Protocol Unit, NIDCOM, Abuja