From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
A University Don, Professor Mohammed Bello Magaji has called on relevant authorities in the country to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow Nigerians in Diaspora to participate in 2023 general elections and subsequent elections in the country.
Magaji is an Associate Law Professor at the American University in Nigeria ( AUN), Yola, Adamawa State.
Speaking with Daily Sun in an interview, the University Don who has been teaching law for over 25 years in Nigeria and some African countries argued that if Nigerians in Diaspora have been remitting their financial obligations to the home country, they should also be given the rights to participate and vote in the nation’s general elections.
He said over 17 millions Nigerians living in Overseas will be disenfranchised by next elections unless they are allowed to take part in the elections.
He cited African countries like
Bostwana, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa that are already practising Diaspora voting, and urge Nigerian government to follow suit.
He said citizens of these countries vote at their countries’ Embassies during such elections and results are sent back to home countries for counting.
“Despite the major leaps recorded by the immediate past leadership of INEC, Diaspora voting wasn’t feasible for the 2015 and 2919 election, With Federal Lawmakers fixated on returning to office, amending the constitution to accommodate Nigerians abroad was not a priority.
“In December 2013, INEC had called for an amendment of sections (2) and 117 (2) of the 1999 Constitution to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora of voting age to participate in the 2015 elections, A similar call was made in 2012 by Honourable Abike Dabiri, then Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Nigerians in the Diaspora, when she and six others sponsored a bill seeking to amending Nigeria’s Electoral Act 2010 in order to grant Nigerians in the Diaspora the right to vote during the 2015 general elections, sadly these efforts did not materialize in time for the elections and 17 million Nigerians living a broad were disenfranchised.
“Diaspora voting is not an alien concept in most advanced, and even some developing democracies of the world. It is a response to the advancing worldwide democratization agenda, as well as massive economic, social and cultural globalization. Diaspora voting is currently practiced in 115 countries around the world, and indeed 28 African countries have made legal and logistical provisions in their electoral processes to ensure their citizens abroad have a say during elections, and this inclusion in the political and electoral process is perhaps even more important for Africans in the Diaspora than any other group anywhere else.
“Remittances by Nigerians living abroad contribute massively to the GDP of the country. In 2013 alone a total of $2 billion was sent home, making Nigeria the fifth largest recipient of foreign remittances among developing countries and first in Africa.While the legal frameworks of many countries in Africa (and throughout the world) permit the right to vote for all citizens, in reality, Diaspora citizens are disenfranchised. This is because of a lack of willingness on the part of the authorities that organize elections and procedures that will ensure the fulfillment of that right.
“Because Nigerians in the Diaspora bring in substantial foreign exchange through remittances, affording these citizens the right to vote symbolically integrates a key economic group into the public affairs of the nation. When Nigerians abroad are allowed to vote, they belong; it is, after all, an exercise of citizenship and civil duty. It is also a way to make sure that such citizens, especially students and professionals, who are assets to the well-being of the country, are not lost to other countries).The right to vote, as universal suffrage, has been constitutionalised in many new societies, born from political agitation.
“The fact that, at some point in history, a particular racial group or class was not permitted to vote, does not nullify the fact that such a community had a right to vote then: rather the right was not being fulfilled. Rights do not cease to be rights simply because they have not yet been confirmed by legal processes following the same line of argument if every citizen of a country has a right to vote, and therefore self-determination, should that right be revoked simply because that citizen now resides in another country? If Nigerians in the Diaspora still continue to engage in the socio-economic well-being of their country, they should enjoy all rights owed to the country’s citizens. Some have argued that amending the Electoral Act will bring much pressure to bear on the human ad institutional capacities of INEC given that the electoral body as it is currently constituted lacks the capacity to conduct elections Overseas.
“But there is no reason, for example, why Nigerians living abroad should not be able to go to the country’s embassies or consulates, and cast their votes in person. This method is already being practised in Bostwana, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa. Also there is postal voting in which Diaspora votes are transmitted by diplomatic mail to the country for counting, as is being done in Lesotho and Zimbabwe.INEC together with the Nigeria Population Commission, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and other relevant agencies can start with a comprehensive census of Nigerians living abroad.
“This gives insight into the geographic spread of this important group, after which a special voter’s registration exercise can be conducted to ensure their data is captured and included in the voters 2023 register to be used for the 2023 elections. In 2023, a 24-year old democracy, Africa’s largest at that, will have no excuse to shut its door against citizens living abroad on Election Day.As the country inches towards the 2023 general elections, questions are still being asked by Nigerians living abroad on how long they would have to wait to realize their dreams of exercising their voting rights in their far-flung locations during such exercises back home.
“Over 17 million Nigerians currently live in the Diaspora but, for decades, they have remained disenfranchised during elections in the country. In spite of their contributions to the growth and economic development, of Nigeria, the country’s laws forbid this class of citizens from partaking in the electoral process.
“The 2015 general election was perhaps the most competitive election in the Nigeria’s recent political history. Invariably, that electoral process opened up the system to the exploration of more technology with the introduction of the smart Card Reader and Permanent Voter Card (PVC). As such, in the build up to that election, the clamour by Nigerians living abroad to get involved to get involved in the process back home became much more noticeable .
“For them, besides technology conquering the geographical hindrance to voting for any citizen (as evident in even small countries in Africa), the appreciable economic contribution they make through transfers back home warrants they have a direct participation in electoral process in the country. According to a report by World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Fact book 2016, remittances from Nigerians living abroad hit $20.77 billion in 2015, making Nigeria the Sixth largest recipient of remittances in the world.
“According to the report, the top two sources for Nigerian Diaspora remittances in 2015 were the United States ($5.7billion) and the United Kingdom ($3.7 billion). More so, the report showed that Nigeria tops the top ten remittance recipients in Africa by $2077bn, followed by Ghana ($2.0bn), Senegal ($1.6bn), Kenya ($1.6bn), South Africa ($1.0bn), Uganda ($0.9bn), Mali ($0.9bn), Ethiopia ($0.6bn ), Liberia ($0.Sbn), and Sudan ($0.5bn)”. Professor Magaji stated.