On voting from abroad
It is a welcome development that Nigerians resident abroad have expressed the wish to participate in elections in their home country. Even if symbolically, this expression of interest by citizens in the way their country is governed should be applauded and their wish granted. Nigerians in the Diaspora, fittingly, are already organized into a formidable group and have sent representations to the National Assembly on this matter. In order to make their patriotic zeal worth the while those at home must get their acts together not only over the conduct of elections but also in all facets of life.
It is estimated that there are 17 million Nigerians in the Diaspora. That is more than the population of many nations in the world. What is more, Nigerians resident abroad are well known for their focus and interest on their roots, their outstanding achievements in every field of human endeavour in the countries where they reside notwithstanding. They, therefore, not only deserve to have a say in how their mother country is governed, they stand to bring value to the process.
Everyone knows that the present electoral system does not inspire much faith. All are aware that some members of the elite in Nigeria are not only largely complicit in the rape of Nigeria, others, especially the self-righteous ones, do not perform the patriotic duty of exercising their franchise. The reason for this apathy goes beyond avoiding the inconvenience of standing in long queues under the sun or rain to vote. The lack of confidence in the electoral system is justifiably based on the entrenched feeling that the peoples’ votes never count.
The recent local government elections in Lagos State presented a repetition of the status quo, in which the party in power wins everything. Lagos State, of course, is not alone in this oddity and it is a major factor in the disaffection with the electoral process nationwide.
The persisting crisis over the recent Presidential Elections in Kenya, for example, would seem to reveal that negative disposition to the electoral system is a pervasive phenomenon in Africa. Electoral fraud fueled by ethnic nationalities forever competing for political power often leads to violence. This has been the obstacle to progress and it has often been the case in Nigeria too, at least until the 2015 elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission recently made some noise about removing 109 expatriates from the Register of Voters. The number of such illegally registered voters, of course, must be legion, given Nigerian’s porous borders and ethnic loyalties across African borders. There are also names that are difficult to isolate individually as foreign because they are derived from towns or topography that are common to two or more neighbouring nations.
There are challenges to be surmounted, therefore, before Nigerians abroad can effectively participate in elections. It pre-supposes electronic voting and a more transparently honest electoral process. As everything in life is aspirational, however, Nigeria must make a start. The process for setting up the structure must be rolled out now; ahead of the 2019 elections. Given the constitutional requirement of broad-based voting support for electing a candidate into office, Nigerians abroad should also be allowed to register on the basis of their states of origin.
The Diaspora Nigerians’ demand for voting rights is an expression of a certain patriotic zeal that should not be quelled. That would be insensitive. Their participation in choosing their leaders is not just their right, it would further encourage them to bring their talents and abilities home for the development of the nation. The leadership of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization has also pointed out that there is a budgetary provision for the National Identity Management Commission to issue identity cards to Nigerians resident abroad. This can form a good database for the estimated number of those abroad. That the Federal Government takes this matter seriously and can make it happen is indicated in the establishment of an office in the Presidency to handle affairs of Nigerians in the Diaspora. This is commendable but more needs to be done.
Although there is no totally flawless democracy anywhere in the world, Nigerians abroad must have witnessed and participated in elections in countries where the choice is often about the right persons for the offices and not anything other than merit. They should be able to bring home some of these experiences. This would be a plus for Nigeria’s electoral process and democracy as a whole.
Given the tremendous benefits of voting by the people in the Diaspora, everything must be done, here at home, to encourage this development, such that the millions of Nigerians in other climes will have the confidence to participate in elections.
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