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Diaspora voting rights: An urgent need

AS the 2019 approaches, the issue of Diaspora voting rights becomes heavier on people’s mind, especially when Nigerian-Americans residing in Nigeria participated in voting in the recently concluded American presidential election. The Diaspora Voting Rights are rights long past due on the minds of most Nigerians living overseas. Nigerians in the Diaspora would want to be allowed to register and vote in elections in Nigeria, especially in the gubernatorial and presidential elections.

It is estimated that about 116 countries have a system that allows their emigrants to fully participate in their electoral process through external voting. According to globalirish.ie, in a “2006 study of countries that allow their emigrants to vote included: 21 African nations, 13 North and South American countries, 15 Asian countries, 6 Pacific countries, and 36 European countries.”

Interestingly, many countries, including Switzerland, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Columbia, Mexico, United States, Great Britain, and others, have voting right laws that allow their citizens living abroad to register and vote in their native countries’ elections regardless of their countries of abode. For the most part, these countries allow their citizens to cast their votes in their respective embassies and consulates. In some cases, some of these countries are utilizing E-Voting and internet voting to facilitate the participation of their citizens in their national elections.

Leading democracies around the world allow their citizens living abroad to participate in the elections of the home countries. These countries have been doing so and have made provisions for its citizens residing at different points in the world participate in their elections and we believe that Nigeria should join in the league of countries that give every of their citizens the opportunity and right to speak with his/her vote.

Some countries have found it necessary to expand the participation of their citizens living abroad in their national elections in other ways. In addition to granting their citizens living overseas the right to vote in their national elections, France, Italy, and Portugal, have widen the gate of their democracy for their citizens living abroad by having them represented in the National Assembly.

France has designated 11 seats in its National Assembly for its citizens residing abroad. On June 16, 2012, the North American (United States and Canada) constituency of 156,683 registered voters elected a deputy to represent them in the French National Assembly in an internet voting process. Also, while citizens of Italy living abroad are allowed to register and vote in the national elections, those Italians living overseas are also granted 18 spots in the Italian National Parliament for an estimated 5.4 million of its nationals permanently living in foreign countries. Six and 12 seats are reserved in the senate and the lower house respectively.  The six senators and 12 deputies are elected from four distinct foreign voting constituencies comprising of “North and Central America, South America, Europe, and Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Antarctica.” Also, Portugal found it prudent to allow a total of four parliamentarians—two parliamentarians representing its citizens living in Europe and the other two representing Portuguese living in other parts of the globe.

In 2011, it was reported that “eighteen of the 217 members of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia” in an election that was conducted in “80 countries around the world.” Similarly, Algeria considers its citizens abroad worthy of participating in its democracy by reserving eight of its 382 parliamentary seats for them. In a recent development, Angola adopted legislation to create three overseas voting constituencies to be implemented at a future date with “external voting.”

One wonders why Nigeria is dragging its feet in granting voting rights to its citizens in the Diaspora. This issue has been burning on the minds of many Nigerians in the Diaspora who feel disenfranchised by their country. In 2003, during a roundtable discussion organized by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Foundation under the theme: “Preparations towards election 2004: Prospects and Challenges”, Dr Afari-Gyan talked about “the survey of 97 countries conducted by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) on how countries treat their citizens living abroad in relation to their elections indicates that 48 countries did not allow them to register and vote.” He said, “The survey also indicated that 12 other countries allowed their citizen living abroad to vote only in presidential elections whilst seven countries including Ghana allowed only a category of citizen to register and vote.”

If Ghana could allow its citizens living abroad to participate in its elections, Nigerians in the Diaspora (with their contributory power to the economy) wonder why it has been difficult for Nigeria to do same. In fact, Ambassador Geoffrey Teneilable, former Consular-General of Nigeria in Atlanta, Georgia, USA acknowledged that over two million Nigerians live in the United States and they contribute significant amount of the total remittances to Nigeria yearly. He said that in 2012 alone the remittances from Nigerians in the Diaspora world-wide amounted to about $22 billion and substantial “proportion of the amount came from Nigerians in the United States.” If Nigerians in the Diaspora contribute significantly to the economy of the nation, why are their rights to participate in the electoral process being hamstrung?

It is ineluctably true that Section 77, Subsection (2) of the 1999 Constitution states, “Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of the election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.” This suggests that this part of the constitution has to be amended first to allow voter registration in the Nigerian embassies, consulates or missions around the world. Amending this section of the constitution would hasten the Diaspora voting. On that note, I implore Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy President of the Senate and the able Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution to use his office to facilitate the amendment of the aforementioned section of the constitution. Nigerians in the Diaspora greatly yawn for the right to vote from where they currently live.

 

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