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Time to reconsider Diaspora Voting Rights Bill

Nigerians in the Diaspora yearn for the opportunity to participate in the electoral process in their home country. Hence, the urgent need for the reintroduction of the Diaspora Voting Rights Bill is imperative.

Yes, the latent agitation of many Nigerians in Diaspora for the right to fully participate in the Nigeria politics continues to ring hollow to the ears of members of National Assembly, whose role it is to act—to come up with an enabling bill. Nigerians abroad are visibly frustrated, and rightly so, with members of NASS for their nonchalant attitude towards the Diaspora Voting Rights Bill. What are these men and women afraid of?

In any case, the Diaspora Voting Rights Bill is on the minds of most Nigerians living overseas. It is a bill long overdue as they eagerly wait for the opportunity to participate in the Nigerian elections. The delay has left many advocates for the bill jaded and depressed. Thus, the recurring attitudes of these Nigerians indicate that the residents abroad would continue to fight for the rights that would allow them to register and vote in the Nigerian elections, particularly in the gubernatorial and presidential contests, at the Nigerian embassies and consulates in their respective countries of residence. They are not asking too much from their beloved country of origin.

Well, not too long ago, there was a bill, sponsored by Abike Dabiri-Erewa that sought to amend the 2010 Electoral Act to make it possible for Nigerians in the Diaspora to be able to participate in the country’s general elections. The Diaspora Voting Rights Bill which would have granted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) powers to conduct elections abroad so that Nigerians abroad can vote in general elections, died in the House of Representatives. One of the arguments for the defeat of the bill was Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world with enormous wealth, was not ready to conduct elections in foreign countries. I beg to defer. Many countries are conducting elections beyond their shores with unqualified success. In a globalized world, and with readily available technology, any country can successfully conduct elections in foreign countries.

Examples of countries conducting their elections in foreign countries abound. Many Nigerian-Americans currently residing in Nigeria voted in the 2016 US Presidential election. They voted through the US Embassy.

Writing in Jadaliyya, Zeinab El-Gundy said, “More than 120 countries around the world currently allow their expatriate citizens to vote in national elections and referenda whilst abroad. That list includes Tunisia, whose citizens stood in long queues outside Tunisian embassies around the world last weekend to vote in the first democratic elections the country has seen in its history.”

Fascinatingly, many countries such as, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Great Britain, Mexico, Philippines, United States, and others, have voting right laws that permit their citizens living abroad to register and vote in their native countries’ elections. 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 to facilitate the participation of their citizens in their national elections.

While some countries have found it necessary to expand the political participation of their citizens living abroad in their national elections, Nigeria is under ineptitude swathe—arguing that that the country is not ripe for the exercise. In some cases, these countries have found a way to include their citizens abroad in a larger political participation. In addition to granting their citizens living overseas the right to vote in their national elections, France, Italy, and Portugal, have enlarged the gate of their democracy for their citizens living in foreign countries. France has designated 12 seats in the French Legislature for its citizens living abroad. Additionally, French citizens living abroad have a Minister who primarily represents their interest. David Douillet was “appointed to the newly created role of junior minister for French expatriates,” according to The Connexion (France’s English-Language Newspaper). Douillet talked about his appointment in this manner: “The two million French citizens living abroad are in a way, ambassadors for France, permanently representing their native country.”

Similarly, while citizens of Italy living abroad are allowed to register and vote in the national elections, those Italians living overseas are also granted 12 spots in the Italian National Parliament. Furthermore, 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. Interestingly, Algeria reserved eight seats in the parliament, two percent of all MPs, for its citizens living abroad.

If these countries are prudent in expanding political participation for their citizens living abroad, one wonders why Nigeria is dragging its feet in granting voting rights to its citizens in the Diaspora. This has long been a burning issue on the minds of many Nigerians in the Diaspora who dejectedly feel disenfranchised by their country. I could recall press statements various Nigerian organizations issued during the period strongly demanding the rights to vote. The contents of those statements aptly captured the agitation of many Nigerians in the Diaspora on the issue of lack of participation in elections in Nigeria. However, the fervor remains today among Nigerians in the Diaspora who are literally bitter about their ominous disenfranchisement.

Though Nigerians in the Diaspora agitate in silence for the right to vote in the Nigeria’s national elections, their agitation has been tepid at best. They have not been able to organize to exert pressure on the government considering the enormous economic power they wield in terms remittances to Nigeria. However, it appears that a new approach is in the making to have the federal government and the legislature grant Nigerians living abroad the right to vote in the national elections.

Meanwhile, I call on the well-meaning members of the National Assembly to introduce and pass legislation that will grant Nigerians in the Diaspora the rights to register and vote in the Nigerian elections at the Nigerian embassies and consulates around the world. It is a sound and prudent policy that will have endearing effects in the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. Perhaps, the country may emulate Ghana in this endeavor. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic that with President Buhari as the leader of the country, the Diaspora Voting Rights will be elevated to a totemic status in the NASS for speedy passage. You may follow me on twitter.com/achosr

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