• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Why diaspora voting may not be possible in 2023 – INEC

Civil society groups urge INEC to explain ‘step aside’ order on Abia REC

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it does not as yet have the enabling laws to carry out diaspora voting in 2023.

The explanation came amid calls by many Nigerians that it was high time Nigeria toed the path of other countries in Africa that allow their citizens resident in other countries to exercise their franchise in their home countries.

The calls, BusinessDay gathered, became necessary following rising interest in the nation’s electoral process by citizens in the diaspora.

In an interview with BusinessDay, Rotimi Oyekanmi, chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, said the commission had no laws allowing it to do so at the moment.

“The current operative law does not allow diaspora voting. The National Assembly needs to amend the law to allow it. Once that is done, the commission will put the machinery in place to implement such law,” Oyekanmi said.

He said the commission was doing everything possible to bring all Nigerians, whether within the country or outside, to actively participate in the nation’s electoral process.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of INEC, had recently urged the National Assembly to expedite action on the amendment of 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 made the call when members of the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organisations, led by its chairperson, Rose Oko, visited the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.

Yakubu said: “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 contribution 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.

“Allowing Nigerians living abroad to vote will allow Nigerians in diaspora to register and vote in their country of residence… For this to happen, several 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.”

Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman and chief executive of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, had recently said there was a need for Nigeria to consider exploring diaspora voting in the 2023 general election.

Dabiri-Erewa, who commended Nigerians in the diaspora over their consistent contributions and aid to the economy pre and post-COVID-19 pandemic through foreign exchange remittances, urged stakeholders to continue to engage the National Assembly to amend relevant sections of the law to enable INEC accommodate Diaspora voting in the 2023 general election.

The National Assembly however, had, during the recent Constitution Amendment exercise, rejected the bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to provide for diaspora voting, and for related matters.

Read also: INEC to publish final list of presidential, NASS candidates September 20

Speaking on the issue, Christian Okeke, a Political Science lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said that making diaspora voting possible in Nigeria is not rocket science but that it is a process that basically requires legislation, technology and data to materialise.

Okeke told BusinessDay that Nigerians in the diaspora reserve the right to participate in the process of choosing their country’s leaders.

He said: “However, whereas some African countries have continued to be shining examples on a number of issues, particularly Kenya, on diaspora voting, Nigeria keeps paying lip service to such issues and lagging behind on many fronts.

“Take for instance, National Assembly has critical role to play in actualising diaspora voting by way of enacting relevant legislation. The two Chambers know this. They know that Section 77(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) restricts registration and voting to persons residing in Nigeria only.”

“Whereas the way out would have been to amend this section, yet diaspora voting was conspicuously missing in the recent constitutional amendments by the parliament. Even the necessary guidelines and policies to smoothen the amendment process were not formulated and have remained on the drawing board,” Okeke added.

The university lecturer further observed that a reliable technology for diaspora voting is yet to be developed.

He said: “As we speak, there is morbid fear about the general security of technologies in Nigeria. Their reliability and integrity have always raised doubts, the same way no one can vouch that the personnel to man the technologies are patriotic, professionals and men of honour. As it stands, there is no guarantee that the political elite will not sabotage the integrity of the technology-driven process.

“On the other hand, the country currently struggles with up-to-date information on the actual number of her citizens presently living abroad. The dearth of data makes it difficult to enable diaspora voting in the country.”

He, however, said: “There is strong belief that any day the political elite in the country get determined to effect the necessary changes for common good, including diaspora voting, that would be achieved and Nigeria will join the league of states that respect the rights of her citizens abroad to vote in