The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in favour of Diaspora voting and will continue to work with the National Assembly towards its actualization, the Commission’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu has said.
Speaking at a meeting with members of the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non – Governmental Organisations, who visited the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja on a fact-finding mission on Tuesday, Prof Yakubu averred that Nigerians living abroad “have the right, like their compatriots living in the country, to exercise their franchise in all elections organized in the country.”
But for this to happen, he explained, several relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution have to be amended. Besides, some challenges that could emerge from allowing Diaspora voting, such as funding and the modalities to be adopted, also need to be tackled.
The Chairperson of the Committee, Senator Rose Okoji Oko stated that the continuous calls by Nigerians in Diaspora to be given the opportunity to exercise their franchise, and the favourable disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan among others to the idea, informed the Committee’s visit to INEC.
According to her, the former President had endorsed the idea in 2010 during his visit to Gabon, while the current President also gave his support during his recent visit to Malabo, Guinea.
The senator, who once served as National Commissioner at INEC, affirmed that a total of 115 countries, 28 of which are on the African continent, currently have provisions for Diaspora voting. She admitted that some Nigerians were against the idea “because of what they perceived as funding challenges, the current position of the law on the matter and some fears about the electoral system.”
She was of the view that despite the various challenges facing INEC in the conduct of various elections in Nigeria, the Commission “has continued to conduct elections.”
She said that while Nigeria did not need to copy what other countries had done, “the country needs to evolve its own unique policy.” According to her, 79 countries currently allow voting at their respective foreign embassies, while 16 others allow voting by proxy. “Nigeria can look at all these different procedures and then evolve its own unique method,” she observed.
One of such methods, she continued, is to determine if Diaspora voting could apply only to presidential or governorship election as a starting point. She insisted that it would be unfair to continue to deny Nigerians in Diaspora their right to vote, despite their enormous contributions to the country’s economy. She revealed that two – thirds of the $34 billion being projected to flow into sub-Sahara Africa this year “will come into Nigeria.”
Responding, the INEC Chairman assured the senators that the Commission would continue to work with the National Assembly to make Diaspora voting a reality. He said: “INEC believes that Nigerians living outside the country should be able to vote. This is because they are citizens of Nigeria, they make considerable contributions to the economy, there is a sizeable number of them living all over the world – some have estimated that they are around 15 million – and Diaspora voting is consistent with global practice.”
However, Prof Yakubu said under the existing law, Nigerians living abroad who have the desire to vote must return home to register during the voters’ registration exercise and also to vote during actual elections.
But the first step towards making Diaspora voting possible,” he told the senators, “rests with the National Assembly.” He however assured them of the Commission’s readiness to cooperate with the legislators to tackle all encumbrances.
Other members of the Senate Committee were Senators Olanrewaju Tejuoso, Abdulaziz Nyako and Ibrahim Umar Kurfi.