INEC’s decision to have Nigerians in diaspora return to their wards to cast their votes has been is faced with stiff opposition by some Nigerians who view it as unnecessary inconvenience. In this interview, former president of Commonwealth Youth, Dr Ahmed Adamu tells BUKOLA OGUNSINA that the decision is a welcome initiative whichever way one chooses to see it.
The new INEC rule says diasporans will have to vote in the ward where they are registered, while some Nigerians insist this will be of disadvantage. What do you think?
You are right; it is deprivation, but you cannot provide for everyone at the same time. In every election, there must be some people who would be deprived the right to vote by circumstances. It is practically difficult to enable everybody who lives abroad to cast a vote. You don’t have the same ballot paper across Nigeria because ballot papers differ. Ballot papers for governors and legislators in each state differ. So, for you to allow external voting, you will need to provide varieties of ballot papers to all Diasporans living in the selected foreign countries.
This means you have to know their states of origin, local governments and the specific ballot papers that are supposed to be sent to each of them to vote for their members of assemblies, representatives, governors and Senators. This can be tricky even for electronic voting system for all positions. It is only the presidential election ballot paper that is the same all over the country. It can be easy if people in diaspora can vote only in the presidential election. Similarly, a person has to be domiciled in a foreign country for at least five years to qualify for external voting if it is to be provided. There is an issue of trust and lack of transparency. The external voting may raise concern over credibility of the tallies of the votes because it may not necessarily happen before the eyes of the party agents and supporters. Even if INEC can sponsor their staff to travel abroad to facilitate external voting, the officials may easily compromise while abroad.
So, to be safe and make it easy, everyone should come home and cast his/her vote. I know Nigerians living in UK can still vote in UK’s elections but at least they are compensated with another right. In this, I support INEC decision. People should take voting seriously. It is the voice and the only right you cannot transfer, and if you will not cast your vote, you have no right to complain. It was some people that risked their lives to get the voting right for us. So, we should value it and use it.
Is there a way the government can reverse this law to better suit Diasporans?
Yes, there is a way to do everything we want as a people. But the question is, is that the best thing to do? I think like I said, we should not allow external voting. People should book flights and come down to Nigeria and cast their votes, and afterwards they can go back to their foreign countries. Voting is worth more than the cost of the transport. It is a constitutional right. You know, in Australia, if you don’t cast a vote, you could even be punished. If you fail to vote at a state election and you don’t provide valid reason for that, you will be fined £20 for the first time and if you repeat the same offence, you will be fined £50 or you will be convicted. Most of the people living in diaspora have good sense of interpretation, and they are likely to make a wise choice. We need their voice too. Let them come down to Nigeria; at least they will also visit relatives.
As someone who was once a diasporan and in a position of authority, what was your voting experience like?
I voted several times in UK’s elections and it was mostly through postal voting. It was once that I went to the booth. You see, when you have integrity in society everything will be easy for you. Because of their integrity, it is easy for them to use postal voting. Even when you go to the voting booth, you will not see a queue, and there is no security. They trust their public officials. So, it was very peaceful and easy to cast a vote in the UK. You don’t have to join the queue under the cold or sun, you can just tick your ballot paper and send it via post, and it will be safely delivered.
What is the acceptable form of voting for diasporans of other countries?
I think the only forms of voting for other diasporans are through personal voting, postal voting, and proxy voting. There could be electronic voting, but that has not been practiced, I think only two countries allow their diasporans to cast votes online, that is Estonia and Netherlands. Many countries allow their diasporans to cast votes abroad. What they do in their embassy will create a voting booth within the embassy building, and the citizens of the country will walk into the embassy and cast their votes. At the end of the election, the vote counts are sent to the home country for collation.
What Agenda would you set for government on this matter and how can it be implemented?
First, I think not everyone deserves to cast a vote. Not everyone has the skills to cast a vote. Voting is a skill; you must have the skill to cast a vote. Not everyone is informed of the requirement or competence for leadership, not everyone has the skills to interpret information presented by candidates, not everyone has the correct mindset or right ideology in making the right decision. And if everyone, including the uninformed are handed over the ballot, we risk the chances of ignorant choices.
Therefore, casting a vote is a skill that everyone must acquire, and if you do not have the skills, you will not be qualified to have a ballot paper. It is just like handing over guns to everyone; you will risk giving the gun to an uninformed person and he may end up shooting himself or shooting the good guys. Just like not everyone should lead, not everyone should vote too. If a child is denied the ballot because it was believed that a child may not be well informed or acquire the necessary knowledge to participate in the voting, likewise even among adults, there are those who are not informed or do not have the knowledge to guide their decisions. Some children may have the knowledge, still they will be denied the chance to vote. There has to be clear requirements to qualify to vote in a democracy, especially in developing countries where there is mass illiteracy or unawareness, which reflects in the ballot and can cause the poor selection of leaders, resulting in bad governance.
Uninformed citizens can easily be manipulated and used through bribery, bogus promises, or intimidation to make the wrong choices. The votes of uninformed citizens may not necessary reflect their own opinions, which is against the principles of democracy. So, some sections of society need to be stripped of the voting chance. Highly informed and educated citizens have fewer tendencies of being used or manipulated. In some elections, a leader can emerge even with a one percent margin, and it does not matter if that margin was as a result of a vote from an uninformed voter. That one percent will also make the other major 49 percent voiceless. Uninformed voters can decide the course of the ship of our democracy. Giving uninformed citizens the ballot paper is like giving unprofessional the wheel of a ship at the middle of a sea during a storm, how would they steer the ship? But, if you hand over the ship to a qualified person, they will handle the situation and direct the ship to a safer route. Even in courts, we don’t allow every citizen to give verdicts, a select few competent judges are the ones we trust to give verdicts, because we believe they have the skills in making a sound and fair decision, and we accept their judgments.
To ensure informed choices and better selection of leaders, traditional or new systems of democracy can be looked into. We can consider electing voting representatives in each district or ward, who are knowledgeable, respected, experienced and reputable. These voting representatives will cast their votes on behalf of their people, and will undertake by oath to be fair and just in their selections. They will be like judges, who will use facts and evidence to give a verdict without sentiment, fear or favour. All candidates must then present themselves and their visions to earn the votes of the voting representatives. This will give chance to credible candidates even from unpopular parties, marginalised ethnicities or sections of society, because it is about who is more competent. The voting representatives will vote according to their conscience and conviction, and they have to report back to their respective communities and explain the justification for their choices. So, they will be the judges, who make verdicts on our behalf. This kind of system is found in some traditional and religious election processes, where few selected respected members of society are chosen to select a leader. It is also found in the royal system of democracy, where few selected king makers choose the king on behalf of the people.
Finally, the above system can be merged with direct democracy, where a proportion of the votes can be allocated to the citizens and the bigger proportion to the voting representatives. We can say voting representatives have a 60 per cent weighted proportion of the votes, and 40 percent goes to the citizens. If a candidate wins, the entire votes of the voting representatives can emerge. A candidate can still win if he has the majority of the overall votes, combining proportions from both voting representatives and the citizens.
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