There were high expectations that the bill seeking to amend Sections 77 and 117 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora participate in the electoral process, would be passed by the National Assembly when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) threw their weights behind the bill.
The Nigerian government’s records say the country has about 17 million citizens in the Diaspora, even though the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ most recent estimate of Nigeria’s Diaspora is 1.7-million as of June 2020.
However, during voting on the ongoing amendment to the 1999 constitution, records from the National Assembly showed that 29 Senators and 58 members of the House of Representatives voted in support of the bill which sought to allow Nigerians to register and vote in their country of residence during elections, while 62 Senators and 240 Representatives voted against the bill.
Surprisingly, the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora last week assured that the bill would be reintroduced on the floor it the House.
Chairman of the committee Hon Tolulope Akande-Shadipe made this known when the chairman/CEO of Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, appeared before the committee to defend the commission’s 2022 budget implementation and 2023 budget proposal.
Akande-Shadipe said the bill would eventually pass because that is the direction the world is going.
“We would be back with the bill. They are Nigerians and they have the right to vote in Nigerian elections. The modalities and the issues that were raised the last time would be resolved and we would come back to it
“We are going to reintroduce the diaspora voting bill which was rejected at the constitution amendment exercise.
“The diaspora voting bill would be approved this time, according to Shadipe, because it is the direction the world is moving in and Nigeria must not fall behind.
“We will be back with the bill, they are Nigerians and they have the right to vote in Nigerian elections.
“The modalities and the issues raised the last time will be resolved and we will come back to it,” she said.
Although I cannot attest to the validity of the chairman’s confidence, I also cannot be sure of how much work she has done to be boastful that if and when introduced, the bill would be passed. One thing is certain, the bills cannot be passed on the life of this current administration and those who are boastful of re-presenting the bill are also not sure of returning to the House in the next Assembly.
Despite this, there is a blight of hope, government agencies whose position will outlive the current administration have supported the bill.
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Yakubu Mahmood had argued that citizens of Nigeria living outside the country make considerable contributions to the economy through Diaspora remittances and should be able to vote, as Diaspora voting was consistent with global best practices.
“INEC is committed to providing Nigerians living outside the country the opportunity to have a say in who becomes our leaders at various levels. I hope that the legal and constitutional obstacles to voting by Nigerians in Diaspora will soon be removed so that Nigerians, irrespective of where they live around the world would have the opportunity to vote in future elections,” Mahmood had said.
On her part, Chairperson of NIDCOM Abike Dabiri-Erewa had assured that her office was working closely with the National Assembly to ensure that Diaspora voting which is already being implemented by over 119 countries, becomes a reality for Nigerians abroad.
“Nigeria cannot afford to be left out given the humongous contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora to the Nigerian economy,” she said.
However attractive the bill may be, Nigerians, particularly the parliament has to be careful not to enact a bill that will compromise the elections. Voting from the diaspora without adequate data and proper technology is an invitation to rigging.