The Senate on Friday listed certain arrangements that must be in place before it could come up with necessary legislation that would enable Nigerians who are resident abroad to participate in future general elections in the country.
The red chamber also said the current situation in the country regarding telecommunications system was not conducive for it to come up with a law that would legalise electronic voting in the country.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, during a meeting with the Executive Committee members of the Nigerian Community in Ethiopia, said he was not against the right of Nigerians in Diaspora participating during elections by voting.
Buhari noted that it was the National Assembly that should pass the relevant laws to give a legal backing to Diaspora voting.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on the Diaspora Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH on Friday, however said, neither he nor his colleagues was against the proposed progressive proposals.
He nevertheless maintained that since both the Diaspora voting and electronic voting were intertwined, necessary precautions needed to be taken to avoid negative implication.
He said, “ There are so many things that are involved in Diaspora voting. It is not just enough to say that we are going to do diaspora voting.
“it is not as if we are opposed to diaspora voting as a parliament but there are so many challenges and issues that we have to be resolved first.
“First, we need to have accurate data of Nigerians that constitute Diaspora. We need to know their population and who is qualified to be a Nigerian in Diaspora.”
Basiru noted that the local elections in the country are usually confronted with numerous challenges especially when few numbers of votes are needed to determine the winner of an election, particularly at the state levels.
He said, “ For instance the Sokoto governorship election where the margin between the winner and the runner-up was very slim. Who will be the beneficiary of the votes from the Diaspora especially when the winner would be determined by the votes from the diaspora?
“We also have to determine who constitute the diaspora. Are they only Nigerians in Europe, America and Asia or are we also going to recognise Nigerians who are living in the African countries?
“There are speculations that the population of Nigerians in Sudan, Niger, and Chad alone are running into millions. We also have Nigerians residing in other African countries. So, will all those millions of Nigerians there be allowed to vote under the diaspora voting?
“Another issue to determine is that, is it only those who genuinely emigrate and legitimately living in those country that would be regarded as diaspora? Are we talking about the documented and non documented Nigerians that are living abroad?
“Now, because of the nature of our elections, in which of the elections would the Nigerians in Diaspora vote? For instance, we talk about the local government election. Will the Disporans vote in such elections? How are we going to determine the local government they are voting for?
“Will they also vote in the National and state assembly elections? How are we going to determine the constituency or the lawmakers they are voting for? Is there any machinery in place to determine that? The answer is No!
“In the governorship election, are they going to vote according to their state of origin? The fact is that we don’t even have any arrangement or records in place to determine that, at least for now.
“So, it is not just enough to say we are legislating on Diaspora voting but we have to find a way to address the serious issues that could hinder the process before coming up with any legislation that would give it a legal backing.”
Basiru noted that the National Assembly particularly his committee was willing to come up with laws that would encourage diaposra voting but that all the issues raised must be critically looked into to avoid negative consequences.
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission has ruled out diaspora voting in the 2023 general election, saying it does not have constitutional backing.
The commission which said it would go with the provisions of the law, said only persons registered in Nigeria at the time for registration and who tuned up at the appropriate polling units could vote.
INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Osaze Oluwole – Uzzi, stated these in an interview with PUNCH Weekend titles.
He also said electronic voting was not feasible in 2023 because it had not been part of Nigerian law.
Oluwole – Uzzi was asked to clarify whether INEC was ready for diaspora voting and electoral voting in 2023 since over 17 million Nigerians in the diaspora were ready for both systems of voting.
He said, “INEC will go with what the law stipulates. For now, only those registered in Nigeria at the time of registration and who turn up at the appropriate polling unit can vote. Until this constitutional provision is amended, we cannot talk of diaspora voting.
“Electronic voting isn’t part of our law and isn’t envisaged even in the Electoral Amendment Bill before the National Assembly.”
When reminded that there cannot be diaspora voting without electronic voting, INEC VEP queried, “says who?”
“Several countries permit diaspora or out-of-country voting. A few allow electronic but most don’t”, he emphasised.
NIDCOM to assist in drafting bill, lobbying
However, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission has expressed its readiness to assist Nigerians abroad to ensure that the National Assembly passes a law that will allow them to vote during general elections.
It however agreed that the proposed diaspora voting can be limited to some countries for a start.
The NIDCOM Chairman, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, disclosed these in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Friday.
Dabiri-Erewa in the interview said her commission would do everything possible to assist Nigerians in Diaspora to achieve their dream on diaspora voting.
The assistance, she explained, would include the drafting of a bill that would be sent to the National Assembly as well as the necessary lobbying needed to ensure that the proposed amendment to the nation’s electoral laws scale through at the parliament.
She further disclosed that a seminar, where the issue and others, as well as the possible challenges and how to tackle them, would be addressed, had been fixed for Monday.
She said, “We will do everything to push along with Nigerians in diaspora on this issue of diaspora voting.
“A bill will be drafted and sent to the parliament to be included in the constitution amendment process because we will need the constitution to be amended to accommodate it.
“For now, diaspora voting may not feature the whole world. We will draft the bill in a manner that will give INEC the discretion to decide which countries for now, whether UK, US or so.”
We‘ll sponsor bill for diaspora voting —NUSA
Nigerian Union South Africa has also expressed its willingness to sponsor a bill that will enable Nigerians in the diaspora to be able to participate in elections in the country.
The President of NUSA, Adetola Olubajo, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH in a separate interview, stated that the desire of Nigerians in South Africa to vote remotely had repeatedly been expressed to the Federal Government.
Olubajo said, “At this point, we would not hesitate to sponsor a bill on diaspora voting where necessary because every Nigerian in South Africa has done quite a number of things to show that they are willing to make sure that voting in the diaspora is a reality.
“We had made representation about that with the National Assembly in 2015. When President Buhari visited, it was part of our requests.
“Even when the foreign affairs minister visited in 2016, that was out request. At every opportunity we have, we always present it that voting in the diaspora is overdue. We need to have a say in our country, even though we live in the diaspora because we actively participate in economic activities.”
He explained that Nigerians living abroad sent money home regularly and were involved in socio-economic issues in the country.