Ahead of the Diaspora Day celebrations scheduled for tomorrow, July 25, and with a view of the next defining round of general elections, about 17 million Nigerians in diaspora are pushing for their rights to participate in the political endeavours of the country by way of casting votes where it matters – our leadership.
Although the existing merits and logistical concerns to consider in pursuing this desire might strain the possibilities, it is realisable and should be a key concern of the Nigerian government for reasons which include progress and inclusion.
Unlike their around 30 counterparts across the continent, including Benin, Mozambique, Senegal, and Mali, Nigerians in diaspora are constitutionally unable to contribute to electoral activities in the country and are demanding a change. Their argument for the cause lies in their interest and commitment to the development of the country, and their present and potential contributions to the objective thus far.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) is spearheading the current challenge of the status quo in the country’s categorisation of eligible voters largely on the aforementioned basis. Particularly in light of the approaching 2019 general elections.
According to Dr. Kenneth Gbandi, Chairman of the body, plans are in motion to set up a meeting between NIDO and the leaders of the Nigerian National Assembly. The mission is to discuss the ways in which the vision of Nigerians voting from abroad can be materialised through an adjustment of the Constitution, as well as taking advantage of the budgetary provisions already made to suit the proposed exercise.
Factually, Nigeria needs all the help it can get in the dire quest for socioeconomic advancement, and Nigerians living abroad have proven a capability to make significant contributions to this effect. In 2015, millions of Nigerians in diaspora reportedly sent $21 billion to the country, and recently, $300 million loan was raised from them alone – and in record time too – as contribution to a $23 billion bond pitched by the Nigerian Government to help finance the execution of capital projects in the country, and thus contribute to its development.
Earlier this year, the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) responded to the growing demands for diaspora voting by saying it had no plans to include Nigerians in that category in the upcoming 2019 elections due to constitutional and financial backing.
However INEC’s tone has since changed, as last month at an “Enfranchising the African Diaspora” conference, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu urged the National Assembly to hastingly amend the Nigerian Constitution to cater to the needs of citizens in diaspora. While the chairman recognised the challenges inherent in undertaking the quest, he concluded that it was certainly achievable.
Despite the apparent hurdles that the Nigerian government and electoral committee have to overcome to actualise it, Nigerians in diaspora should be allowed to vote, given the evident interest, contribution, and dedication of Nigerians in diaspora to the country’s welfare and growth. Also, seeing how the advent counts as an achievement for the advancement of democracy in the country and on the continent.