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Nigerian Parliament to Revisit Diaspora Voting Bill Following Court Ruling

A court in Nigeria has ordered the country's Independent Electoral Commission to prepare the modalities so that Nigerians in the Diaspora will vote in future elections as well as contest for electoral positions. So far there are mixed reactions to the court ruling.

Some Nigerians believe allowing the Diaspora to vote could provide another opportunity for the electoral commission to inflate the number of people who voted for a particular candidate. For others, Nigerians abroad should not be allowed to vote because they are not fully aware of the domestic issues and candidates.

A bill to achieve Diaspora voting rights was introduced in the Federal House of Representatives, but it did not make it to the legislative agenda before the end of the Obasanjo administration. Now Nigerians living abroad want to make sure the Diaspora Electoral Bill or a revised version is passed before the 2011 elections.

Sumaila Kawu, deputy minority leader of the Federal House of Representatives told VOA the Diaspora Electoral Bill is part of a comprehensive electoral review process.

"You can't ignore the number of Nigerians who are living outside of Nigeria. I think you would deny them their rights. We will provide that opportunity for them to vote outside Nigeria. Although the committee set up by Mr. President has submitted their report, the report is not yet made available to the public. But I know in our own part we will make it possible for Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote for or against the candidate they wish," he said.

Kawu agreed with those who contend that allowing the Diaspora to vote in local Nigerian elections would complicate the already troubled Nigerian electoral system.

But he said the opposition and the government are working to put measures in place that would enhance the Nigerian electoral system.

"Actually going with what is happening now on the ground, I think it is not possible, or nobody can believe Nigeria can conduct a free and fair election which will enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote. Actually I quite agree with them, but with arrangements on the ground now, I think we are putting our hands on deck, both the opposition and the government in power, to come up with a comprehensive electoral system that will enhance our democracy. Democracy has suffered a lot in the hands of (President) Obasanjo. I assure you that this time around we will not allow what happened in 2003 and 2007 to happen again, Kawu said.

Kawu also defended criticism that the already weak Nigerian electoral system might not be able to deal with the hundreds of thousands Diaspora votes.

"You cannot compare Nigerian democracy to American democracy. We are learning. But now since we understand that there are some problems on the ground, we want to solve those problems, and we want at least capture the attention of the world that we are serious to resolve our problems. That is the reason we even start thinking we will extend our hand to allow our brothers and sisters outside Nigeria to have the opportunity to contribute toward a better government in their country," Kawu said.

According to Section 17 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 and Section 13 of the Electoral Act of 2006 Nigerians who are 18 years and above living overseas are legally qualified to vote for candidates of their choice in any election conducted in Nigeria.

Kawu said the right to vote is very important and it would be against any norm of democracy to deny any citizen the right to vote.

He also said Diaspora Nigerians with dual citizenship would be able to vote and hold office once the new Diaspora Electoral Bill becomes law.

"It is allowed in our constitution you can have a dual citizenship and contest election. There are some parliamentarians and some governors who have dual citizenship in Nigeria. Therefore it is not a big deal. They can vote; they can even contest election in Nigeria," Kawu said.