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.
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
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
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.