Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, have thrown their weight behind the enfranchisement of Nigerians living in the diaspora.
At a sensitisation workshop on diaspora voting, held in Abuja on Monday, Prof Osinbajo, who delivered a keynote speech at the event, said: “The issue of diaspora voting is a significant one, considering the large number of Nigerians in Diaspora. As we all know, Nigerians make up a large number of highly-skilled immigrant population in Europe, America and other parts of the world.”
The vice president assured that the Buhari administration “endorses Diaspora voting and stands ready to play its part in its actualisation”.
President Muhammadu Buhari had also supported the idea while speaking with representatives of the Nigerian community in Ethiopia last week in Addis Ababa and he advised the advocates of diaspora voting to lobby the National Assembly to make the necessary laws to actualise their desire.
Osinbajo also repeated what his boss had said, when he reminded the participants at the workshop, organised by the UK-based Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC), that “there has to be legislation to make this a reality, namely an amendment of the laws by the National Assembly so that those in the Diaspora can vote in future elections”.
The vice president, who was represented at the event by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, praised the contributions of the diaspora to national development through their remittances and skills.
“The Federal Government on its part is ready to collaborate with the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council, the National Assembly and other stakeholders to achieve diaspora voting within the shortest possible time,” Osinbajo assured.
In his own speech, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, told the gathering that the lower house of the national assembly was committed to the issue of diaspora voting.
He said millions of Nigerians living outside the country “have as much a stake in the present and future of Nigeria as those of us who live here”.
The speaker, however, said there were challenges that needed to be addressed in the process of coming up with a law that would enable Nigerians abroad vote during elections.
Saying the country could not afford to do things without planning, Gbajabiamila noted that it was imperative to do the right thing to avoid litigation later.
“I’m saying all this because I want us to make the process a near-perfect one. There are so many issues that surround the issue [diaspora voting], and we need to address them. But I am for Diaspora voting,” he assured.
In her speech, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), commended the dedication, commitment and passion of the chairman of NDVC, Prince Ade Omole, for his tireless efforts to actualise diaspora voting.
“I think we have heard a lot, especially on the technicalities, but the key thing is that we have agreed is that it is desirable and that it is about time we knew what the legal challenges to achieving our goal are,” Ms Dabiri-Erewa added.
“I think it will happen. However, are there challenges? Yes, there are things to be worried about. That is why we are liaising with the National Assembly.”
Speaking earlier, Omole, who is also the leader of the APC United Kingdom Chapter, said the stakeholders’ workshop was organised to sensitise Nigerians in diaspora on their voting rights.
The Senate, which is the upper house of the National Assembly, had last Friday dismissed diaspora voting because, in the opinion of the Senators, Nigeria was not ready for it now.
Opponents of diaspora voting say the practical hurdles to realising it are immense and the current state of the country’s development would not make it possible. Other critics say diaspora voting will provide opportunities for rigging, adding to the existing challenges of conducting credible elections in the country.