A one-day Workshop christened Diaspora Voting Initiative held in Abuja on Monday, 17 February. Organised by the UK-based Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council, the event was attended by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser on Political Matters to the President who represented Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; Rt. Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives: Hon. Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Chairman/CEO of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM); and Hon. (Mrs) Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, the chairperson, House of Reps committee on Diaspora Matters; among other dignitaries. Prince Ade Omole, the Chairman of the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council, explains why Nigerians living abroad should be allowed to vote at elections in his welcome speech at the event. Here’s the full text of the speech:
The Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council was set up to raise awareness for the importance of the exercise of Nigerians’ suffrage rights across the Globe and also partnering with stakeholders such as NIDCOM, INEC and other Voting Groups committed to bringing awareness of the Citizens’ voting rights to the fore and how best they can exercise these rights in the 21st Century. To this end, we have built up considerable coverage indices and have been involved in the promotion and organisation of events such as these to promote these ideals. It is thus an invaluable privilege and honour that I have this opportunity to address you distinguished guests and principal stakeholders in the well-being of our dear Nation Nigeria to present this Address today.
Countries around the world evolve with time along with the dynamism associated with global trends. Nigeria, the most populous Black nation in the world can therefore not be an exemption.
The issue of Diaspora Voting has been on the front burner for quite a number of years. It is quite worrisome and onerous that over 25 million Nigerians in the Diaspora (according to World Bank estimates, 2017) have had to incur huge travel costs and dedicate time commuting to and fro in a bid to exercise their franchise at each electioneering period. This, from the current global standpoint, does not speak well of a country that prides itself as the Giant of Africa.
MAKING A CASE FOR DIASPORA VOTING
As referenced above, according to World Bank data 2017, over 25 million Nigerians are said to be domiciled outside the country [Nigeria]. These 25 million Nigerians make huge and considerable contributions to the economy through humongous financial inflow into the country.
In 2017 alone, a whopping $22 billion was recorded (gross) as remittances into the country. The figure was 16.4% higher than what was obtained in 2016. In 2018, Diaspora remittances to Nigeria equalled US$25 billion, representing 6.1% of GDP. The 2019 total is estimated to be close to US$30 billion including remittances made through unofficial channels.
It is instructive to state that Nigerians in the Diaspora recorded the fifth largest remittances worldwide after India, China, the Philippines and Mexico. Interestingly, there are 115 countries the world over that allows voting by their Diaspora citizens out of which 28 of such countries are found in Africa, 20 in Asia, 16 in America, 10 in the Pacific while 41 are found in Central, Eastern and Western Europe. It therefore becomes worrisome that Nigeria, a futuristic global equaliser and the meritorious giant of Africa is yet to have this entrenched in its electoral laws.
THE 2020 DIASPORA VOTING WORKSHOP
The leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the management of Professor Mahmoud Yakubu has been vying for Nigerians in the Diaspora to exercise their franchise in their respective domicile countries. This, the head honcho, Professor Mahmoud, kick-started shortly after his assumption of office with an advocacy to The Presidency and the National Assembly.
He has reiterated several times the need for Nigerians resident outside the shores of the country to be able to exercise their franchise wherever they are resident.
However, as sterling and commendable as the move by the current leadership of the electoral umpire is, the modalities for such noble and stellar milestone were not articulated. It is not only enough to articulate the viewpoint of Voting in the Diaspora but there also exists an imperative need to suggest possible legislative amendments that may aid the speedy implementation of this proposed modality. To bridge this gap, the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council has researched and prepared a constitutional amendment bill to kick-start the process and deepen the discuss on Diaspora Voting.
There have been many concerns as to what voting system would be adopted. Would such modality be by postal voting (voting by post)? Would it be voting by proxy? Would it be by e-voting (electronic voting)? Or would it be by personal voting at an external polling unit that would be located at a diplomatic mission office? All of these and other sundry issues are what this workshop is set to discuss.
This is the primary reason for inviting the major stakeholders to this workshop to discuss the Diaspora Voting issue and channel a clear path to delivering President Muhammadu Buhari’s DV promise. Just last week in Ethiopia, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR confirmed again:
“I have said it severally that I am not against it (Diaspora voting). However, you will need to convince the National Assembly to amend the relevant laws to make Diaspora voting a reality”.
The Presidency is represented by our erudite and scholarly Vice President, H.E Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who will be delivering the lead paper, while the offices of the Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives will make very robust contributions to the issue of the day.
Other critical stakeholders that will be on the podium include, the Chairperson, Nigerians In Diaspora Commission under the able leadership of our hardworking Hon. Mrs Àbíké Dabiri-Erewa; Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, representative, Dr Lecky as well as other notable key speakers from the National Assembly, Senator (Dr) Basiru, chairman, Senate committee on Diaspora Matters and Hon (Mrs) Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, chairperson, HoR Committee on Diaspora Matters.
The Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council appreciates the support and cooperation from NIDCOM, INEC and the representatives of the National Assembly though the bulk of the work, constitutional amendment assignment, will be done at the National Assembly before passing the baton to INEC for implementation.
A COLLECTIVE TASK
Overtly, the process to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote is an uphill task that is far beyond party affiliation. It is a serious matter that must go beyond sloganeering and translated into practical and achievable project. All relevant and critical stakeholders must demonstrate readiness and articulate a reasonable roadmap that will eventually lead to the electoral franchise of Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Procrastination, they say, is the thief of time. And there is no better time than now.
It is therefore our belief that at the end of this workshop, the necessary machinery will be set in motion to fast track the realisation of the DV project in preparation for the 2023 General Elections.
On this note distinguished ladies & gentlemen, I welcome everyone, including Nigerians in the Diaspora who travelled down for this workshop and all our invited special guests to this epoch-making rendezvous and wish us all fruitful deliberations on the move to guarantee an egalitarian Nigeria that works for all.
Thank you & God Bless Nigeria!
Prince Ade Omole
Chairman, Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) and Chairman of the APC UK Chapter