Editors Note: In this concluding piece of a 2-part article, Daniel Nengak offers some ideas on how to bring Diaspora vote to a reality in Nigeria. You can read the First part here
Is it worth the trouble to have the Diaspora vote? I mean, if they care that much, why not come back and vote? But we have to think of the franchise as a right of citizenship. The world is changing and migrants are being integrated into their host societies faster than we thought; at least that is the case in the West. So for a country like Nigeria, we lose when our people go away and become totally integrated in other countries. You would have realized this if you saw the ‘other Nigerians’ competing, winning medals or loosing for other countries sometimes against Nigerian flag-bearers in the London Olympics. But regardless of their other citizenships, most members of the Diaspora are still Nigerians entitled to all the privileges of citizenship.
Already, we see the high number of ‘Nigerians’ flying other flags and singing other anthems in sport and also the elected and appointed public office holders of Nigerian descent abroad. But there are the ‘quiet’ millions who will simply live, work and die abroad. If we don’t give the Diaspora the ballot box now, in about a decade, there will be less ‘Nigerians’ in the Diaspora – because they will no longer be Nigerians. So we cannot afford to wait for them to fly in and vote; in 2015 we have to take the ballot box out there to them!
It is in recognition of the presence of Nigerians abroad that the state has opened hundreds of Consuls, Embassies and other diplomatic posts abroad. The thinking of the government in this regard is: we have to see to it that these citizens are treated right and given all the support they need while abroad. So how can we take tax payers money to send a mission as far as Australia to replace their passports but refuse to take a ballot box to have them vote with us all? We could have further use for our diplomatic missions beyond passport services.
How many Nigerians are abroad? I don’t mean those in Europe alone but also in Lesotho, Haiti and everywhere else outside the shores of blessed Nigeria. The honest answer is “no idea”, but there are estimates; for example the European arm of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDOE) is working with an estimate of 5 million Nigerians. Laudable efforts like the ambitiously named Global Database of Nigerians in Diaspora have not been very successful because there is no premium to being enregistered. What if we turned the global database into a voter register? Still many would not register but my guess is that 80% of Nigerians living abroad who are up to 18 years of age would insert themselves into a Diaspora polling register. Of course, attempts to properly document Nigerians abroad must also include records of passports issued abroad, long term visas issued in Nigeria and also the databases of immigration departments of foreign countries.
Is it true that Nigerian Diaspora cannot vote in 2015? Assuming I am right that there is no prohibition against external voting in Nigerian laws and assuming that INEC is eager to conduct the polls abroad, what needs to be done? For Cape Verde, for example, their Ambassador is simply the Polling Officer who oversees the elections, counts, declares results and transmits same to the headquarters. I know many Nigerian ambassadors are not only political appointees but also active politicians. So if we cannot ask the ambassador to count our votes there are still non-partisan civil servants in the missions who could do this. Or, at least we can trust them to conduct voter registration and thereafter we decide how many polling stations are needed abroad and how many real INEC officials we will need to deploy abroad to conduct the polls. On the other hand, if a law is needed to allow the Diaspora vote, we have the window of the ongoing constitutional reform to insert the relevant provisions that would allow this to happen. We could do it under a year.
Finally, does it matter that the Diaspora should vote? Yes it does. The Constitution should not make promises that the state does not intend to keep (now don’t ask me about Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution). If the Constitution recognizes that all citizens are equal and subject to the rule of law, then it is only in keeping with the letter and spirit of the law that all citizens who have reached the age of suffrage be granted the possibilities to vote. Now if Nigeria does not give its Diaspora the right to vote, their host nations would do so eventually – actually, many nations have already been doing so and if you look in the West, you will see that many political parties are finding it very profitable to put forward “candidates with other backgrounds” – you could call this the Obamaeffect. In the short term Nigeria will not lose anything if its Diaspora joined other political communities; they would still be ‘hyphenated Nigerians’ and after all they will continue to send remittances and continue to think and speak kindly about Nigeria abroad. But in the next generations, the Nigerian side of the hyphen would shrink into nonexistence and their links to Nigeria would be as strong as the Igbos’ claim to Jewish ancestry.
So where does the Diaspora stand on all this? Through many channels, the Diaspora has expressed its desire and insistence to actualize its franchise and have a say in deciding the path for Nigeria’s development. Members of the Diaspora want to be able to compare the realities they experience abroad to the campaign agenda of Nigerian politicians – this is only a fair demand from the citizens who have poured so much into the development of the country in remittances. In the last two decades, Nigerian politicians both at the national and state levels have ‘exploited’ the Diaspora to sell its manifesto, to win popularity and to execute development programmes; there are even those who use the Diaspora as an excuse for globe-trotting. Now the Diaspora wants to vote it is only fair that these politicians give them the possibilities to votes or disown them. After all, if Nigeria is not ripe for Diaspora voting, is it ripe for Diaspora supported development?
Nengak Daniel Gondyi presently studies International Migration and Ethnic Relations (Masters) at Malmö Högskola in Sweden. Before this, he was a Senior Programme Officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD in Abuja. He holds a Bachelors’ in International Studies from the Ahmadu Bello University. At CDD, he worked on a number of projects including the West Africa Insight which seeks to collect and analyse futures information in West Africa.
He thinks citizenship is not a status represented by a passport but a bunch of rights and privileges enjoyed by the holder. Therefore, the quality of citizenship is directly proportional to the rights being enjoyed by the holder and the right [and possibility] to vote is on top of the rights of citizenship. He says you would fail to convince him if you claim to be a citizen but could not vote in the elections of the country whose citizenship you think you hold.
He reads and writes about human rights and democracy in West Africa. He loves cycling, asking questions and reading. Nengak can be reached via email on firstname.lastname@example.org
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