Diaspora voting in 2015? - Nigerian Tribune
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, on December 16, 2013, called for an amendment of sections 77(2) and 117(2) of the 1999 Constitution to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora of voting age to participate in the 2015 elections. Jega's contention was that eligible Nigerian citizens outside the country's borders should be involved in the process of choosing the managers of the country's affairs. He did not, however, suggest a specific modality for the actualisation of the novel idea in Nigeria' s electoral process.
There have, at different times, been arguments for and against the extension of the franchise to Nigerians outside the country's shores. In well-organised societies, it is not a privilege but a right for citizens, wherever they may be, to perform this important civic responsibility. Even before the development of technology to the present level, some countries' citizens in foreign lands, through what was known as postal voting, were playing their part in determining who their leaders should be. There is thus nothing unusual in INEC's proposal. The opportunity for a country's citizens in the Diaspora to vote during elections gives a greater legitimacy to the mandate of elected leaders.
The fact that Diaspora voting has now become the standard practice in many countries of the world does not, however, mean that it can be so in Nigeria of today. The practice of democracy in Nigeria is a far cry from what it is in those countries whose citizens vote from different locations around the world and where power changes hands from one person or political party to another in a crisis-free atmosphere. It is common knowledge that election is war in Nigeria because the quest for political power is motivated more by the pursuit of personal aggrandisement and parochial interests than the desire to serve. All along in Nigeria's political history, elections are marred by manipulations, fraud and violence.
To have a semblance of free and fair elections in 2011, Nigerians, in many parts of the country, had to vote and remain at the polling centres to protect their votes. It is a herculean task in Nigeria to ensure that the people's votes count.
The 2011 election was generally viewed as passable because it was not characterised by the brazen manipulations that made the 2007 poll the worst in Nigeria's history. And in spite of the opportunity that INEC had to concentrate all efforts on the isolated governorship elections conducted in three states - Edo, Ondo and Anambra - it cannot boast of a flawless exercise anywhere. The fact thus remains that Nigeria's electoral umpire still has a long way to go in giving Nigerians a free, fair and credible election. It has a lot to do before it can neutralise the vote-rigging antics of Nigeria's desperate politicians who see elections as a do-or-die affair and will stop at nothing, however mean or grievous, to be declared the election winner.
The Anambra governorship election should serve as an eye opener to Jega that all is not well with INEC.
The fact that an official of the electoral body was at the centre of the manipulation and subsequent confusion that necessitated a supplementary election should be seen as sufficient evidence that there is need for an urgent and thorough-going house cleaning in the Commission. It should be obvious to Jega that the political atmosphere in Nigeria today is charged because the contending interests in the 2015 electoral contests are poised to go for broke. This is therefore not the appropriate time to venture into a needless experimentation in Diaspora voting. It will further complicate election administration. It will aggravate existing problems.
Nigerian embassies do not have a good record of Nigerian citizens in their host countries because a substantial percentage are illegal immigrants who do not register at the embassies. Will INEC use the embassies' lists of legally-resident Nigerians as its electoral register? Will it send its officials around the world to compile its own register of voters? Will the high commissioners, ambassadors or charge d'affaires, appointed by the party in power at home, serve as the returning officers during elections?
Will returns from such officials be acceptable to the opposition parties? Will INEC, on the other hand, be sending its own officials to different parts of the world to oversee elections? Who will monitor the elections and vouch for the authenticity of the returns? Will Diaspora voting not aggravate the acrimony and dispute usually associated with elections in Nigeria? INEC should be preoccupied with the design of strategies to contain the evil genius in Nigerian politicians. It should be working on how to prevent a recurrence of the Anambra experience. The electoral umpire should not be seeking to widen the scope of its responsibilities. It should be striving to acquit itself creditably in the performance of its present tasks.