By Nathaniel Gana
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has again reiterated the Commission’s readiness to give Nigerians living abroad the opportunity to vote, provided the current constitution is amended to allow it.
The opportunity for further clarification came on 26th April, when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Matters, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa paid a courtesy visit to the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
Prof Yakubu told Dabiri-Erewa that the Commission had long begun the process of developing guidelines, regulations and policy in anticipation of an amendment to the legal framework, to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora exercise their franchise.
But he pointed out two clauses in the constitution would have to be amended. He said: “Specifically, there are two areas in the law where we think an amendment is necessary. The first one is Section 77 (2) of the Constitution, which restricts registration and voting to persons residing in Nigeria. In other words, Nigerian citizens residing outside the country cannot vote.
“But there is also section 134 (2), which talks about the threshold for declaration of results, particularly for Presidential Elections, in terms of the majority of votes and the spread, which requires a quarter of the total votes in two thirds of the states. So, will the Diaspora constitute another state? What will Diaspora constitute for the purpose of the Presidential election? This will also have to be looked into.”
The INEC Chairman regretted that the issue of Diaspora Voting was not included in the recent constitutional amendments by the National Assembly. He said: “the problem, basically, is the legal environment. Election is a legal process, but we made submissions to the National Assembly for constitutional amendments to make Diaspora voting happen. But unfortunately, it’s not part of what the NASS submitted to the states for concurrence”.
He added: “We categorized this into two. We have the out of country voting and then, we have the Diaspora voting. These are two different categories. Out of country voting is basically for Nigerians on missions abroad, (members of the Foreign Service, the Diplomatic Corps that are posted out of the country, etc.). Then, we have the Diaspora voting for Nigerians resident outside the country”.
He continued: “Working with you, I’m sure we will be able to push for the relevant amendments to the existing laws.” He called for support from the Presidency to expedite action on the legal processes as well as provide information on the records of Nigerians living outside the country.
Earlier, Dabiri-Erewa explained that the visit was occasioned by the many calls by Nigerian’s living outside the country to be included in the electoral process. She said: “Everywhere we go, it’s about Diaspora voting. Nigerians in Diaspora are very eager to vote. We are talking about a group of people who, this year alone, remitted $22 billion to the Nigerian economy. We are talking about a group of professionals who, wherever they go, are contributing to the development and progress of their country (Nigeria).
“I know that the key thing is to amend our laws to make it possible. But if we all sit down and say the key thing is to amend our laws and we don’t take that action, it’s not going to happen. So, I’m here to appeal to the Commission that we can work together to put pressure on the National Assembly to make this happen.”
It was agreed that a technical committee be set up, comprising officials of INEC and the Presidency, to share experience and information that would be beneficial to the cause of actualizing on Diaspora Voting in the country.