The Council for Political Parties Affairs of the Republic of Sudan, an equivalent of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has expressed a desire to visit the Commission with a view to understudying its processes, especially with respect to the legalization of political parties.
The Sudanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, who made the disclosure during his official visit to the Commission on 31st October, also said a letter to that effect had already been sent to the Commission.
In his opening remarks, Ali observed that the over five million Nigerians currently living in the Sudan “will mean a lot” for the country’s future elections. Although, he did not exactly say so, it was clear that the envoy was urging Nigeria to consider giving its citizens living outside its shores the opportunity to vote.
According to the envoy, the common ties and affinity between the citizens of both countries “are very deep and very old.” He said: “Everybody is aware of this historic blood relationship between the two peoples, which dates back to when Nigerians started going to hajj in Saudi Arabia by land. On their (Nigerians) way back (from hajj), some Nigerians decided to stay in Sudan because the distance was very long. And since that time, they have become Sudanese.
He continued: “According to President Muhammadu Buhari, the number of Sudanese of Nigerian descent is more than 10 million. But I think this number is big. According to our figures, there are more than five million Sudanese of Nigerian origin currently living in Sudan and this will mean a lot as far as elections in Nigerian are concerned.
“So, I think it is an obligation on both sides, the Nigerian side and the Sudanese side, to make use of this old relationship to build on this solid ground. I think we need to make special efforts on economic cooperation because, according to our estimation and judgment, the economic cooperation between the two countries is still lagging behind.
“The cultural relationship is excellent. Unlike in the past, many Nigerian students, boys and girls are currently studying in Sudan, especially at the University level. Also unlike the situation in the past, most of them are now in Faculties like Medicine, Engineering and others. Before, they used study Islamic Studies but now, the situation has changed and this is good. And in the Sudan, we are determined to give more scholarships to Nigerians.”
Responding, the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said the Commission was well disposed to empowering Nigerians living outside the county to vote in future elections “as soon as the relevant laws are amended.” He said the Commission had already set up a Committee on Out-of-Country Voting and was only waiting for the National Assembly to amend the relevant laws to pave the way for the commencement of the process.
He said: “as part of the process of ensuring that Nigerians living abroad vote, the Commission has written to several government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign affairs, asking for statistics of Nigerians living outside the country so that we know the number of Nigerian living abroad and target them in the voter registration that we undertake as soon as the law is amended to enable them vote. Be rest assured that at the appropriate time, we’ll be in touch through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our embassy, to find out the number of Nigerians living in the Sudan for the purpose of finalizing on this key component of the electoral process.”
He continued: “Many countries around the world have undertaken diaspora voting. The most recent example is Kenya. In the last repeat election held on Thursday (26th October) last week, Kenyans living in the neighbouring countries voted in the election. There are also countries like Niger Republic, where citizens living in the Diaspora don’t only vote; they also send a representative to the National Assembly in Niamey. They call them Overseas Constituencies. It’s only a matter of time before Nigerians living abroad to also have the right to vote. The Commission is committed to that, we have set up a committee on Out-of-Country voting. We are waiting for the National Assembly to amend the relevant laws so that Nigerians living outside the country will have the right to vote in future elections.”
On the actual number of Nigerians living in the Sudan, Prof Yakubu said they were in two categories, but when added together, may prove President Buhari’s assertion right. He said: “You are right, there may well be up to five million Sudanese of Nigerian origin, but there are also millions of Nigerians living in Sudan and the two categories are different. So, we may end up with a figure that you mentioned earlier (10 million).
“For the Sudanese of Nigerian origin, they are Sudanese, they only traced their roots to Nigeria and many of them are members of the National Parliament in Khartoum. But there are others who are there as businessmen, students or residents, who are not citizens of the Republic of Sudan. They are Nigerians in the Republic of Sudan.”
The INEC Chairman also, on behalf of the Commission, accepted the request of the Sudanese Council for Political Parties Affairs to visit INEC and understudy its processes. He said: “We received a letter from the equivalent of INEC in the Republic of Sudan to understudy INEC’s processes and procedures for the kind of reforms they wish to introduce in Sudan. Let me seize the opportunity to say that INEC accepts the request and we look forward to receiving the team from Sudan.
“We are available, as an Election Management Body, to any country that requires the help of the Commission. We appreciate the request from Sudan, which is an affirmation of the confidence that people around the world have in the capacity of Nigeria’s INEC to organize and conduct free, fair and credible elections and whatever assistance we can render to any country around the world, most especially an African country in the process of reform, be rest assured that we’ll most likely do so.”