The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said it was ready to allow Nigerians in Diaspora vote during elections, if the legal clauses restraining them were removed by the National Assembly.
The INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, stated this when he received the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs, at INEC headquarters on Tuesday in Abuja.
He said that Nigerians in Diaspora should be allowed to vote because of their population, economic contribution as well as the fact that it is a global best practice of democracy.
Mr. Yakubu said that at the moment, the constitution required Nigerians above 18 years who are living abroad to return home to register at the time of registration and during elections.
“Allowing for Diaspora voting will enable Nigerians living abroad to register and vote in their countries of residence.
“However, for this to happen, several sections of the constitution and the Electoral Act have to be amended, to provide for the legal framework, to allow for registration and voting by citizens living in Diaspora.
“We have identified the areas requiring amendment and we will be happy at this meeting to discuss these proposed areas with the distinguished committee.
“Because election is a legal process, the first thing to do will be to provide the enabling legal environment for that to happen. So it has to start with the amendment of our constitution and the Electoral Act.
“Once this is done we can then look at other issues that arise- administrative, logistically, financial requirement of actualizing the voting.”
Mr. Yakubu said that the commission had already started the process of studying system of Diaspora voting from countries that practice it, including those within Africa.
Rose Oko, Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non Governmental Organisations, said that their visit was linked to requests by Nigerians in Diaspora who wanted to exercise their franchise and be part of the electoral process.
Ms. Oko, who was a former INEC National Commissioner, said that the Nigerian Diaspora should be included in the country’s electoral process as their demand was universally enshrined in the human rights charter.
“That call has been made repeatedly by Nigerian Diaspora abroad and has been given impetus by some high placed Nigerians, even those in government.
“Indeed, former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 in Gabon endorsed the idea of Diaspora voting when he was addressing Nigerian Diaspora in that country.
“President Muhammadu Buhari last year at the 2015 Diaspora day also told Nigerian Diaspora that INEC would be told to look into the possibility of granting them voting rights in the 2019 elections.
“That statement was made again, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea this year when he said that INEC will look into the possibility of Nigerians in Diaspora voting in 2019.
“Indeed even from the point of legislature, the Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki, at a one day summit this year at the electoral reform summit had encouraged INEC and stakeholders in that summit.
“That they should look into the possibility of including Diaspora in the electoral process in 2019.”
Ms. Oko said that while some lawyers had lent their voice to it, the constitutional conference held by the NASS had also accepted the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee that Nigerians should explore Diaspora voting.
She added that Diaspora voting was not new as 115 countries in the world had adopted it, out of which 28 come from Africa.
She said Nigeria did not need to put everything in place before it could commence Diaspora voting as countries that had adopted it looked at what they felt were key in starting it.
Ms. Oko, however pledged that the National Assembly would give the necessary support to ensure the adoption of Diaspora voting in the country.
This committee believes if government has the political will to do so, and if INEC has the capacity, both in terms of the human capacity and other logistics to carry out this exercise, the issue of amending sections 13 (1C) of the electoral Act. 77 (2) and 171(2) of the 1999 constitution will not be a problem.
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