National Diaspora Day 2022: Making the case for e-voting.

National Diaspora Day 2022: Making the case for e-voting.

National Diaspora Day 2022: Making the case for e-voting.
25th July every year has been designated the National Diaspora Day. Ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the case has been made on several platforms and through several channels for the nation’s independent national electoral commission to adopt e-voting, which can make it possible for Nigerians wherever they may be located all over the world to exercise their civic rights to vote.

“Ja pa” and brain drain.
Over the last few years, the worrisome trend of Nigerians’ relocating abroad has been in the public discourse. Countries such as Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America and European nations continue to play hosts to the teeming population in the exodus from Nigeria. A fitting slang to describe the situation is
called “ja pa” which translated into English language means “flee and don’t look back”. This same setback for our nation is so precarious that other developed countries are taking advantage of the situation and evolving their immigration policies to harvest the best of Nigerians. The United Kingdom has instituted
different categories of visa routes for students, I.T. professionals and caregivers including nurses and doctors. Students who have graduated don’t have to return to Nigeria with a guaranteed extension of two years within which they are promised permanent employment.

Never mind that the average tuition fees for international students in the UK is £15000 per annum while the cost of living is through the roof. The only guaranteed employment is caregiving which pays at £9 per hour while a student is not allowed to work more than 20hours in a week. Meanwhile the focus of Nigerians has been on advocacy for cutting every red tape against relocating abroad. We celebrate cancelling requirement for I.E.L.T.S, T.O.E.F.L and other tests of English language in foreign institutions; not that any legitimate means of fleeing Nigeria should be frowned against.

The exodus

Data shows that the number of Nigerians living in the diaspora is over 17m. It is not known whether this number takes into cognisance that migrant Nigerians have their children in the diaspora and that this figure comprises of Nigerians born in the diaspora. There are also Nigerians who find themselves representing the
presence of Nigerian government abroad. Diplomats, ambassadors, members of the press, law enforcement agencies, military, embassy and high commission staff, their dependants, etc are some of those living abroad due to service being rendered to the Nigerian government. In the last few years, ………………………have
processed visas to UK and Canada The reason for the exodus since colonialism cannot be far-fetched. The case has always been to discover green pasture or proverbial “golden fleece”. Put differently, Nigerians are relocating abroad to discover what they believe is unachievable for them as Nigerians in Nigeria. The affluent living in Nigeria explores medical services abroad and we call it “medical tourism”. The President of the country and other leading politicians visit Germany, France, UK and Dubai to patronise state of the art medical services which they do not deem fit to establish in their own country.

The case of the former Senate President is deserving of pity. Charged with the crime of “harvesting organs and trafficking”, it is pitiable that no one seems to give a thought to the stricken child who was being prepared for kidney transplant. May her health be restored. Other Nigerians patronise India for medical services which are lacking in Nigeria. In Qatar, Nigerians are amongst labourers being denied of
fair working conditions ahead of the World Cup. Back home in Nigeria, it is difficult to buy bread. We still have not found a solution to power problems. Both political and energy. The latter sector has seen huge investments by successive governments but the cancer festers. Repeated breakdown of PowerGrid are frequent occurrences.

Universities have suffered several lockdowns since the 80s. ASUU industrial actions didn’t start today. It has not deterred wealthy Nigerians and politicians sending themselves, their children and wards abroad for tertiary education. They post such pictures of graduation with glee and continue to find reasons why Lecturers cannot return to the classrooms. The state of education in Nigeria is incomparable with other parts of the world. In fact, the quality is remarkably different as Nigerian employees are touted to be unemployable while those abroad will have to work extra to become accustomed to the use of technology for learning. Nigerian universities lack digital libraries and research infrastructure. One wonders where the
next generation of lecturers for Nigerian universities will originate from! In Nigeria, insecurity is at an all-time high. Commuters get robbed in traffic in broad day light.

The lives of commuters are endangered in public transport. Getting kidnapped, raped and maimed are just sad occurrences entrenched in daily lives.The air is not the safest means of travel anymore, neither are the roads safe. Kidnappings are reported more than automobile accidents with terrorists, bandits and other criminals having a filled day. Why won’t anyone want to “ja pa” in the face of economic woes and insecurity. It is not a matter of “if”. It is more a matter
of “when?”

Rights of citizenship

Nigerians living in the diaspora are in a quagmire. It is not so easy to become citizens or even acquire residency status in foreign countries. While living in the diaspora, Nigerians remain Nigerians. However, the Nigerian government does not even deem it fit to accord the average rights enjoyable by Nigerians in their country to those who now live in the diaspora. Nigerians living in the diaspora may be racially abused because of their origin but they do not enjoy rights as Nigerians either. They live as though stateless when it comes to enjoying any benefits as citizens of any country. One of such entitlements being denied them it the constitutional right and civic duty to vote. It is befuddling that no Nigerian government or official considers that more taxes can be generated from Nigerians living in the diaspora, possibly much more than over $20bn remitted as at 2018 from the USA and £9bn from the UK in 2019 alone.

Proofs of citizenship
When it comes to making money from Nigerians, they are not forgotten by the government. Nigerians living abroad pay to register themselves for the NIN while procuring international passports has become a greater headache. Recently, the Minister of the Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola asked for Nigerians to be allowed
to return home even when their international passports have expired. Nigerians in many countries all over the world complain of the arduous process of having international passports issued or renewed. Meanwhile the average Nigerian is fortified with different proofs of citizenship which include international passport,
bank verification number (BVN), national identification number (NIN). SIM cards for phone numbers must be linked to remain active. All these instruments require going through biometric process before being issued. They can be matched and synchronised. The Nigerian government does have a data of almost all, if not all
Nigerians living in the diaspora.

Activities of the Nigerians in Diaspora commission (NIDCOM)
One must salute the tremendous work being done by Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) led by its Chairman/CEO, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. The Commission has successfully drafted and published a National Diaspora Policy 2021 which incorporates such lofty objectives and strategies around remittances, national
diaspora day, protection for labour migration, etc. This year, the Commission is poised towards commemorating the national diaspora day at different locations on the 25th of July 2022 with the theme “Diaspora engagement in a globally challenging time”

The quest of the commission
The Commission stipulates in Section 2.3.19 of its National Diaspora Policy 2021 that the Nigerian government shall “encourage participation of persons in the diaspora in electoral processes and governance and also encourage the realisation of the Diaspora’s rights to vote by amending the necessary legislation and provide
the required infrastructure” Honorable Abike Dabiri, a former member of the Federal House of Representatives followed up this lofty provision by supporting bills to her former colleagues in the 9th National Assembly for the promulgation of an Act and proposing an amendment to the Electoral Act to allow Nigerians living in the Diaspora to exercise their rights to vote. Her colleagues in the National Assembly will have none of it and on the 1st of March 2022 turned down the bill. These climaxed different efforts made by third sector organisations and well-meaning Nigerians to ensure that citizens can be allowed to vote regardless of wherever they may be located. In fact, recent efforts by those in the diaspora to have the National Assembly address security concerns were equally rebuffed as the Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives claimed Nigerians living in diaspora had no rights to address issues before the National Assembly.

The constitutional right to vote
The requirements for exercising the right to be registered to vote for every Nigerian is enshrined in Section 12 of the Electoral Act 2022 which lists the conditions as being a citizen, attainment of the age of 18, ordinarily resident, works in or originates from a local government, area council or ward covered by the
registration center. Such individual must present himself or herself to the registration officers of the commission and must not be subjected to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule or regulations in force in Nigeria.

Other provisions regarding the right to vote stem from this provision as you require to be registered to vote before even being able to exercise the right to vote at all. Fulfilling the condition of being a citizen is provided for in Sections 25, 26, 27 and 28 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Section 309 assures of maintaining Nigerian citizenship anywhere. The purport of these provisions are that once a Nigerian qualifies to be a citizen, has attained the age of 18, such citizen originates from a council, ward or area council, such individual necessarily qualifies to be registered to vote and could exercise that right of citizenship

Seeking a judicial interpretation before the Courts. Buoyed with this understanding of the law and in the face of refusal by both INEC and the 9th National Assembly to allow the exercise of citizenship right of voting
by Nigerians living in the diaspora, two legal practitioners, the writer and Dr. Ope Banwo approached the Federal High Court in Abuja in suit no. FHC/ABJ/CS/727/2022 to interpret the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act 2022. In the originating summons filed on the 25th of May 2022, both applicants approached the Court to answer the following questions,


1.1 Whether by the combined reading of the provisions of Section 25 under Chapter III of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Section 309 thereof together with Section 12 of the Electoral Act 2022, Applicants are Nigerian citizens and therefore entitled to be registered by the Respondent to vote and to be voted for in elections conducted in their country, Nigeria?

1.2 Whether by the combined reading of Sections 9(1) and (2), 10, 12, 24(1), 47(2) of the Electoral Act 2022, the Respondent has the statutory obligation to register the Applicants as voters?


1.3 Whether by the combined reading of Sections 158, 160 and Section 15(e) under Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the respondent is independent and
constitutionally empowered to register Applicants as voters and be allowed also to contest office?

1.4 Whether Section 77(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 precludes applicants from being registered to vote and exercising their constitutional rights to vote even though they are in
the diaspora?

They also sought the following reliefs from the Court,
An order affirming Applicants as citizens of Nigeria and therefore constitutionally entitled to the exercise of their rights to be registered to vote and be voted for in their country’s general elections,

b. An order of the Honorable Court affirming the constitutional powers of the Respondent to register Applicants as voters in their respective locations in diaspora and provide arrangements for the exercise of their constitutional right to vote and be voted for,

c. An order mandating the Respondent to make all necessary arrangements to ensure Applicants are registered to vote, are allowed to vote, and be voted for in the 2023 general elections and henceforth,

d. An order of perpetual injunction against the respondent restraining it from disenfranchising the Applicants henceforth or hindering them from the exercise of their constitutional right to vote and be voted for in their
country’s elections, and

e. For such further or other orders as the Honorable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
The Respondent has now been served with the processes of Court while the matter had been reportedly assigned to Justice Egwuatu of Federal High Court, Abuja F.C.T Court 9 and scheduled to come up for the first time on the 4th of October 2022.

Other countries who have adopted e-voting
Suffice it to say though that many other African countries adopted diaspora voting many decades ago. South Africa adopted the policy since as far back as 1994. The Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Diaspora, Honorable Tolulope Akande-Sadipe reported that over 48 countries in Africa already allows some form of external voting while only Nigeria and Liberia have yet to allow diaspora voting.

Is INEC truly incapacitated?
The Independent National Electoral Commission at different times expressed its readiness and capacity to implement diaspora voting. Through its position paper on the electronic transmission of result, the agency outlined its capacity to undertake e-registration of voters, e-accreditation, e-balloting and e-transmission
as stages of e-voting. At different forums, the INEC Chairman blamed the inability of the Commission to implement the right to vote on existing laws.

A wrong interpretation of the laws
The Chairman of INEC has wrongly interpreted existing laws as incapacitating it from allowing Nigerians in Diaspora the exercise of their citizenship right to vote. Specifically, the INEC Chairman has identified Sections 77(2) and 134(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as legal barriers against allowing
diaspora voting. He had stated that Section 77(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 precludes those living in the diaspora from being registered to vote and exercising their constitutional rights to vote. The Section provides,

“Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years, residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election”
The INEC Chairman interprets the above provision as allowing only those residents in Nigeria the right to vote. Meanwhile, the applicants in the present lawsuit urge the Honorable Court to interpret the provision as follows,

(a) The section is under Chapter V of the Constitution which makes provision for the National Assembly alone. The provision itself makes mention of “election to a legislative house” leaving out other elections,

(b) Residence in Nigeria may only be required at the time of registration as a voter. Therefore, any Nigeria who is already registered as a voter should be allowed to vote if subsequently resident abroad.

(c) The provision ends with emphasis on “that election” signifying election to legislative house. The INEC Chairman also appears to have a skewed interpretation of Section 134(2) regarding the classification of applicants votes in a Presidential election in not being able to compute the votes of those living in the diaspora according to their constituencies, for the winner. Votes from the diaspora can be computed according to place of origin or local residence or constituency in Nigeria according to the provisions of Section 12(1)c of the Electoral Act 2022. These pieces of information are already contained in the biometric registration carried out for different instruments of banking, citizenship, etc.

Prospective positive impact of e-voting
Once diaspora voting is allowed, the procedure to be followed in voting will be electric. This means that Nigerian citizens all over the world, inclusive of those resident locally can vote from the comforts of their homes. It will be a winner for the rule of law in that Nigerians can exercise their citizenship rights wherever they may be all over the world. It is preposterous to interpret the laws as divesting Nigerians of their rights once they are no longer physically resident in the country.

Electoral violence will also be greatly reduced since the crowd at voting centers will be better controlled. Ballot-snatching will be a thing of the past while apathy will be a thing of the past since everyone can vote without any fear of violence. People living with disabilities, internally displaced persons and those experience unrest in their domains will not need to leave their homes to vote. It will also afford those living in the diaspora take greater interest in good governance, actively participate and make tremendous impact. Right now, they cannot vote, they have proposed Bills to the national assembly which have been rejected and they cannot vote to change the legislators to replace them with leaders who can guarantee those rights.
What a quagmire!

Making e-voting an agenda for the 10th National Assembly
Perhaps, Nigerians may need to make diaspora an electoral issue especially in the build-up to the 2023 elections. Candidates of the different political parties to the National Assembly may be interrogated as to their disposition towards allowing this exercise of citizenship rights as the token for any support ahead of the
elections. Already, the writer and third sector organisations such as Africa Leadership Group (ALG) founded by Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, School of Politics, Policies and Governance (SPPG) have embarked on a drive to ensure only credible candidates fill the 469 positions of the National Assembly in the 2023 general elections. An agenda for the 10th National Assembly is being collated to ensure that the next President of Nigeria succeeds.

Oluyinka Oyeniji
“The Olu of Lagos” is flagbearer of Accord for elections into Alimosho constituency of the Federal House of Representatives. He is a legal practitioner, public affairs analyst and alumnus of School of Politics, Policy and Governance – SPPG founded by Oby Ezekwensili.

“The Olu of Lagos” is flagbearer of Accord for elections into Alimosho constituency of the Federal House of Representatives. He is a legal practitioner, public affairs analyst and alumnus of School of Politics, Policy and Governance – SPPG founded by Oby Ezekwensili

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