Diaspora Voting: Intrigues, Lies and Prospects, By Austin Aneke

Ok, let’s get busier. The primaries, especially the presidential primaries are now over, and party tickets have been purchased, allocated and/or consensually assigned. Some aspirants are now candidates.

We are now at the stage of ensuring that PVCs (Permanent Voter Card) are secured. Your PVC is the gun, your vote is the bullet. You need both to fully exercise your franchise. It is trite to say that if you don’t have PVC you will not be able to vote come 2023. Folks living in Nigeria who don’t have PVCs still have the chance to be registered for one, unlike folks living abroad. Yes, folks residing abroad are still not allowed to vote.

Diaspora voting is still outlawed in Nigeria, thanks to overzealous national lawmakers who are still calculating and recalculating- who would benefit more from it- Jews or Gentiles, North or South, Moslems or Christians. Diasporans shall remain disfranchised until these corrupt politicians complete their crooked thought process, and maybe eventually agree to amend the constitution.  


Let’s discuss the sources and origins of disfranchisement.

Nigeria is an extremely corrupt and dysfunctional country, historically and currently led by unconscionable devote kleptocrats and bigoted tribalists. These attributes, reinforced by unbridled injustice, unfairness and dishonesty, constitute the push factors that mentally and physically propel a good chunk of her citizens out of the country, for perceived and real greener tuffs abroad.

These significant border crossers are generally known as people in the diaspora. Let’s put their initial torturous life in context. The average Nigerian immigrant battles three major initial obstacles in their host countries. First, the uncomfortable and very bad image of Nigeria abroad; second, the cultural shock of trying to fit into a sane and rule-led clime; and third, the immigration adjustments needed to facilitate legitimate economic exploits. These are the three shocks that greet their attempt at pastures new.

As they transcend these hurdles and begin to earn some sort of living, they begin to realise that they now have two countries and cultures to patronise i.e., comparatively dysfunctional Nigeria they escaped from, and their new hosts. The average Nigerian diasporan is interested in activities at home, and still wants to be valued and recognised at their origin. It is not an ego thing; it is a cultural thing, especially among southern Nigerians. Most times this sensibility doubles their level of input in their host countries for a richer output, to serve their interests in two countries. Put in another way, the average Nigerian living abroad wants to maintain his/her Nigerian citizenship and identity and all the accompaniments, including voting rights.

On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, the Nigerian National Assembly rejected any changes to the constitution that would have made it possible for citizens living abroad to vote. The outrageous vote (29 for, and 92 against) reinforced the continued disenfranchisement of millions of Nigerian citizens living abroad. This represents the hugest formal denial of the right to vote of citizens of any country in the world. It also represents a brutal deployment of injustice and unfairness against Nigerians living across borders, by corrupt politicians who created the structures and factors that forced the citizens out in the first place.

Nigerians in the diaspora remit billions of dollars to their unfriendly home turf, yearly. They remitted about $17.2 billion and $17.6 billion in 2020 and 2021 respectively and continue to be enticed with Diaspora funds and bank accounts that target their juicy wallets. Continuous diaspora remittances (even during COVID-19), diaspora funds and the likes, without diaspora voting rights, represent the worst form of citizenship abuse and contempt which unsurprisingly mirrors traits of dysfunctionality and injustice back home.

Nevertheless, some analysts have argued that it is not about economic power and remittances, but about meeting obligations of citizenship that should accord the right to vote. They argue that Nigerians living abroad are not living up to their citizenship obligations, so cannot be accorded voting rights. There is also a proposition that it would be difficult if not impossible for INEC to institute and arrange diaspora voting in foreign countries.

Let’s have an overview of these arguments. What are the factors that determine citizenship? What are the obligations of citizenship? Is it true that INEC would find it difficult if not impossible to institute diaspora voting arrangements?

First and for the avoidance of doubt, most Nigerians living abroad are still legally Nigerians. They are still Nigerian citizens by either birth, registration, descent, marriage, or naturalization. Their status has not changed and will not change simply because they live outside Nigeria. These are guaranteed under Chapters II and III of the Nigerian constitution. Even if these diasporans have assumed dual citizenship they are still protected under s. 28, Chapter II of the 1999 constitution as amended.

Having established that crossing the Nigerian border, even permanently does not erase citizenship, let’s advance the conversation to the realm of citizenship obligations and its relevance to voting rights. Some analysts have argued that because diasporans are still Nigerian citizens they automatically have the right to vote and be voted for, and that disenfranchising them because of their physical location is illegal, morally reprehensible, and a breach of their fundamental rights.  

Most Nigerians living abroad still submit to Nigeria’s political order/constitution, remain ambassadors of their country, protect and care for their Nigerian siblings and children, and promote Nigerian battered image abroad. (Image extensively damaged by corrupt home politicians who are hell-bent on denying them voting rights). These are the nature of obligations expected of Nigerian citizens in the constitution. The duties as listed also point to “positive and useful contributions to the advancement, progress, wellbeing of the community”.

Nigerians in diaspora not only sustain their families abroad, but they also sustain a lot of Nigerian families back home via their powerful remittances. The truth is that if that is the only measure of the meeting of obligations, then those abroad have excelled better. But it is not the only measure. The truth is that no set of citizens (living at home or abroad) have the capacity to fulfil all the duties of Nigerian citizenship as listed in S.24 of Chapter II of the 1999 constitution. Nigerians in the diaspora have the capacity to adequately meet some of the duties, while those at home have a greater chance to fulfil others. It is therefore an unconscionable breach of fate to disenfranchise Nigerians living abroad simply because they are conceived as unable to meet some of these duties.

Some commentators have also considered voting in elections as both a citizenship right and an obligation under the Nigerian constitution. It is therefore illogical to argue that Nigerians living abroad do not perform their citizenship obligations or duties; so are not entitled to vote, when in fact, voting is one of those obligations of citizenship. Nigerians living abroad are performing a substantial aspect of expected citizenship obligations and want to perform their voting duties too. It is the regime back home that is a hindrance by not putting the right legal framework in place for that to happen.

The regime at home and its corrupt assembly are trying to eat its cake and still have it.

They have also re-enforced their lying position by arguing that it would be logistically difficult if not impossible for INEC to register and/collate diaspora votes. This is a blatant lie, and INEC does not even agree with this. The regime is currently registering, documenting and collating BVN, and NIN of Nigerians living abroad, and officially charge them between $40 to $50 for each of the exercises. The BVN or NIN registrations involve more complicated technological logistics than any framework for voting, and most countries abroad (where diasporans reside) are far more advanced, better organised and structured to facilitate any voter registration exercise. At least there would not be power cuts, broadband or network issues. Furthermore, their postal systems are highly developed, so the PVCs could easily be posted to all registrants, rather than the lousy ongoing system in Nigeria where registrants are expected to come back to pick up their PVCs.

The world has become a close-knit interactive village facilitated by digital technology and the internet. Nigerians in diaspora represent Nigeria’s exploited, politically abused, expropriated and roundly cheated non-voting bloc. Enfranchisement of the diaspora population will help to build political confidence among Nigerians abroad. Ghana and South Africa fully achieved this in 2006 and 2014 respectively.

INEC is not the problem, the national assembly, made up of selfish and dishonest politicians, is. INEC had since 2011 agreed to diaspora voting, but the national assembly has, and had scuttled all legislative attempts to make it real.

The lack of political will amongst the legislators to amend the necessary laws, to give legal backing to diaspora voting, stems from their inconclusive and ethnic calculations as to the ethnic alignment of potential diaspora voters/votes. Note that “lack of political will” means unwillingness to act. They are still checking, calculating and recalculating which section of Nigeria would benefit more from diaspora voting. Are diaspora votes possibly going to favour mostly Southern Judea/Christian bloc, or mostly Northern Moslem bloc? Who will be advantaged by diaspora votes, the East, West or North? These are the calculations that still impede diaspora voting. The highly nepotistic current regime has not helped matters.

Unfortunately, diasporans will continue to be disenfranchised until these unwholesome calculations are resolved one way or the other.


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