Tuesday 10 February 2009

Nigeria: Courts give Diaspora the vote

Voting from abroad

The force of African Diaspora is gaining momentum beyond the nostalgic urge to be involved in aid, development or the ability to rant and rave from the comfort of our existence abroad.

The courts are ruling in favour of the growing community of concerned, relevant and patriotic citizens who want to be enfranchised and participate in the democratic process of their home countries.

Just 2 weeks ago, a court in Nigeria ruled that Nigerians abroad be allowed to vote [1] in Nigerian elections without the need to return home and now today in South Africa another court has ruled that South Africans abroad be given the opportunity to vote [2] from abroad too.

The parliament in South Korea [3] last week gave the South Korean Diaspora the right to vote reflecting a constitutional court ruling in 2007.

Already, many might think this might become a logistical nightmare for African countries especially in situations where consular offices can be inefficient, lethargic and sometimes corrupt – those consulates now need to polish up their act for this serious responsibility.

Where should the votes count?

It represents a challenge too to national electoral commissions who now have to properly reconcile returns that represent the express will of those who have voted from abroad in relation to where they want their votes to count.

The Americans have for some time had the ability to register and vote from abroad [4], and this usually a while before the real election takes place at home, but they have structured systems that allow for records of the last place of residence to be the focal point of where the vote would matter.

I think the Diaspora vote should count in a national pool of votes for national office rather than state, assembly or local elections - when abroad, I hope we identify more as Nigerians than tribal cohorts.

I am Nigerian, Period!

Chatting earlier this evening about issues in Nigeria, I heard a rumour that the one “progressive” governor had apparently displaced a connurbation of non-indigenous citizens from another state and seemingly asked the state governor of the displaced to provide opportunities to allow them return home.

I would hope there is no truth to that rumour – Nigerians should be able to create enterprise anywhere in the country without let, hindrance or indigenous affinity.

Our affiliation to Nigeria both at home and abroad has to move beyond that of what ones home state is; for instance, my formative years in Nigeria were spent in the North in North-Central State (Kaduna) and Benue Plateau State (Jos).

The real Nigeria

Then we had 12 states and if my memory serves me well, Abba Kyari was the governor in Kaduna and Joseph Gomwalk was the governor in Jos respectively – this was the early to mid 70s.

When my father was persuaded to defer a fully sponsored MBA programme to retain his position as Chief Accountant at the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria, it was a case of Nigerians occupying positions of responsibility and authority not one of a Northerner or Southerner filling some absurd quota.

I went to primary school is a truly international community that when the Head of State (Yakubu Gowon) took guests up to his homestead in Pankskin, we all trooped out – European, Asian, African and anywhere else to wave flags and sing the national anthem.

I cannot remember any time where I was asked what state I came from, I was just Nigerian, living in Nigeria and enjoying the beauty of Nigeria.

Being a Nigerian

My mother, speaks all the three major languages of Nigeria fluently, she can pass for indigenous Igbo or Hausa even though she is Yoruba – she was known as Hajiya to her students when we were up North.

In short, it is time to return to the entity of association called a Nigeria that stands in brotherhood regardless of the fact that tribe and tongue differ, in a paraphrased version of our old national anthem [5] we should begin to obey the call of Nigeria rather than hearken to the beating drums of our village clans in the our current national anthem.

I have enjoyed meeting Nigerians abroad but get annoyed with questions of where I am from, I wish my Hausa were as fluent as my mother’s then it would have been nice to have a Yoruba name and agitate as a Hausa man.

The force of Diaspora for change

This is what I hope the enfranchising the Diaspora would do; eliminate the tribal affiliations that paralyse our political and economic development thereby forcing people to adopt a national identity rather than the primitive clan instinct that unscrupulous politicians try to exploit to devastating effect.

It should begin to diminish the federal character model that allows for there to be many pools of people from the excessive state framework yielding too few talent pools of expertise, competence and dedication to public service.

It should make the political process begin to recognise that the Diaspora have just as much a stake in nation building as those back at home and ensure that the quality of political campaigning is improved considerably allowing for more freedom and exchange of information.

We are for all intents and purposes unwittingly ambassadors who have been given the opportunity to ensure the criminals who seize power through usurping political office cannot attain respectability on the back of Nigerians who cannot voice their dissent effectively.

We, in Diaspora have a duty to begin to project the circumstances that make us believe things could be better in our home countries in the way we appreciate political discourse and governance – it is an opportunity to work for change and be part of change. We should ensure this enfranchisement is not hijacked by malevolent forces and those who have an agenda inimical to Nigerian progress as a whole.

Nigeria, we hail thee – Arise! O Compatriots – we have the vote.


[1] Court grants Nigerians abroad leave to vote

[2] Citizens abroad have right to vote: South Africa: Politics: News24

[3] SKorea grants overseas citizens voting rights - Taiwan News Online

[4] VoteFromAbroad.org : Voter Registration Wizard

[5] The Nigerian National Anthems - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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