Voting rights for members of the Nigerian Diaspora.

Author:Ogbonnaya, Ufiem Maurice
 
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In 2012, six Members of Nigeria's Federal House of Representatives led by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, House Committee Chair on Nigerians in the Diaspora sponsored a Legislative Bill that seeks to amend Nigeria's Electoral Act 2010 in order to grant Nigerians in the Diaspora the right to vote during general elections in Nigeria. This article provides a detailed review of the provisions of the proposed legislation in order to ascertain and expand the rationale for the Bill the advantages and disadvantages of the Bill constitutional and legal issues around the Bill and a comparative analysis of similar legislation in other countries.

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Nigeria's Electoral Act 2010 is divided into 9 major Parts, 158 Sections and three Schedules. The Act provides for the establishment and functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (1), the Procedure at Elections; National Voters Register and Voters Registration; Formation, Functions and Powers of Political Parties; Electoral Offences, among other things.

The Act however, does not make provision for voting rights for Nigerians in the Diaspora during general elections. This is the problem the sponsors of the Bill want to address. The Bill is targeted at the Nigerian electorates, the electoral system and Nigerians in the Diaspora. If passed into law, the outcome will empower over 17 million Nigerians in the Diaspora (2) to vote during general elections. Nevertheless, the introduction of the Bill has generated thorny debates among scholars, policy analysts, political commentators and Parliamentarians. Some have argued that the promulgation of the Bill into law is necessary given the urgent need for a legal provision that will empower Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote during general elections (3). Their argument is predicated upon the premise that it has become a global practice in modern democracies for citizens in Diaspora to vote in general elections of their countries of origin (4,5). Others have however, argued against the provisions of the Bill principally from institutional and economic point of view (6). The central thesis of the argument here is that passing the proposed legislation into law will bring much pressure to bear on the human and institutional capacities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) given that the electoral body as it is currently constituted, lacks the capacity to conduction oversea elections (7). Others have also submitted that the proposed legislation will bring financial pressure on the Nigerian economy if promulgated into laws (8).

Summary of the Provisions of the Bill

Structurally, the Bill is divided into 5 Sections. Section 1 deals with the proposed amendment of the Principal Act; the Electoral Act 2010; Sections 2 provides for the establishment of the offices of the electoral commission within and outside Nigeria. Specifically, it seeks to amend Section 6(1) of the Principal Act to read "there shall be established in each State of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory or any other designated country (9), an office of the Commission which shall perform such functions as may be assigned to it, from time to time, by the Commission." Section 3 seeks to introduce a new Subsection 4 into Section 9 and to renumber of the existing Sub-section 4 to read 5. Section 4 provides for the qualification for registration for the purposes of voting in elections. Specifically, it seeks to amend Section 12(1)(c) of the Principal Act by adding the words "or is a Nigerian in Diaspora" while Section 5 provides for the interpretation and citation of the Bill.

Constitutional Issues around the Bill

The proposed amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 by the legislative Bill, to grant voting rights for Nigerians in the Diaspora contravenes neither the Nigerian constitution nor any other known law in Nigeria. Rather, it revolves around and seeks to strengthen the following constitutional issues as provided for in the 1999 Constitution...

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