The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, says the electoral body has concluded a policy on diaspora voting.
The Federal Government, in 2017, put the number of Nigerians in the diaspora at 17 million. However, many more citizens have since left for foreign countries in a wave commonly referred to as japa.
Addressing the recurrent issues around legalising diaspora voting, the INEC Chairman expressed hope that the legal obstacles preventing foreign-based Nigerians from voting will be cleared eventually.
Yakubu disclosed this while delivering a lecture at Chatham House in London on Tuesday afternoon on the topic ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Preparations and Priorities for Electoral Integrity and Inclusion’.
“We have actually completed the policy as far as the commission is concerned and we identified two categories of Nigerians living outside the country,” he said.
“We have the OCV (out-of-country) voting, mainly by service personnel and other Nigerians engaged in, say, foreign service, and those who are engaged in technical manpower.
“There is assistance organised by the Nigerian government for other countries, particularly in our sub-region. For now, they don’t vote. But the other leg of it is for Nigerians permanently resident outside Nigeria, that is, the diaspora voting.”
The INEC boss explained that the Commission worked with Nigerians in diaspora organisations within the United Kingdom and in the United States.
“We’re even happy that some constitutional amendments were submitted to the National Assembly.
“But eventually, they didn’t sail through in terms of the propositions forwarded to the state assemblies for concurrence before our constitution is amended,” he said.
According to Yakubu, the commission only acts in accordance with the electoral legal framework, which remains the main reason why it cannot implement diaspora voting at present, as much as its leadership would like to.
“Both the 1999 constitution and the 2022 Electoral Act provide that voters can only be registered and vote within the country.
“For instance, Section 77 Subsection 2 of the constitution says that every citizen of Nigeria must attain the age of 18 years old, residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of elections to a legislative house shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.
“And there are other sections of the constitution that tie the eligibility to register and vote in executive elections – presidential and governorship – to the requirements of residency, as in the case of legislative elections,” he said.