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Implementing Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

How to Implement Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

This post outlines a comprehensive plan on how to implement diaspora voting in Nigeria, highlighting some of the key benefits of diaspora voting and addressing potential challenges. Many African countries have successfully adopted diaspora voting and are reaping the advantages it offers for their democratic systems and diaspora communities.

Nigeria has one of the largest diaspora populations in Africa. In 2017, the Federal Government put the number of Nigerians in diaspora at 17 million. While some are below 18, the legal age to vote; many people have since left the country for a greener pasture abroad in the wave of the current japa syndrome.


What Is Diaspora Voting?

Diaspora voting is the electoral practice of allowing a country’s citizens who are living abroad to cast their ballots in national elections. Diaspora voting also known as external voting or overseas voting is an essential aspect of inclusive democracy. It ensures that citizens who have migrated for various reasons still have a say in the governance of their home country.

Nigeria is a country with a vast diaspora community. Thus, implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria would not only enhance democratic representation but also boost economic growth and strengthen the ties between Nigerians abroad and their homeland.


Voting Rights of Nigerians in Diaspora

The idea behind diaspora voting is to give citizens living abroad the opportunity to participate in the democratic process and have a say in the country’s governance, regardless of their physical location. This decision to introduce diaspora voting in Nigeria ultimately would depends on the country’s legislative and political processes.

The right of Nigerians in Diaspora to vote is the hallmark of citizenship engagement. It increase Foreign Direct Investment, multi-sector collaboration, technology and knowledge transfer; which are significant in nation-building.

In 2022, the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Worldwide (NIDOWW), promoted a bill to enable diaspora citizens to vote in Nigerian future elections. This is a bill for an Act to alter sections 77 and 117 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended); to provide for diaspora voting and other related matters.

However, this Bill which was presented to the 9th National Assembly was rejected. The House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora has promised to reintroduce the diaspora voting bill in a bid to accommodate Nigerians living abroad. With this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be empowered with the enabling laws to carry out diaspora voting in future elections.


8 African Countries Embracing Diaspora Voting:

Diaspora voting is gaining momentum as an essential aspect of democratic participation. The African continent has witnessed a growing number of countries implementing diaspora voting to foster stronger ties with their citizens living abroad and promote democratic engagement.

The implementation of diaspora voting systems can present challenges, such as ensuring the security and integrity of the process, verifying the identity of voters, and dealing with logistical issues related to distance and time zones. Lets explore some examples of African nations that have embraced diaspora voting to strengthen their democratic systems.


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The availability and extent of diaspora voting systems depend on the policies and legal frameworks established by individual countries. Although voting laws and regulations can change over time, here are some of the African countries that are implemented diaspora voting successfully. Nigeria can learn from them and understudy their electoral laws and voting procedures.


#1. Senegal:

Senegal is a prominent example of an African nation that has actively embraced diaspora voting. In 2006, the Senegalese government introduced voting rights for citizens abroad, allowing its diaspora to participate in presidential elections. This move was praised for its contribution to political inclusivity and strengthening the link between the nation and its expatriate community.


#2. South Africa:

South Africa amended its electoral laws in 2013, permitting its citizens abroad to vote in national elections. This progressive step expanded the political influence of South Africans living abroad and fostered a stronger sense of belonging and representation within the country’s democratic framework.


#3. Niger:

Niger has three types of constituencies for elections to the National Assembly (Assemblee nationale): ordinary, special, and diaspora. Niger not only allow their diaspora to vote, they reserve two seats in their National Assembly for them. So why can’t Nigeria outside the country be allowed to vote?


#4. Ghana:

Whereas reverse was the case for Nigerians before the February 25, 2023 election, a human rights high court in Ghana ordered the Electoral Commission to take all necessary steps to enable Ghanaians living abroad to vote in the 2020 elections. Ghana grants the right to vote to its citizens living outside the country in both presidential and parliamentary elections.


#5. Cape Verde:

In the case of Cape Verde, those living abroad have the right to vote in presidential as well as legislative elections. This is  because they have many Cape Verdean citizens living in foreign countries. If Nigerians in diaspora are to vote; then that is left for the seating Nigerian lawmakers to decide not the court. For example, the section of the Nigerian Constitution, which states that only registered voters ‘residing in Nigeria’ have the right to vote has to be amended. The INEC Nigeria on their own have said they are ready to implement such law if enacted.


“The position of the commission has been very clear in this case. The commission supports diaspora voting but we made it clear that diaspora voting cannot take place within the existing electoral legal framework,” – Festus Okoye, INEC Information and Voter Education Committee Chairman.



#6. Kenya:

Kenya’s electoral law made the provision for Kenyans residing abroad to engage in out-of-country voting. Kenyan citizens living abroad have the opportunity to vote in presidential elections. In years back, Kenyan diaspora voting was a topic of discussion and debate. In 2017, during the Kenyan general elections, there were some efforts made to allow Kenyan citizens in the diaspora to vote.

However, the process was limited, and only a small number of Kenyans living in specific countries were able to cast their votes. The voting process was faced with logistical challenges and criticism regarding its transparency and effectiveness.


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#7. Mali:

As far back as 2013, Malian traders living in faraway China was able to vote for a president of their choice who understands the economic value of their country. Malian citizens living outside the country are allowed to vote in presidential elections.


#8. Tunisia:

Even with 10% of Tunisians living abroad as at 2020, the Tunisian diaspora voting is a subject of national concern. Tunisian citizens living abroad can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections.


The Benefits of Implementing Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

As the world continues to witness increasing global migration, diaspora voting remains a pivotal tool in fostering democratic participation and reinforcing the bond between a nation and its citizens, regardless of where they reside. Nigeria and other African countries can leverage the expertise, skills, and financial contributions of their diaspora communities for national development and progress. Below are some of the benefits of implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria.


#1. Increased Democratic Participation:

The implementation of diaspora voting would allow Nigerians living abroad to actively participate in the country’s political process, contributing to higher voter turnout, reducing voter apathy and increased engagement in national elections. This broader participation enhances democratic legitimacy and ensures that the government of the day remains representative of the entire Nigerian population. By granting the diaspora a voice, governments become more inclusive and representative of their diverse citizenry.


#2. Enhanced National Identity:

Diaspora voting fosters a stronger sense of national identity among Nigerians abroad. By allowing them to participate in the electoral process, the government acknowledges the importance of the diaspora community and strengthens the bond between the homeland and its citizens scattered around the world. It allows expatriates to stay connected to their roots and preserves their sense of national identity and cultural heritage.


#3. Economic and Social Contributions:

In 2022, the Nigerian Diaspora Remittances stood at $21.9 billion US dollars according to Federal Government official channels. This figure speaks volume of the communities’ contribution to the development of the country. Many Nigerians living abroad actively contribute to the country’s economy through diaspora remittances and investments.

Granting them the right to vote empowers them to have a direct impact on policies that affect the nation’s economic and social development, aligning the interests of Nigerians at home and abroad. By involving expatriates in decision-making processes, governments can leverage their expertise, skills, and financial contributions for the nation’s progress.


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#4. Enhanced Political Interest:

When citizens living abroad have the opportunity to vote in their home country’s elections, they are more likely to follow and stay informed about the political developments and issues that matter in their homeland. This heightened public interest can lead to a more politically engaged and informed diaspora community.


#5. Counteract Brain Drain:

Brian drain is the emigration of highly skilled or educated individuals to foreign countries in search of better job opportunities. In countries experiencing brain drain like Nigeria, diaspora voting can serve as a systematic mechanism to maintain ties with skilled citizens and potentially encourage them to return back to the country. This approach is only feasible if the government in power has a setout economic plan for these experts.


#6. Increased Voter Turnout:

Implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria can lead to higher voter turnout in general elections, as it removes the barrier of physical presence in the home country before a registered voter can cast his/her ballot. Expatriates often face logistical challenges in returning home to vote, so offering robust diaspora voting options can help overcome this obstacle.


#7. Diplomatic Relations and Soft Power:

Furthermore, diaspora voting can positively impact diplomatic relations between the home country and the host country where the diaspora resides. When countries respect and facilitate the political rights of their citizens living abroad, it can enhance their soft power and reputation on the international stage.


#8. Democratic Stability and Legitimacy:

By involving citizens from different parts of the world in the Nigerian electoral process, diaspora voting can enhance the legitimacy of the democratic system, as it reflects a commitment to ensuring all citizens’ voices are heard, irrespective of their geographical location.



Challenges of Implementing Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

Despite the above listed benefits, it’s important to note that implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria can also present challenges, such as logistical issues, ensuring the security and integrity of the voting process, and addressing potential accusations of external interference. Here are some of the challenges facing the successfully adoption of diaspora voting in Nigeria and their solutions.


#1. Voter Eligibility and Dual Citizenship Concerns:

Verifying the identity and eligibility of diaspora voters can be challenging, especially when there is no reliable databases or when voters have limited access to consular services for registration. Striking a balance between allowing genuine citizens to vote while preventing fraudulent activity also poses a significant challenge.

Again, some Nigerians abroad may have acquired dual citizenship, which might raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest. To address this, the legislation should specify eligibility criteria and clarify if dual citizens can vote once or twice – either in Nigeria and/or in their country of residence.

Dual voting is a situation where a nation permits its citizens to vote in both their home country’s elections and the country in which they are residing, essentially allowing them to participate in two separate electoral processes.


#2. Limited Voter Turnout and Political Manipulation:

Despite granting voting rights to the diaspora, achieving high voter turnout can be difficult. Given that they may feel disconnected from the political landscape and daily politics of the home country, some diaspora citizens may face voter apathy, skepticism about the impact of their vote, or practical obstacles that hinder their ability to vote. Government should ensuring that diaspora voters are informed about the electoral process.

Again, diaspora voting can become a target for political manipulation, with some political actors attempting to sway the diaspora communities for their gain. Thus, safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process becomes crucial to maintaining the fairness of the diaspora voting system. There is the need to checkmate various security and fraud related risks, such as cyberattacks, manipulation of postal voting, or unauthorized use of absentee ballots.


#3. Increased Election Cost and Logistics:

Implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria will require significant financial and logistical resources. Implementing diaspora voting requires robust administrative systems to handle registration, verification, and the secure transmission of ballots; including establishing secure voting mechanisms which may require advanced technological infrastructure.

With limited resources, setting up such systems can be a logistical challenge. The Nigerian government and the electoral body should allocate appropriate funding and collaborate with relevant institutions to ensure the smooth execution of the electoral process.


#4. Choosing the Right Locations or Country:

Choosing the right diaspora voting locations or countries is another challenge. The Nigerian government and the legislators should select appropriate locations, countries or time zones where the voting process would be held; especially where there is a larger diaspora citizens. Again, using the Nigerian Embassies in such countries would be a good idea. And setting polling stations at the city centers would ensure security, safety and transparency.

How to Implement Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

no doubt, implementing Diaspora Voting in Nigeria would involve a series of legal, administrative, and logistical steps. Here is a step by step guide on how Diaspora Voting could be implemented in Nigeria:


#1. Legislation and Constitutional Amendment:

The first step towards implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria is the establishment of a clear and comprehensive legislative framework or policies. The National Assembly must pass a law outlining the procedures and regulations for diaspora voting, clarifying eligibility criteria, and defining the logistics of overseas voting. This may require amending relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution (1999) as amended and electoral laws.

During the Electoral Law 2022, some constitutional amendments were submitted to the National Assembly. But unfortunately, they didn’t sail through. The diaspora voting laws and regulations are typically governed by electoral laws. The National Assembly will need to be involved in this process. They will decide the type of election (e.g., national elections, state or local elections) where diaspora voting would be available; including age, time limits or citizens residence requirements.


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#2. Establishment of Diaspora Voting Commission:

There is the need to create a specialized commission responsible for organizing and overseeing Diaspora Voting. This commission would handle the registration of overseas voters, voter education, and the overall management of the Diaspora Voting process. Thankfully, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (Establishment) Bill was passed in 2017; enacted by the National Assembly for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should work with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) to establish registration centers in Nigerian embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions worldwide. Additionally, online registration portals can be set up to cater to Nigerians in countries where physical registration centers may not be feasible.


#3. Identification and Registration of Overseas Voters:

To implement diaspora voting in Nigeria successfully, an efficient and user-friendly diaspora voter registration process is crucial. The new electoral law should determine the eligibility criteria for Nigerians living abroad to participate in elections. Again, INEC should develop a secure and accessible system for voter registration, which may include online registration and verification processes.

This registration process may be conducted online, through embassies or consulates, or via special registration drives organized in foreign countries. Once registered, the voter’s identity and eligibility can be verified by the relevant authorities. This step is crucial to ensure the integrity of the voting process and prevent fraudulent activities.


#4. Voter Education and Outreach:

To ensure maximum participation and understanding of the voting process, extensive voter education campaigns should be conducted. Information about the registration process, voting procedures, election dates, and candidate profiles should be made readily available through various communication channels, including social media, radio, and television stations in the respective jurisdictions.

The Commission should launch extensive voter education campaigns to inform Nigerians abroad about their right to vote and candidate information through the embassies/consulates.


#5. Secure Voting Methods and Polling Stations:

Implementing diaspora voting requires secure and reliable voting methods and the use of technology. Options such as postal voting, electronic voting, or voting at embassies and consulates should be explored. Each method must be rigorously tested for security, transparency, and accuracy to maintain the integrity of the electoral process.

The Diaspora Voting Commission should establish polling stations at Nigerian embassies, consulates, or designated locations in countries with significant Nigerian populations. These polling stations should be equipped with the necessary technology and staff to conduct the voting process securely and transparently.


#6. Consider Postal Voting and Proxy Voting:

Absentee voting is one of the most straightforward methods, wherein citizens living abroad can vote by mail or submit their ballots at designated embassies, consulates, or special voting centers. However, the Commission may consider the possibility of allowing postal voting for Nigerians in countries without established polling stations. Additionally, they can explore the potential for secure online voting systems or platforms.

Although this would require robust cybersecurity measures to protect the integrity of the process. Consider the option of proxy voting, where Nigerians living abroad can nominate trusted individuals back home to cast their votes on their behalf using their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC).


#7. Diplomatic Cooperation and Election Monitoring:

The Nigerian government should engage in diplomatic discussions with countries hosting significant Nigerian diaspora populations. Cooperation with these countries is essential to facilitate the voting process and ensure the safety and confidentiality of ballots. To build trust in the diaspora voting system, the vote counting process should be transparent and subject to observation by election monitors and representatives from the registered political parties in Nigeria.

Once the voting period ends, the collected diaspora ballots can be transported or counted along with the overall votes cast by citizens residing within the country before election results are announced. Candidates are declared winners based on the total number of votes receive from both domestic and diaspora voters.


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#8. Legal, Logistics and Administrative Support:

Government should ensure that adequate legal, logistics and administrative support is provided before, during and after the election to address any disputes or challenges that may arise during the Diaspora Voting process. Before fully implementing of Diaspora Voting in a major election, there is a need to consider conducting a trial or mock election to identify and address any potential issues. After each election, the Commission should also conduct an evaluation to improve the process even further.

Again, government should engage with the relevant Nigerian in diaspora communities to understand their needs and concerns, and get them involved in the decision-making process. Diaspora citizens should also advocate for their voting rights and increased participation in the country’s elections. Such advocacy efforts or campaigns will  go a long way in bringing the changes in diaspora voting laws and procedures.


Final Words: Implementing Diaspora Voting in Nigeria

Many countries around the world have already implemented some form of diaspora voting to engage their citizens living abroad. Implementing diaspora voting in Nigeria is a vital step towards strengthening democratic representation and fostering a sense of national identity among Nigerians living abroad. It’s essential to note that the implementation of Diaspora Voting will involve significant efforts from various election stakeholders, including the government, election authorities, and the diaspora communities themselves. There may be considerations and debates about logistics, security, and practicality of implementing such a system.

African countries that have implemented diaspora voting have taken commendable steps toward promoting democratic engagement and strengthening ties with their citizens living abroad. The benefits of diaspora voting, such as inclusivity, representation, and economic impact, cannot be underestimated. However, challenges related to administrative complexities, voter eligibility, turnout, and political manipulation must be addressed to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of diaspora voting system in Nigeria.

By overcoming challenges and implementing a well-structured plan, Nigerian government can successfully empower its diaspora community to actively contribute to the nation’s growth and development. Diaspora voting not only enhances the democratic process but also solidifies the connection between the homeland and its citizens scattered around the globe, creating a more inclusive and vibrant Nigerian democracy and citizens engagement.

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