teneilabeSOME prominent lawyers in the country, including Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) and the Chairman of Ikeja Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, yesterday expressed differing views on plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote in the 2015 general elections.

While some supported the idea, others rejected it, describing it as a misplaced priority.INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had on December16 called for an amendment of Sections 77(2) and 117(2) of the 1999 Constitution to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora of voting age to participate in the country’s electoral process.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Diaspora voting, which is based on the universality of the right to vote, was first introduced in 1924 and was called postal voting. Postal votes were made available for overseas service personnel and students in colonial Malaya (now Malaysia). It was also allowed in Namibia in 1989 and South Africa in 1994 for their citizens abroad.

Falana told NAN in Lagos that the initiative is a laudable one that should be tried. He advised the commission to put the necessary machinery in motion to actualise Diaspora voting in 2015.Falana said Nigerians in the Diaspora are contributing immensely to the economy through foreign remittances, and therefore, should have a say on how the country is being governed.

“There is a powerful demand by Nigerians outside the country to participate in its affairs. Other African countries that got independence much more after Nigeria have recognised the right of their citizens in the Diaspora to vote wherever they are located,” Falana said.

He suggested that elections could be conducted in the various countries where Nigeria has embassies, while those living in countries which have no embassies should go to the nearest country to exercise their voting rights.

But a former National Secretary of NBA, Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN) advised INEC to concentrate first on conducting a credible election in the country.

“I will suggest that INEC should leave the issue of Nigerians in the Diaspora for now and ensure we get our act together. We cannot cross all the bridges at the same time; let us establish a culture of having a free, fair and credible election first before any other thing,” he said.

Supporting Adesina’s position, Ubani, described the call for out-of-country voting as unnecessary for now.

“INEC should forget about voters outside the country because it is a misplaced priority. We need to put our house in order by organising a credible election before thinking of bringing in voters from outside,” he said.

Also speaking, a law teacher, Mr. Wahab Shittu, said Diaspora voting would place more responsibility on the country’s electoral body.

Shittu, who is of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, said INEC, needed early preparations and adequate manpower to successfully conduct the 2015 elections. “To add extra burden of Diaspora voting into the equation will be very difficult,” he noted.

For the human rights lawyer, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, Diaspora voting is a fine idea, but Nigeria is not yet ripe for it. Mumuni, who is the executive director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation, said INEC lacks the manpower and technology to supervise voting outside the shores of the country.

Culled from The Guardian Newspaper

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