Re: Nigeria it’s time for Diaspora voting

The piece with the above headline written by Hajiya Hadiza Mohammed from London and published by Blueprint refers. The Diaspora community is pertinent in our 21st century and digitalised world. No doubt about that. But the question that all advocates of Diaspora voting are always shy of answering is, residents of which countries are Diaspora or residents of which continent? For example, always one hears American Diaspora, European Diaspora. Thus, are African Diaspora excluded from the Diaspora population? Are the residents of the Middle East Diaspora regarded as Diaspora too? Is one regarded as a Diaspora member only if he/she has a white-collar job? These questions are pertinent because we have lots of residents of fellow African or third World countries but disregarded as Diaspora only because they reside in poor countries. We also have those that are sidelined out of the Diaspora population only because they do not have “white collar jobs”.

In reference to the Nigerian Federal Ministry of External Affairs that there are 20 million Nigerian Diaspora members, this figure needs to be scrutinised. Why? Because there is a United Nations (UN) 2020 report that puts India with the largest Diaspora population of 18 million people. According to the Indian times newspaper, “India has the largest diaspora population in the world with 18 million people from the country living outside their homeland in 2020, according to a report by the United Nations…”.

( Thus, if India has the largest Diaspora population in the world, with 18 million people, how would Nigeria have had 20 million and not be the largest Diaspora population?

On your call for putting structure for the Nigerian Diaspora to vote in the coming 2023 general elections, you know that is unrealistic at this time or even in the 2027 general elections. Just look at how the National Identity Number (NIN) by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) ended. It was complete chaos. Here in the United States it was a real disaster for the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

If Diaspora voting is recognised globally, that does not make it necessary for Nigeria to adopt and or practice it. We need to know what Nigeria will benefit from it and can we withstand the consequences? We need to always understand that, because country A adopts a system, that we too should adopt it. Understanding the rationale of initiating and adopting it in country A might be different from our reasons. For example, most of the industrial or advanced democracies practice Diaspora voting as a mechanism of controlling their citizenry abroad. Many of their citizens will not have contacts with their governments if not for this Diaspora voting. It is also a mechanism of knowing their incomes, as these countries must operate a dual tax system. Thus, we need to avoid “plagiarism” or copy and paste, which no doubt drags us the hole we are in now in Nigeria.

In relation to enhancing our politicking to issues based on courting the Diaspora community that needs more scientific and empirical evidence, Hajiya, if how the Nigerian Diaspora organises and acts themselves in their countries of residence will be considered, then one will be doubted how the Diaspora Nigerians will enhance our politicking to issue base. For example, here in North America, you will find North and South Nigerian Associations. Then you have states based (like Imo state, Anambara, Oyo, Kwara, Lagosians, etc.). You also have religious based associations still using our fault lines at home abroad for our personal gains.

Hajiya, there are many doubts that Nigeria is ripe for Diaspora voting. The simplest way to come to this conclusion is comparing our political and electioneering infrastructure with the countries where Diaspora voting is existing now. We know most of the Asian, European and North American countries are way ahead of us in any kind of infrastructure. Thus, let us limit ourselves to our next-door neighbours, that is African countries. Take South Africa, for example, their electioneering infrastructure is way far better than ours. Hajiya, don’t forget we have an inconclusive umpire of election. Would our Diaspora electorate accept that kind of umpire? Even Kenya’s electioneering infrastructure is way far better than ours. Thus, let us improve our infrastructure first before going for something bigger.

As you argued Hajiya, “We need to attract and encourage our sons and daughters abroad to come home with their wealth, skills, resources and experience to strengthen our democratic culture. One way to encourage this is by allowing them to make their input in the democratic process through voting”. What is another way to attract Nigerian sons and daughters? I firmly pay tax back home as a must if not all countries that practice Diaspora voting will attract them to the motherland. As if they pay their taxes to the Nigerian state, these Diaspora communities will not fold their arms and let one individual plunder that resource for his and family use. Either in North America, Europe, and or Asia, all countries with Diaspora voting pay tax back home. Thus, why does the Nigerian Diaspora not agree to pay tax to the Nigerian government?

There are other ways in which the Diaspora community can be attracted to their home country. One of such ways is economic democratisation, that is making the economy open and citizens tapping the benefits. Some will argue that this can only happen in a democracy. Thus, how did it happen in the People’s Republic of China? UAE? Today the economies of China or UAE are way better than the economies of most if not all developing Western liberal democracies, despite these countries’ political system, which is everything but democracy. It is always what Lee Kuan Yew argued, that economic investment first before Western liberal democracy. Economic investment will bring many opportunities for the citizens. While Western liberal democracy benefits very few in the society as we are witnessing in our sojourn in the last two decades. The rich keep getting richer and the poor getting poorer by the day.

Another way Diaspora contribute to their motherland is by outreach service or charity, which of recent start picking up in Nigeria. But there is nothing to write home about compared to the Nigerian professionals outside the country. For example, our health care professionals can be providing services at more affordable rates in Nigeria when they come for holidays. I know health care professionals from one of the Asian countries that provide free services in their home country every year in the months of June, July, and August. It is for the person to choose which month he or she will go. Our Nigerian Diaspora can do that too. Our professors abroad can come to Nigeria every year to spend just a semester in their alma mater. This will have a huge impact on our comatose health care and education sectors.

Yes, there are benefits from diaspora voting, but what are the anticipated consequences? Most people who discuss diaspora voting always for reasons best known to them refuse to address the consequences of the voting, particularly for fledgling democracies and economies of ours in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.

One gift of the Nigerian Diaspora population to Nigeria is Nnamdi Mazi Kanu, the arrested founder and leader of IPOB. This person and many of those financing the IPOB activities in Nigeria are members of the Diaspora community. But they decide to wreak havoc on the father and mother land just because they are in possession of second citizenship.

Diaspora voting will come to Nigeria but we need to study our political, economic, and social peculiarity before adopting it. This is for us to avoid a situation where people like Mazi Kanu dominate our voting scene. And for sure 2023 is not the election year for Nigerian Diaspora voting. Not only the umpire’s infrastructure for the election, the political parties being one of the major stakeholders in an election are not ready for it not only in 2023, but in the near future. One major obstacle to Diaspora voting in Nigeria is the constitutional amendment. The constitutional amendment is too cumbersome to provide that.

Abdullahi writes from Texas, United States via [email protected]

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