Repeatedly, the issue of the inability of members of the Nigerian diaspora to vote during elections has come up. With the 2019 general elections, this issue has once again featured in public discourse. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission has revealed that steps are being taken to ensure that in the future diaspora citizens would be able to vote in Nigerian elections. Welcome as the news might be, it stirs up fears with historical justifications. Across the African continent, there have been political situations and conflicts where transnationality, especially of ethnic groupings, played a vital role in the dynamics. The conflicts in Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi have all been fuelled by the transnational distribution and alliances of the Hutu and Tutsi groups. Therefore, any talk of diasporic voting in Nigeria, a country where a good number of the domestic ethnic constituencies have sister communities in other countries, must consider the probability of transnational rigging. Most notable among such transnational ethnicities are the Fulani’s, the Hausas, and the Yoruba’s.
Ethnic and religious transnationalism has for long been part of Nigerian politics, with the most visible examples in recent times being the involvement of foreign nationals in the Boko Haram and Fulani (so-called herdsmen) terrorist groups. During the election campaigns leading up to the last general elections in Nigeria, two governors from the neighbouring Republic of Niger joined incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign in Kano State. Moussa Issa and Zakiri Umar are the governors of Zinder and Maradi provinces respectively, both regions with Hausa and Fulani indigenous populations, a feature which they share with Kano State and much of Northern Nigeria.
This drew criticism from many observers, including allegations that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had planned to bring in foreign, non-citizen voters. The pertinent question is how does the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) plan to prevent non-citizens from participating in Nigerian elections when it introduces out-of-country voting in the future. This is against the backdrop of porous borders and history of transnational, intra-tribal coalescing in the socio-political sphere.
Nigeria has had problems implementing electoral innovations in the past, particularly in the case of the electronic card reader used for the accreditation of voters. In the 2015 and 2019 elections, there were problems experienced with the card readers leading to the use of manual accreditation of voters in specific locations. The concurrent use of manual and electronic accreditation leaves the electoral process vulnerable to fraud.
In the final analysis, while it is desirable to enable diasporic voting, it is first necessary for the interest of fairness to ensure that such voting would be credible. Therefore, it is quite logical that the local voting process is perfected before extending voting to the diaspora.
By Benjamin Mukoro
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