Nigeria has long held the enviable status of being the most populous country in Africa and most populous black country on earth, with 166 million people. In addition to the Nigerians living in Nigeria, the numbers of Nigerians abroad go into a few tens of millions. To put this in perspective, 1 out of every 4 black people in the world today is Nigerian.
These millions of Nigerians are a formidable force in their countries of residence, where they work as professionals contributing immensely to their economy and earning themselves decent livelihoods. But they have also become very important to the Nigerian economy. In the year 2011, Nigerians abroad remitted about $10bn or N1.7trillion. Those numbers are predicted to have risen to twice that amount in the year 2012. In other words, the amount of remittances to Nigeria last year stands at 4.5% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country; if remittances were to be included in the federal budget, it would come as the third highest earner for the country after oil and non-oil receipts. This economic strength has made Nigerians abroad worth wooing to come home and invest into the economy.
But even beyond their economic power, Nigerians abroad exert a lot of power politically. They are among the most informed Nigerians, due to their better access to information via the internet; they are among the most active and vocal Nigerians on social media; and they even have influence via their media presence, using media outlets like Sahara Reporters, for example, which operates out of the United States.
However, this very important class of Nigerians have so far been unable to vote, because the constitution of the country as it stands so far has made no provision for them. Hence, it is natural that in this on-going constitutional review process, Nigerians abroad and even those at home are calling for the insertion of a clause that will allow them to cast their votes and make political choices that will determine the direction in which our country heads.
I believe the decision on whether Nigerians abroad should vote or not is a no-brainer: it beats logical reasoning that these number of Nigerians who contribute so much to the economy, who are courted to bring home their dollars and pounds to invest in our economy, who are well-informed and in many cases better informed than Nigerians at home, cannot vote for their preferred candidates.
Every election year, thousands of Nigerians who are able to make the trip home come first to register to vote, and a few months later to cast their votes. To the millions of other Nigerians who are unable to come home and vote, they are reduced to sulking at their television sets and computers at worst, and at best trying to convince the people back home on which choices are better.
We have no excuse for rejecting diaspora voting. The logistics involved are not beyond us: we could either introduce voting by mail, where those abroad send their votes weeks ahead of the main elections but are not counted until the main elections are held. Alternatively, we can use our embassies as voting centres during the elections; however, the snag in this is that not every country has a Nigerian diplomatic mission.
Nonetheless, we cannot continue to receive the monies, investments and political organizing of Nigerians abroad with two open hands; while we reject and deny them the opportunity to vote. It is not only unfair, it also borders on immoral.
At the end of this constitutional process, it is my earnest prayer that the final constitution shall contain a clause allowing Nigerians abroad to vote and exercise their civic duty to the benefit of Nigeria and her people.