If there exists any wish by the over 17 million Nigerians domiciled outside the shores of Nigeria for their fatherland, it is the long-awaited franchise to be granted by Nigeria National Assembly (NASS) that enables them to participate in the home country’s electioneering process without being physically present in Nigeria. The yearnings are age-long. The advocacy has been running for over a decade and still counting. But there has never been a time serious commitment, resources – time, energy and money were deployed for its actualisation as it has been in the last three years. And this renewed gusto, zeal and vigour to see it to a logical and result-driven conclusive end could not have been possible if not for the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) leadership which has left no stone unturned in making it a reality.
The Council under the chairmanship of the ever courageous, forward-thinking, purposeful and forthright leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, United Kingdom Chapter, Prince Ade Omole, has recorded tremendous progress on this all-important mission.
As posited earlier, the whole idea was not novel. Attempts were made in times past which were all stillbirth because of the ever-present daunting challenges. But then, every development that materialised today was a corollary of the tenacity of purpose, unnerving commitment and strong determination of the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC). All of these were the hallmarks of the current leader of the NDVC on his noble idea. Prince Ade Omole has deployed and continues to deploy all available resources within his ‘arsenal’ to pursue rigorously and with a never-die spirit the reality of a shot at Diaspora voting.
One of such moves was the creation of the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (nigeriadiasporavoting.com) with a mandate to put in place the requisite machinery sine qua non to ensuring this long-time need of Nigerians in the Diaspora becomes a reality. The NDVC members set out its modus operandi. And one very important factor the Council considered was to engage those who would eventually see to the possibility of such a dream. The need to get the buy-in of the President and also covet and lobby members of the legislative arm of the home country – the National Assembly (NASS) was germane. And that was exactly what the Council did! The Council chairman, Prince Ade Omole met with the President at the villa on June 25th, 2018. Secondly, the Council got members of both chambers – Senate and House of Representatives to key into its idea and allay all fears.
*Journey so far*.
The Council kick-started its post-planning activities with a plethora of tete-a-tete, employment of a handful of resource persons to help galvanise both human and material resources to ensure a successful outcome. Suffice to state categorically and without equivocation that the resources – in terms of finance or monetary commitment that went into executing the project is better imagined. Surprisingly, the Chairman of the Council, Prince Ade Omole, executives of APC UK and members of the Council would leave nothing at stake to help provide logistics for those on the ground for a hitch-free exercise and success of the DV project. NDVC and its operations have been privately funded to date without any pecuniary assistance from the government or MDA!
This is aside from the chairman’s several travels in and out of the country from his United Kingdom base to monitor events. His countless visits to the National Assembly to meet with members of the legislative arm to canvass support for the Diaspora Bill. His efforts alone culminated in signing up a sizeable number of members belonging to both legislative houses to key into the Diaspora voting bill.
And by February 17th, 2020, the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) had garnered everyone that mattered – all stakeholders to include but not limited to The Presidency, National Assembly, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Civil Society Organisations, Diaspora groups among others at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Hotels, Abuja, Nigeria where notable personalities such as the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Senator Babafemi Ojudu (representing The Presidency), Senator Ajibola Bashiru (Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora Matters), Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairperson NiDCOM, Hon Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, (House Committee Chairperson on Diaspora), Dr Mohammed Lecky (INEC Commissioner) had converged to discuss the need for Diaspora voting and the way forward. The event was a huge success and the event resolutions formed part of the Diaspora voting bill.
Hours after the successful Transcorp Hilton workshop on Diaspora Voting, and precisely on February 19th, 2020, the Diaspora Voting (DV) Bill was finalised by the Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) in consultation with NASS leadership, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), INEC and other Diaspora groups. And by February 20th, 2020, the Bill passed the First Reading at the National Assembly. Five (5) months after, on July 20th, 2020 to be precise, upon further consultations with the relevant stakeholders, the DV Bill was amended and re-presented on the floor for First Reading yet again and sponsored by Hon. (Mrs) Tolulope Akande-Sadipe. The Bill was passed on the same day.
By November 14th, 2020, the DV Bill was gazetted and published on the National Assembly Order Paper as a Bill to alter Sections 77 and 117 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And by December 15th of the same year, the DV Bill was presented and passed after Second Reading on the floor of the House. *The first time in the history of Nigeria*!
The new year 2021 birthed with DV Bill forwarded alongside other constitutional amendment Bills to the National Assembly Constitutional Review Committee intending to have a holistic review of all Bills to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This would be handled by both Houses – Senate and House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committees on Review of the 1999 Constitution constituted for that purpose.
Since March 2021 till date, the Joint Review Committee (of both Houses) have been meeting and reviewing many constitutional amendment Bills (DV Bill inclusive) as per the mandate given to it. The NDVC leadership met with the Deputy Chairman, Joint Review Committee, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa to further lobby for the DV Bill. From June 2021, it is expected that the National Assembly Public Hearings on the various approved Bills will commence, and expectedly, all MDAs, interest groups, CSOs, agencies will be invited to the NASS complex to present their papers for each Bill as deemed necessary.
The Council is quite hopeful the DV Bill will be among the thoroughly deliberated Bills.
*The Future Is Here!*
As of this date, the Constitutional Review Committee (senate & House of Representatives) alongside the Consultants engaged by the National Assembly leadership to appraise and evaluate modalities on the constitution review has completed its assignment after several workshops and retreats. It is heart-warming to confirm that the Diaspora Voting Bill is still very much on course as it was approved and tabled alongside other constitutional amendment Bills for Public Hearing. The DV Bill is now enlisted under Electoral Matters Amendment. *This is another first, in the history of Nigeria, recorded by NDVC*.
Going forward, therefore, the Public Hearing is scheduled to take place in the six (6) geo-political zones of the country and the final session will hold in Abuja, Nigeria. Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC) will be duly represented by a high-powered team at the scheduled seven (7) public hearings. It is equally instructive to confirm that all the major stakeholders concerned with Diaspora Voting would also be present at the public hearings.
*Time For More Support & Cooperation*
NDVC chairman and its members are not taking a break yet. While it may appear on the surface of it, quietude, lots of diplomatic contacts, engagements, lobbying, and meetings are going on behind the scene. All of these efforts are not for any pecuniary benefit, but to ensure that millions of Nigerians who are in different countries of the world have a say in the electioneering process of their fatherland. With the Bill gaining momentum, its final ratification by NASS will alter the entire political architecture of the country. With the current percentage turn out of voters put at 35.66% from a total number of 28,614,190 votes cast in 2019 (as collated) out of a total number of accredited voters of 29,364,107 (official figures given by INEC); the DV Bill will of fact be a major game-changer that will alter the status quo. Hence, the silent war between those for and against the Bill. But the race is not for the gutless or abecedarian. It is a Bill to essentially give electoral power to Nigerians in the Diaspora. So, it is a BIG DEAL!
There is no denial of the fact that the DV Bill is being worked against by a powerful clique with a vested interest, but the Council remains resolute as it believes the Bill will empower millions of Nigerians in the Diaspora to partake in the electioneering process to determine who governs them at home. The task has been herculean and faced with many bottlenecks, but all of these are not insurmountable with the determination of purpose. Many hurdles have been crossed and many limits broken. What we have ahead may not be as daunting and tractable as what we already scaled through. It is our sincere hope that the Red Sea will be crossed. And like an elder statesman once opined;
“Power is never served a la carte. You have to struggle and fight for power.” The Council remains firm and resolute to give its all.
The Council under Prince Ade Omole has done creditably well to see this Bill thus far. For the records, it is the first time the Diaspora Voting Bill will make and even pass the Second Reading. And it is also the very first time in the annals of the country’s political history that a Diaspora Voting Bill will be approved by NASS Joint Constitutional Review Committee and tabled for Public Hearing before the Third and final reading on the floor of the House.
For the Council, it is no retreat, no surrender!
*Barrister Tolu Oluwatuyi*
Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC)