Nigerians living overseas may be on the verge of realising their dream of exercising voting rights during future elections in the country.
This is because the National Conference delegates yesterday voted in favour of Nigerians in the diaspora to exercise their voting rights and participate adequately in elections.
The Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters had explained in their report that in line with the provisions of section 13(1) C of the Electoral Act 2096 as amended and sections 77(2) and 117(2) of the Constitution of the country, which provided that only citizens present in Nigeria as at the time of registration of voters can register and vote in any elections.
It said the provision had disenfranchised millions of Nigerians living abroad, who are vehemently seeking to exercise their voting rights as part of their fundamental human rights.
The committee therefore recommended that the Electoral Act be amended to provide for diaspora voting rights so that Nigerians living abroad who are not less than 18 years before an election be allowed to register and vote.
It also recommended that appropriate mechanisms should be put in place before its implementation to ensure that there are no abuses.
On the issue of the Diaspora Commission, delegates also approved the committee’s recommendation that the National Assembly be encouraged to speed up work on the passage of the bill setting up the commission. The role of the commission is to coordinate and interface between diaspora Nigerians and the government.
Delegates, while considering recommendations and amendments on the report of the Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters headed by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, voted in recognition of Nigeria’s membership of the controversial Organisation of Islamic Countries (IOC).
The committee had, in it’s recommendation, explained that Nigeria is a member of the OIC, an intergovernmental organisation with a strong religious elements that grouped 57 Muslim countries and other countries with significant Muslim population.
However, after initial disagreements, delegates amended the recommendation stating that Nigeria’s membership of the OIC was on the basis that it has a significant Muslim population but not as an Islamic nation.
However, the conference decided to stand down voting on a recommendation that Nigeria should withdraw from the membership of OIC as well as the World Council of Churches. It also stood down consideration of the country’s membership of Association of Sahel Countries (ASE).
The afternoon session, which was anchored by the Conference Deputy Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, resolved that, while remaining non-aligned in its foreign policy, that Nigeria should continue to practice citizen’s diplomacy.
The conference said the federal government should recognise the Nigerian mission in Ethiopia as a pre-eminent in status and that headship of the mission should be restricted to a career officer.
As part of efforts to improve the performance of the country’s foreign missions, the conference recommended that the President should appoint only limited number of non-career diplomats in the ratio of 30- 70 in favour of the career diplomats.
Also, in line with what is obtainable in other parts of the world, the conference approved that the Nigerian passport should be renewable after 10 years instead of the present five years.
It also advised that government should handly with caution on the move to close some of its missions abroad as it may affect the country’s interest at global fora.
Delegates, while commending the country’s international peace efforts, said Nigeria should ensure that it takes maximum benefits from her peace operations by ensuring that the right equipment and materials are acquired and that the supplies for the operations should be sourced locally.
They suggested that participation in peacekeeping operations should be seen as an opportunity to broaden the country’s international relations, while at the same time strengthening the capacity of thearmed forces.
Majority of the delegates voted in favour of the policy of prisoner exchange between Nigeria and other countries, while calling for the revisiting of the Green Tree Agreement reached between Nigeria and Cameroun over the ceding of the island of Bakassi failed.
Instead, it called on the federal government to implement policy interventions to properly resettle the displaced people of Bakassi.
The conference further urged Nigeria to work towards actualising early single currency in ECOWAS in order to promote trade and investment within the sub region.
It said that government should promote formation of ECOWAS brigade to serve as a standing force to help quell insecurity and crisis in member countries.
While frowning at alleged abuses, which non-governmental organisations have been subjected to, delegates voted that the federal government should regulate donations to these NGOs.
The conference unanimously supported an amendment proposing that the excesses of First Ladies and politicians who frivolously use the country’s diplomats abroad for unofficial purposes and distracting them from their official assignment must be curtailed.