Key questions this article answers:

  1. Despite Nigeria’s diaspora’s prominence and interest in its affairs, why have they been denied voting rights?

  2. At least 40 African countries allow diasporan voting. What can Nigeria learn from these countries, and why is giving the Nigerian diaspora voting rights a good idea?

There are 24 days until the general elections, and people are already making voting plans.

Some eligible voters who wouldn't be able to transfer their registration would go to their polling units the day before the elections, while others would have to travel across the country, all the way home, just to vote.

In 2019, this author used a bicycle to get to his polling unit, having moved away from the area.

Another category of voters would take their voting rights so seriously that they fly in from the US, UK and parts of Europe to vote on election day. There aren’t many, but the extreme measures these travellers, known as diasporans, take to cast their votes is one example of how involved they remain in Nigeria’s events even though they have ‘japa-ed’ (left Nigeria).

A diaspora, different

Nigeria’s diaspora is a special breed of people, excelling in practically every area, from sports and entertainment to the corporate world. In the UK, it is now common to find whole graduating classes in certain disciplines dominated by Nigerian immigrants of the first or second generation. In the US, they are one of the groups with the highest levels of educational attainment. UK cabinet minister? Check. High-ranking US official? Check. Hollywood actor? Check. Seeking opportunity and fortune, they march through the world, showcasing their Nigerianess in all its glory. They are at once far but never too far from home.

This connection reflects in what they send back home. According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s remittance as a share of GDP is 4.4%, compared with a global average of only 0.7%, while the average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 2.6%. These remittances supplement meagre household incomes, which prop up significant parts of the economy—children go to school; houses are built; and the sick can get treatment. Without them, the multi-dimensional poverty which affects 133 million Nigerians would surely be worse.