By Babajide Alabi
The journey to the 2015 Nigerian General Elections is gradually coming to an end. Everybody has been involved one way or the other in the run up to the elections. It is not surprising to see Nigerians from all geo-political zones contributing to the elections’ “debates”. They are raising their voices, outdoing each other, “hyping” their candidates and condemning opponents to “rubbish bins”.
Nobody is left out. The season of being apolitical is long gone. Every Nigerian has an opinion and they are no longer shy in offering them. They put the politicians to test, and when they pass their credibility scrutiny, they give them their full loyalty. But mind you, the Nigerian factor is still at work. We have not been able to do away with our tribal sentiments and religious jingoism. We still carry them as “banners” of modern day Nigerian politics. It is therefore not surprising to see supports for the politicians defined by these factors.
The success or failure of next month’s General Elections shall be partly attributed to the role of the social media. The politicians, unlike in the past elections, have come to realise that the social media is a veritable ground to win the electorates over. So while the campaigns are holding on podiums from one city to the other, there are news feeds on social media to engage the “cyber huggers” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and various forums.
The politicians have “grown” social media fan bases, that have gradually become as fanatical as the thugs that populate campaign rallies. They throw away any form of restraints or caution in displaying their supports for preferred candidates. They are not shy in condemning in “caustic” languages any seemingly contradictory opinion against their candidates.
The show of solidarity is not restricted to Nigerians at home alone. Citizens in diaspora are also fully active. While some bold ones have relocated to Nigeria so as to be on ground for their candidates, the others are participating on the Internet with keen interest.
The social media is agog with opinions, theories, and various permutations on how the elections will be won. For one reason or the other, Nigerians in Diasporas seem to be the most vociferous on these platforms. Majority of them have formed their opinions on what they read on the social media and hearsay. They are holding on to these convictions. The reality on ground may be different from what they read depending on what their sources are, but who cares, as long as they have opinions to share.
To some analysts there seems to be no group as “confused” as Nigerians in Diaspora. They are very active on the social media and can reel off head the candidates’ manifestoes (if any), while in another breath analyse and compare happenings in Nigeria with what is obtainable in their countries of residence. In some instances, they pass off as being arrogant and cocky in their analyses as most of their sources are not first hand. They hold no prisoners. You are either on “this” side or the “other”.
We need to understand their positions, though. Most of these Diasporans are fed up with happenings in the motherland and by extension desperately wish the leaders can get their acts together and make the country great. They are frustrated in many ways by how Nigeria is negatively portrayed in the comity of nations. They feel humiliated every time they have to go extra length to explain to their colleagues at work or to their neighbours that Nigeria is not populated by crazy beings as portrayed and projected to the world by the leaders. They cannot understand why despite Nigeria’s large natural deposits, she still ranks high among the poor countries of the world.
You may wonder why these Nigerians are sometimes too harsh in their writings on the social media. Please imagine how frustrating it is when a Diasporan realise his/her participation in choosing a worthy leader for the country do not go beyond the social media. He/She can write all he/she wants, post as many images, yet cannot influence the outcome of the elections. Because they cannot vote on the basis that they are outside the shores of Nigeria, they are, technically, in the scheme of things, irrelevant.
The hopes of these Nigerians to be able to vote in elections were first raised in 2010 when President Goodluck Jonathan while on a visit to Gabon promised that in the near future this would be possible. The National Conference’ Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters shared same views when it recommended that the provisions of Section 13 (1) (c) of the Electoral Act, 2006, as amended and sections 77 (2) and 117 (20) of the constitution be amended to provide for Diaspora Voting Right for Nigerian citizens living abroad who are not qualified by law and who are at least 18 years old by the time of voters registration, to vote in Nigerian elections.
The hopes were however dashed not long after, when Andy Uba, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Electoral Matters said they will have to wait a little longer for the laws to be amended. While the INEC chairman Professor Attahiru Jega shared similar views saying his commission lacks the wherewithal for such exercise.
It might be impossible for Diasporans to vote in the next General Elections, but we need to ask, what modalities are being put in place to enfranchise these Nigerians? Are there plans by INEC or the government to ensure this in future polls? Every Nigerian, no matter his/her location, like citizens of other decent countries, should be able to take part in choosing who runs the country. This definitely seem a big task for a country that does not know the number of Nigerians living abroad. The Nigerian embassies and high commissions cannot help the case, as they have no clue of what their responsibilities to the citizens are.
Understandably, this is why Nigerians in diaspora are angry and are not keeping quiet. This is why they are sometimes over the top, on the social media, in the support of their candidates. These are the only platforms that offer them a semblance of participation in the democratic process.
Will this change very soon? Do we encourage our leaders to perfect the Nigerian project first before venturing to expose themselves to the international world? Maybe the success of the home system will provide a good platform for the Diasporan challenge. Just maybe!