The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has stated that it will give Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in neighbouring countries Niger and Chad the opportunity to vote in the 2019 elections. This coming on the heels of the UNHCR report that 68% of Nigerian IDPs are children, raises concerns that this decision by the country’s electoral umpire will open the way for massive underage voting and allow foreigners to vote in the upcoming elections. Presently there is no Nigerian law that gives foreigners or even Nigerians in diaspora the right to vote and despite calls by sections of the diaspora for this to be introduced, INEC has refused to allow this. It is thus puzzling how this recent development to allow refugees in other countries to vote is expected to be received.
Recall that in July, a forum made up of the pan-Yoruba group Afenifere, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) and the Middle Belt Forum had raised the alarm that INEC had registered underaged voters during its last continious voter registartion exercise. According to the forum “The current voters registration exercise has been compromised and marred by irregularities by the registration of under-aged and foreigners being recorded in some parts of the north.” This was done to draw attention to the risk posed by underage voting during the 2019 elections as was alleged to have been the case during the local government elections in Kano earlier in the year.
With President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the amended Electoral Act as was presented by the National Assembly to ensure the compulsory use of card readers during the 2019 elections, there is growing fear that the elections will not be conducted in a free, fair and credible manner. If the opportunity for IDPs in neighboring countries to vote is added to this, it is safe to say that every opportunity that exists for the incumbent government to retain power will be explored. Nigerians are watching and hope that INEC and the Presidency will allow the will of the people prevail.